Concerns raised over future of funding for fire brigade services in Tyne and Wear

Concerns have been raised over future funding and the reliance on council tax increases to finance fire brigade services.

By Nic Marko
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 1:19 pm

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service bosses outlined how following Government announcements they are expecting to receive a 4.99% increase in core spending power for 2022/23.

This compares to the national average of a 4.7% increase, a Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority meeting heard on Monday (January 17).

However Dennis Napier, finance director at the authority, said longer term financial information is needed, and warned of the historic funding reductions they have faced.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Firefighters in action.

He said: “I think it’s disappointing how it is a one year settlement when we thought we were going to get a three year settlement.

“Caution needs to be provided, you need to bear in mind the impact of the settlement overall over the past seven years in particular and since austerity began.

“Right back to the start of austerity, this authority has actually seen an overall reduction in its core spending of almost 11.3%.”

He added when inflation is taken into account, in real terms they are “roughly about 40% down” in terms of spending power.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue HQ in Washington.

Mr Napier added he has concerns over how the boost in funding this year includes a one-off £1.07million services delivery grant, which is not planned to be given in future years.

He said: “If it’s not then we could have spending pressures in future years. It would be better if that funding was sustainable.”

Councillors raised concerns the increase in spending power features a reliance on fire authorities increasing council tax precepts in line with referendum limits, set at 1.9% for next year.

Cllr Nick Forbes, lead of Newcastle City Council, speaking at the meeting, said he has “never known such uncertainty for the future”.

He said: “The whole point of the comprehensive spending review was to give departments three years of certainty around their future spending.

“What it highlights is the Government is hugely and increasingly reliant on council tax as a way of balancing budgets.

“The Government is forcing fire authorities like ours to increase council tax to the maximum amount available to cover the shortfall in the funding that they are providing as part of the settlement.”

He added he was concerned this will add further to the cost of living crisis “residents are likely to feel over the coming months”.

Support our journalism and subscribe to this website to enjoy unlimited access to news, sport, retro, daily puzzles and more online.

With a digital subscription, you can read more than five articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters.

Click ‘Subscribe’ in the menu to find out more and sign up.