Fire service votes to freeze council tax

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THERE will be no increase in the price of council tax to pay for the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service this year.

After meeting on Wednesday, the authority voted to freeze its portion of council tax for a third year in a row.

Members set a budget for 2013/14 of just under £29 million, which is about £500,000 more than the last year. The Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority (BMKFA) were given the option of freezing council tax for a third successive year and accepting a grant payment of £177,000 in lieu of a council tax rise, or increasing the precept by up to 8.46 per cent – equivalent to a £5 a year rise for band D council tax-payers.

Around 4p of each £1 paid in council tax goes to the fire and rescue service.

Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones said: “Councillors considered the options and asked us to manage with fewer resources so as not to unduly burden taxpayers who are already hard-hit. I asked members to consider the ramifications of not taking the council tax rises available to them, and they have made an informed decision.

“My senior managers have shown flair and some ingenuity in seeking ways to work better in future. The result is that, despite budget reductions, we have ensured that vital safety services in emergency response are not affected in the short term.

“However, continued council tax freezes, with the seemingly likely continued grant reductions from the government, will have a detrimental impact upon our ability to provide the same level of emergency response in the future.”

Councillor Andy Dransfield, lead member on financial affairs, said: “We took this step today in recognition of the tough times people are enduring as we didn’t want to add to the hardship they already face.

“BMKFA faces a difficulty budgetary position in 2015/16 and 2016/17, which made the opportunity of a £5 rise an attractive option for the future. However, the excellent work undertaken by the Chief Fire Officer and his team means that we have a balanced budget for the next two years.

“I fear the cold chill of further grant reductions in future years and what that might mean for the public if we are forced to reduce services.”

Councillor Adrian Busby, Chairman of BMKFA, said: “We want to end up with the leanest, most efficient and operationally resilient set-up we can.

“We saw the hard times coming and started to reduce our costs almost three years ago. We recognise that this has not been without some difficult changes for the service and I would like to pay tribute to all of the men and women who work tirelessly to make people safer in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. Thanks to their dedication and efforts, this will continue to be a high-performing, low-cost, service.

“We, too, are concerned over continued government grant cuts, and we feel that the government should give all fire authorities the same proportion of grant.

“I also hope that the government’s offer of a £5 increase in council tax will remain in future years for hard-hit fire authorities such as this one. On behalf of BMKFA, I will be asking the Fire Minister to do so.”