Band D Council Tax payers in the West Midlands will pay just £1.23 a year extra for their fire and rescue service. At £63.04 a year, it’s the lowest fire service charge in England.
The 1.99% increase was approved (15 February) by members of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority (WMFRA) when they agreed their budget for 2021-22. Please click here to read the full report.
It means that council tax payers across the West Midlands conurbation will pay £45m of the £101.7m needed to fund West Midlands Fire Service in 2021-22. The remainder will come from the Government.
But WMFRA members were warned in a report to their meeting today that fire and rescue services face a ‘volatile’ financial environment beyond 2021-22, with continuing uncertainty about how far ahead their Government funding will be allocated.
Chief Fire Officer, Phil Loach, said: “The way in which our staff have responded to the pandemic, continuing to provide our core services and supporting our most vulnerable residents, has been described as ‘impressive’ by our national inspectorate. They deserve all credit for it.
“As we look ahead to what we hope will be a much happier and comforting year for our communities, we have been able to set a balanced budget for 2021-22. However, beyond then, pound signs start to morph into question marks.
“Significant questions hang over how we will be able to continue our track record of identifying and reducing risk across the West Midlands, whilst delivering services our communities trust and value so highly.
“The firefighters who crew our 41 fire engines and 19 Brigade Response Vehicles aim to get to serious incidents in high-risk areas in just five minutes.
“We use a dynamic, scalable model to keep those vehicles crewed and ready to respond when our communities need us. It’s a model we’re keen to maintain in the medium term. Longer-term, the picture is far less certain.
“We are looking to a future with many financial unknowns. These still include who will meet the costs of firefighters’ pensions. We also need to be prepared for potential funding reductions beyond 2022/23 as a consequence of the pandemic amongst other things.
“In the absence of specific funding for ‘capital’ projects, such as building works, we must use ear-marked reserves, but this money will soon run dry and we will need to keep a very clear focus on that.
“This year, again, we only know what money we will be getting from the Government for the one financial year ahead. Multi-year settlements, aligned to longer-term planning, are a far more effective way of managing resources.”
Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of WMFRA, said: “The firefighters and staff of West Midlands Fire Service do a fantastic job in keeping our communities safe. They have been rightly praised for their amazing work during the pandemic.
“We have had some welcome extra money to help meet the extra costs associated with COVID-19, but it will run out before the pressures of the pandemic go away.
“Our Government funding settlement for 2021/22 is in line with what was expected. However, it is only for one year and we urgently need clarity and security about our future funding.
“I know that the leaders of councils here in the West Midlands unanimously support us having more flexibility in terms of the money we are allowed to raise via council tax. It wouldn’t come close to covering the budget reductions we’ve had to manage in recent years, but it would help.
“Beyond 2022, having such financial flexibility will be even more critical, and I am calling on ministers to make it a reality.”