Budget changes caused by lower than expected government grant reductions and an increase in the number of households providing more council tax means Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service can review some of its most severe cost cutting plans and safeguard services for the next few years, the Chief Fire Officer revealed today.
The changes to the budget amount to an improvement of £0.5m, and will allow the Fire Authority more flexibility in the range of options needed to achieve the necessary cost savings in coming years, said Mr Redmond.
The changes, together with a proposed £1.76 per household annual council tax increase, will mean that the Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority can now afford to reconsider its controversial plans to close four rural fire stations and axe a major fire engine in Shrewsbury or Telford.
The increase in tax revenue caused by a 1.6 per cent rise in the number of households combined with the unscheduled changes to the Government grant has reduced the 2020 deficit forecast for Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
But there is still another £900,000 of cuts to be made by 2020.
The fire and rescue service was plunged into financial difficulties by Government austerity measures which have slashed £3.2 million from its £20 million annual budget since 2010. A total of 10 per cent of firefighters and support staff jobs have gone, plus a 25 per cent reduction in senior officer roles among a host of budget savings.
A report to Fire Authority members recommends a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax costing £1.76 per household per year to safeguard the provision of the fire and rescue service in Shropshire.
But despite the funding boost, the Fire Authority is still faced with “substantial” deficits over the next few years.
It is being asked to consider further cuts including changes in shift patterns requiring fewer firefighters, reduced through natural wastage, which could save up to £400,000 and also the merging of 999 fire controls.
Another £450,000 in potential savings has also been identified through measures including reducing provisions for future ill health retirements, cutting the budget for occupational health support and the overall budget for support staff.
An exercise to gauge public reaction to the impact of proposed budget cuts resulted in the largest response the service “had ever seen,” said Mr Redmond.
"We are still facing a substantial budget deficit in the coming years, however, as a result of changes in the budget, members are recommending ongoing cuts to its services without affecting fire stations and fire engines where it is possible to do so.”
Since 2005, the Service has been reducing its costs through streamlining its services and, via its successful community fire safety programmes, reducing the number of fires across the Shropshire area.
Recognised as one of the best run brigades in the UK, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service implemented a recruitment freeze in 2010 at the same time as a national pay freeze for all staff. Many functions such as payroll have been outsourced and borrowing has been reduced to benefit from cheaper interest payments.
The Service receives over 5,000 calls a year and deals with 1,500 fires in homes and businesses across the Shropshire area. In addition it attends, on average 300 road crashes per year, carries out numerous rescues of people and animals and deals with pollution incidents. It provides support to national and neighbouring Fire Services in serious incidents such as flooding.