East Sussex Fire Authority has made the difficult decision to agree to a rise in Council Tax to secure a more stable financial future for the emergency service.
Despite this, there is still significant uncertainty about funding for fire services after 2021/22, and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is forecasting that it may still need to make considerable savings of up to £2.5m over the coming years.
The Fire Authority met today 11 February 2021 and was asked to agree the budget and the level of council tax it wishes to set for 2021/22, with two options on the table, either no increase (0%), or an increase of 1.99%.
Fire Authority Chairman Roy Galley said:
“Every member of the Fire Authority recognises that Covid-19 has affected our communities, our local businesses and the finances of individual households. It was important to us to understand better the impact of the different options open to the Fire Authority. Following an in-depth debate, a decision was made to increase the Council Tax. We believe this is the best way to ensure funding to continue to serve the public and save lives now and in the future. We will continue to lobby Government for fair and sustainable funding for our life saving fire and rescue services.”
To illustrate the impact, this will mean an additional £1.90 for properties in Band D for council tax and result in an annual charge of £97.43. That is £1.87 per week for a 24/7 emergency service.
In making its decision, the Fire Authority took into account responses to its 2020 Planning for a Safer Future consultation. More than 4 in 5 (83%) respondents to the questionnaire said they would be willing to pay more in council tax for their local fire and rescue service.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service will now explore future efficiencies in a number of areas including:
• alternative ways of delivering our Community Safety activities such as education, home safety initiatives and road safety projects
• sharing services such as estates, fleet and engineering with other public sector partners
• using IT to make our processes more efficient
• reviewing our administration and management structures
• reviewing our planned investment in our estate and fleet
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has previously graded the service as Good in responding to fires and other emergencies, in responding to national risks, at making best use of resources and at making the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future.
The service will continue to invest in its people, its fleet of emergency vehicles and its IT infrastructure to improve on this. A key area of focus in the future is work to implement the findings of the inquiries into Grenfell and subsequent changes in the law. This will be challenging and wide ranging, and is expected to change the way the service works within the community to keep people safer.