Thursday 26 January 2023
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Nottingham

Fire authority recommends £5 annual council tax increase

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service could increase its part of council tax bills by £5 per year – the maximum rise currently permitted by the Government.

Alongside councils, the service is also planning its charges and budget ahead of the next financial year, which starts in April.

A £5 increase for every taxpaying household in Notts would raise £1.6m extra funding and would take the annual fee to £89 per year for a Band D property.

The plan was discussed at a Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Authority meeting on Friday (January 20).

The fire authority is a body of local councillors and other members which oversees the service’s finances and operational planning.

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During the meeting, one councillor said it would be “cutting our nose off to spite our face” if they did not recommend the £5 increase after lobbying Government on the issue.

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin previously said the service is facing a £6m deficit over the next six years.

During Friday’s finance and resources committee, councillors voted four in favour of the rise. There were three abstentions.

But a formal decision is yet to be made – and the chair of the fire authority said a “full and frank debate” will occur at the full fire authority meeting on February 24.

The options available were a council tax freeze, a 2.95 per cent increase or a £5 overall annual increase.

It comes after the Government agreed fire authorities could increase council tax by up £5 for the next financial year.

A £5 overall increase would raise an extra £833,000 compared to an increase of 2.95 per cent.

A consultation on plans to save £2m to reduce a budget deficit ended in December.

If approved the changes would see West Bridgford Fire Station have no crew on duty at all at night, and both London Road and Stockhill stations losing one fire engine each.

Cllr Steve Battlemuch (Lab) said:

“I don’t think anybody around the table from whatever political party takes lightly the idea of putting council tax up.

“We are acutely aware of the cost of living issues for residents but there is no other best-case scenario.

“It was clear over the last few months that there is fairly widespread opposition to cuts.

“I would be gobsmacked if people were saying ‘let’s get rid of fire engines’.

“The government has given this flexibility around council tax and we would be cutting our nose off to spite our face if we didn’t take it.”

Cllr Sybil Fielding (Lab): “I don’t for one minute think that taking the £5 will be an easy option because it isn’t going to be.

“In the current climate, it’s the best option available.”

Becky Smeathers, Head of Finance at the Fire Authority, said the consultation on cuts asked a question about the £5 council tax increase.

She said 13 per cent of people opposed the rise, 54 per cent strongly agreed and 80 per cent would support the rise.

The fire service has around £9.8m in reserves and has set aside £1.1m to help with budget pressures.

Ms Smeathers said: “The £5 offer is available for 2023/24, it is unlikely it will be extended to 2024/25. If it’s not taken now, we will be back to a three per cent limit for next year.”

Cllr Michael Payne (Lab), chair of the fire authority, said: “It’s hugely frustrating that we should have to rely on 60 per cent of our budget is funded by council tax.

“Next year if we accept the £5 the best part of £29m to find a budget of £49m is frustrating because the burden falls on the taxpayer and families who are already struggling.

“We have lobbied very hard cross-party for both a greater flexibility in terms of council tax and I think it would be a mistake not to accept that flexibility given we have argued very strongly for it.

“My suggestion given the scenario we have set out is we are left with very little option.”

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin added that the service will “still operating at a projected deficit” even if the £5 increase is approved.

He said: “On the 27th of this month there will be an overview of the consultation and what it said.

“I agree with Cllr Battlemuch there won’t be any surprises in there.

“It gives me more time in terms of making those cost cuts to look at it in a very prudent way.”

•  West Bridgford and Rushcliffe’s number of high-income households highest outside South East

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