Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Savage Cuts In Fire Cover If Council Tax Is Frozen Warns Bell

A potential Council Tax freeze will lead to savage cuts in emergency fire cover a leading Cambridgeshire County Councillor has warned.
Nigel Bell, Liberal Democrat leader on Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority claims the authority faces a stark choice of how to fund an  £800,000 spending gap – either cut front line services or raise council tax.
“The latest government offer, to freeze Council Tax below inflation, is effectively a cut in income next year and each year after that,” he said. ”The Council Tax freeze last year has already created a 2.5 per cent hole in our finances when the freeze grant ends.”
The authority has identified £4.2 million in fire service cuts and the latest financial projections indicate they will need to make up to a total of £5 million in cuts over four years.
“We are currently facing a stark choice in how we fund the remaining £800,000 expenditure gap,” added Cllr Bell. “It can be found either by cutting front-line services or by raising Council Tax.
“If we do freeze Council Tax for this year, however, it would be disastrous, as the option not to cut front-line services will have disappeared. We would be starting the following year from a lower baseline and Council Tax capping would prevent us raising rates sufficiently to even keep track with current inflation running at over five per cent.”
Liberal Democrats members of the fire authority have opposed the proposed front-line cuts which include the closure of fire stations, the cutting of fire appliances and a reduction in fire-fighter numbers.
Cllr Bell said; “If we increased Council Tax by an extra one per cent a year above the current 2.5 per cent level agreed by the fire authority, there wouldn’t be the need for any cuts to front-line services.
“A recent survey across the county by the Fire Brigade Union showed that people in the county overwhelmingly supported the small extra rise required, of 1-2p a week, in Council Tax to protect front-line services.
"We must reject the government’s freeze grant as we cannot put people’s lives at risk to keep Council Tax rises well below inflation.”