Fire service tax rise is agreed

South Yorkshire firefighters in action
South Yorkshire firefighters in action

Council tax bills in South Yorkshire are to increase further in April after the region’s fire service became the latest organisation to approve a rise.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is to increase its precept by around 3p per week for an average household after the 1.97 per cent increase was agreed by its governing authority yesterday.

It follows similar increases for next year also being planned by Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Police.

The fire service says the increase will raise an extra £424,000 per year, allowing it recruit up to 16 new firefighters to replace workers departing through retirement.

The fire service authority rejected the alternative of a Government grant to freeze Council Tax, which would have brought in around £163,000 less.

It said the rise will see its share of Band D Council Tax in South Yorkshire by £1.28 per year, to £66.32.

Councillor Jim Andrews, chairman of the authority, said: “We are absolutely committed to protecting frontline fire-fighting, which we know is so strongly valued by the people of South Yorkshire.

“Whilst the decision to propose increasing our part of the council tax was not taken lightly, this small increase will help us to bring new firefighters into the service for the first time in several years and they will be an important resource for a long time to come.”

Chief Fire Officer James Courtney said: “I thank the authority for maximising the resources available to me and will put this additional funding straight into frontline firefighting.

“We hope people will realise that this decision will help to safeguard the strength of our fire service for the future, ensuring the outstanding skills and experience of our current workforce can be passed on to a new generation of firefighters.”

The report to the authority said the Government grant to the authority for the next financial year is due to drop by £2.8m, from the current £31.8m to £29m.

It added next year’s budget is due to deliver a ‘surplus’, regardless of whether council tax would be raised as a result of ‘significant savings’ being made in advance of funding cuts.

But the paper warned that further cuts are likely from 2016 and warned it may no longer be possible to balance the books from 2016/16 onwards.

It said that the fire service will have a workforce of 616 people on April 1 this year, but a further 35 people are due to leave in the next 12 months, mainly through retirement.

The report said 16 new firefighters could be recruited towards the end of 2015 to help fill the gap.