The Home Secretary has been told North Yorkshire’s chronically under-funded fire service needs an extraordinary package of financial support, including an ability to charge significantly more council tax, to operate.
Police, fire and crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe has revealed how she, York MP Rachael Maskell, the service’s chief fire officer Jonathan Dyson, and Fire Brigades Union boss Steve Howley all pressed home the necessity of greater funding to Priti Patel, amid mounting concerns about key elements of the brigade.
Speaking to the county’s police, fire and crime panel, Mrs Metcalfe said she understood the government was now considering upping funding available to the service after previously rejecting appeals.
The comments follow the panel expressing its horror earlier this year as it emerged the service would need to borrow the majority of the £31m needed over the next five years to maintain and update its buildings and equipment.
Panel member and City of York Council leader Councillor Keith Aspden had questioned the commissioner over what she could do to ensure the concerns over funding were understood by the government, particularly in the light of proposals to change the service’s masterplan.
He said concerns had arisen that the service’s proposed risk and resource model had grossly underestimated the response times to some communities.
Cllr Aspden said: “This proposal in front of us will undoubtedly damage the service and response times in some communities in York and North Yorkshire.”
Mrs Metcalfe said she had joined the panel in calling on the government to allow flexibility to levy a higher council tax precept and had also sought to galvanise the county’s MPs to exert pressure on ministers.
She said: “I think the voices were heard, definitely, and mine and the panel’s.”
Ms Metcalfe said while Home Office officials had been “supportive” after visiting stations to see where additional resources were needed, government inspectors had also recently raised concerns about the service’s resources.
She said the meeting with the Home Secretary saw the York and North Yorkshire delegation also call for a change in the government’s formula to decide how much funding fire service receives given that it costs more to provide services across a large and rural area.
Mrs Metcalfe said: “I made it very clear that it doesn’t sit well with me raising people’s taxes, however I know from our consultation events around precept there is support from the public to be able to raise the precept for the fire service in particular.
“It should be about raising the core government grant as well, a funding formula. We’re also looking for some one-off grant funding from government to kick off our on-call provision as well as our prevention.
“I was very pleased with that conversation. I think we very much made our point going forward that we really needed precept flexibility and the additional for the funding formula to be looked at again, which I believe that they are doing.”
However, the commissioner dismissed suggestions one aim of the proposed risk and resource model was to save money.
She said: “If it was about cuts we would have to do it straight away. We have a balanced budget, albeit very tight, at the moment. Even if we had a pot of reserves as big as some other well-funded services I would still be doing this.
“The reason is we need to understand where our risk is across the county and York and we need to make sure we have the right resource in the right place.”