Concerns raised over fire service finances after ‘decade of austerity’

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service headquarters.
By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

Concerns over Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s finances have been raised after was revealed there could be a £2m funding gap in its budget next year.

One councillor asked for reassurance that there would be no cuts to wholetime firefighters during a meeting on May 13.

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin, who took on the role this year, said that some of the issues may go away if there was more funding made available – which he added was unlikely.

A report published ahead of the Policy and Strategy Committee meeting stated that a “potential funding gap in excess of £2m has been identified for 2023/24 and beyond”.

The service currently has an 11 or 12 per cent vacancy rate, which Mr Parkin admitted is good in the sense that it saves the service money – but said that it means current employees have to pick up more work.

He said around 75 per cent of the current budget is spent on pay, which means people working for the service “cannot go unaffected”.

He added: “These are now becoming significant cuts.”

Mr Parkin told councillors: “The reality is that we’ve had over a decade of austerity and that appears to continue.

“The drivers for that may be different in terms of inflation and the effects of global issues particularly around Europe.

“The problem is not going away and I think if inflation carries on, that may linger further over to other financial years.

“We may have to look at a longer term plan.

“In my time over the last decade, we’ve gone from something in excess of 1100 staff to just over 800 staff.

“Just like any public sector body, there have been significant 25 to 30 per cent reductions in that time.”

The report stated: “The Service’s 2032 ambition to be ‘outstanding’, fully aligns with the duty for continuous improvement, however, given the expectations on the sector and growing demands highlighted in this report, it is likely that adjustments will be required to the establishment and structure of it.”

The committee meeting was held as part of the Fire Authority, a body of local councillors and other officials which oversee the service’s performance and spending.

Councillor Tom Hollis (Ind) said: “We’re in the reality where there isn’t as much money about as there once was.

“I’d hope there are certain red lines we’re going to be putting in to say this is the thing we won’t consider cutting.

“You’ll be aware of some of the problems at Ashfield where we have had cuts to the fire station and sadly we’ve had some quite serious incidents which -who’s to say – would have turned out differently if we had a wholetime service.

“From mine and Jason [Zadrozny]’s perspective, we are very keen to make sure that the full-time firefighters are the last thing we look at changing.

“It certainly concerns me when we hear things like recruitment is being pushed back because that ultimately means there are less boots on the ground when we need them.”

Mr Parkin replied: “To talk of red lines at the minute I’d be putting my neck on the block in front of you as a fire authority.

“All I can see is we will take the data and we will look at the information and we will come back to you with our best advice for you to consider and scrutinise in the autumn.”

Councillor Johno Lee (Con) added: “I’ve looked at the finances, I’ve looked at the future plan.

“I think we could be in a bit of trouble. I think we need to have an emergency summit and invite every single member of parliament to come and speak to us at the same time.

“If our service doesn’t do what it needs to do, people will die, people will lose their lives.”

Mr Parkin said he had drafted a letter to all MPs in the county to invite them to lobby on the subject.

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