Fire tax to rise by two per cent

The FBU have reacted to the proposals. Picture: Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service

The rise in tax will pay the fire service - Credit: Devon and Somerset Fire and Resc

Residents in Devon and Somerset will pay more to the region’s fire service after moves to stop an increase in its share of council tax were rejected.

Members of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority met on Monday to discuss the budget and whether there should be an increase in the amount collected from council tax.

Officers had recommended an increase 1.99 per cent – or £1.79 for a Band D property – and bringing its share of a council tax bill for such a home to £91.79.

This would set the authority’s budget requirement for 2022-23 at £77,288,900.

Despite a majority of members at the fire authority meeting supporting the increase, there were efforts to freeze the level just for one financial year.

Cllr Dr Pam Buchan (Labour) who represents Honicknowle in Plymouth, proposed a motion that council tax be held at 2021-22 levels.

“I think this year is unusual compared to other years in terms of what people are managing in terms of their living costs,” she said.

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“I understand that the precept is a small part of our council tax and that people pay. But I also feel it’s very important, as an authority, that we shouldn’t take advantage of the goodwill that people have towards us.

“Many people are facing a lot of vulnerability this year and struggling financially.

“As a representative of Plymouth, we are the second most deprived authority in Devon and Somerset and we are also the highest contributor in terms of council tax.

“Because of our past prudence, if wait this year and then next year will be a new year with these new financial conditions to consider.”

As Director of Finance, People and Estates for the Authority, Shane Scott suggested that to hold off increasing council tax now could increase pressures later.

“We still have to implement an efficiency programme,” he said.

“We must get on with that. But what this allows us to do, it buys us essentially a year … 12 months to develop and produce a fully costed efficiency programme to take us into the next year … and by 26/ 27 to close that budget gap.

“If we do not do so, then we will still draw on reserves at a faster rate.

“But it means that we have perhaps just 12 months to get it right.

“If there is any slippage in that efficiency programme, we then start to enter a period whereby we are exhausting our reserves at a much faster rate than perhaps I would be comfortable with as treasurer in my advice to yourselves as members.”

The authority’s vice-chair, Cllr David Thomas (Conservative, Torbay, Preston), backed Mr Scott and argued that it was important account for an unpredictable future. “We know that 1.99 per cent will not cover our financial requirement for our staff which was actually only just agreed recently which will impact on this year’s pay budget,” he said.

“But then there’s another pay award that’s actually coming through in April that is being negotiated, but hasn’t actually got ratification. We don’t know what that is coming down the line.”

Another member of Plymouth’s Labour group, Cllr Margaret Corvid (Drake Ward) supported Cllr Dr Buchan. “Cllr Dr Buchan and I represent some of the most deprived areas in Plymouth,” she said.

“But we are here as the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority, and we have an opportunity to grant a reprieve.”

Devon and Somerset is among the most financially secure fire authorities in the country and Cllr Corvid argued it puts them in a stronger position to be able to freeze the amount paid in council tax.

Members of the authority voted, by a majority, for the 1.99 per cent increase, which is the maximum allowed without having to hold a referendum.