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Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service living ‘hand-to-mouth’ says fire chief as 2.93% precept rise agreed

Chief fire officer Chris Strickland say the fire service in Cambridgeshire is living “hand to mouth” as a 2.93 per cent rise in its share of the council tax bill was agreed.

That means a Band D household will pay £82.26 a year to the fire authority from April, up £2.34 from last year.

Chris Strickland, Cambridgeshire's chief fire officer. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR
Chris Strickland, Cambridgeshire's chief fire officer. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR

Mr Strickland warned there was “no spare fat on the bone” at the fire service and said it faced downsizing if there were cuts to its budget in the future.

He told councillors at a fire authority meeting last Thursday (February 15) that the service had updated its plan for how it could potentially downsize if needed, “in a measured way” that maintained the best service it could.

He said the decision announced last year by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service to withdraw from a shared control room with Cambridgeshire will have a “significant financial impact” when it happens.

He said: “This is something we will have to think about because the reality is it will impact on our ability to support and deliver fire and rescue services.”

He still had hopes Suffolk’s fire service would change its mind, as he believed the shared control room saved both services money and Cambridgeshire had provided a good service over the years.

Matthew Warren, deputy chief executive of the fire authority, said the “key risk” facing the fire service budget in the coming financial year was a staff pay increase.

The authority had budgeted for a three per cent increase, he explained, but the final national pay agreement was not being decided until after the budget had been set.

Mr Warren said the fire service had recently been informed of some additional funding, meaning the authority could find a pay award of four per cent, should that be agreed.

County councillor Simon Bywater (Con, Sawtry and Stilton) said he did not like to increase taxes for people, but said the fire service was a “crucial service” and he was happy to support the rise, which was unanimously agreed by fire authority members.

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