Hampshire Fire and Rescue freeze share of council tax after £2.5m surplus

Hampshire Fire and Rescue freeze share of council tax after £2.5m surplus

Hampshire Fire and Rescue freeze share of council tax after £2.5m surplus

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Eastleigh Chief Reporter

HAMPSHIRE residents will not have to pay extra towards the county’s fire service this year after bosses reported a £2.5m surplus in their budget.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service say it will freeze their share of council tax after making the savings through a variety of ways including freezing recruitment.

But a report due to go before finance bosses at Hampshire Fire Authority reveals that there will be a funding gap of £12m in three years time – and that residents should expect council tax increases from 2015 onwards.

The figures come as strike action continues to rumble on in a bitter dispute between the Government and members of the Fire Brigade Union over pension changes.

It also comes amid a two-year freeze in new recruitment at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service – a policy that is likely to have to come to an end when staff numbers need boosting.

It means an average Band D household will continue to pay £61.38 a year for fire services – the equivalent to under 17p a day.

Fire Authority boss Royston Smith told the Daily Echo said the surplus was down to “early” savings including efficiencies in vehicle use, back office operations and by halting employment.

He said: “We started to make these savings early – we could project how difficult it was going to be.

“You make the decisions early and you sometimes then find yourself with a surplus. These savings start to amass.”

He expected to find fresh savings ahead of the projected large budget deficit for 2017/18 of £12m and added: “We are confident about going forward. There are challenges, but we can face them and we are comfortable and confident that we can make these savings.”

It comes after the Daily Echo revealed how Hampshire residents were asked to stump up an extra £5 to help cuts-hit Hampshire Police – who are merging many backroom services with the county’s fire brigade – keep our streets safe.

The money this would raise has been described as a “lifeline” as extra Government cutbacks mean the constabulary will this year receive £41m less than four years ago.

Police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes is set to poll residents on the idea amid fears policing in our communities is set to reach “dangerous levels”.

The idea has won the backing of Hampshire Police Federation which represents rank and file police officers in the county.

Hampshire Fire Authority’s finalised budget position will be presented on February 19.

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