The Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service could face a ‘perfect storm’ of limited funding and the need for a ‘realistic pay rise’, he warned.
The issue was highlighted at a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority meeting last Thursday (June 16), where a report was presented on work on a financial contingency plan.
He said: “Major events including the pandemic, the UK’s departure from the European Union and the conflict within Ukraine have led to widespread economic uncertainty.
“This uncertainty, along with the current rate of inflation, has focused the department on preparing business continuity plans for potential financial challenges it may face.
“If a salary award is agreed above that budgeted in the current fiscal year, the department may have to present options and recommendations to the authority later in the fiscal year to fund any pressure.”
County Councilor Simon Bywater (Con, Sawtry and Stilton) asked how the service will be affected when it also faces increased demand.
He said: “If we’re short on resources and yet we get a 35% increase in shared services, where does that leave us as a service, is there a perfect storm coming here? “
Fire Chief Chris Strickland replied: ‘In terms of demand no, and the reason for that is that as a risk-based organization we have the capacity to meet the demand, so we are nowhere near the level of this ability.
“The perfect storm for us, I guess, is more about the funding we have as an organization, so the fact that we can’t raise enough money now to pay a realistic salary increase, that’s where the perfect storm is happening.
“I think unless we see movement on how we fundraise to pay for the service, then yes, there’s a perfect storm coming.”
Almost two-thirds of the Fire Service’s £34.8million 2022-23 budget comes from the Fire Precept in the Municipal Taxes Bill. The rest is made up of government funding and grants, as well as money from company tariffs. More than three-quarters of its budget is devoted to personnel.
Last year, firefighters received a 1.5% wage increase, effective July 2021.
Chairperson Cllr Edna Murphy (Lib Dem, Bar Hill) said she had written to all Cambridgeshire MPs advocating for better funding for the service.
She said she chased them away, but not all of them responded.
She had, however, met with Daniel Zeichner, the Labor MP for Cambridge, who then wrote to Lucy Frazer, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, on behalf of the authority.
Ms. Frazer’s office had been in touch to request more information.
Cllr Murphy said: “We haven’t had any concrete feedback other than interest and understanding, but it’s a positive step as far as I can see.”
Cllr Sebastian Kindersley (Lib Dem, Gamlingay) said it was ‘very disappointing’ that some MPs did not respond, saying it was ‘in their hands to do something about this’.
In 2020-21, the service cost £35.39 per Cambridgeshire resident.