The average council tax payer in West Yorkshire will have to find less than 2p a week extra to pay for their fire and rescue service next year.
Councillors have agreed a record low precept rise of two per cent for 2010-11 – an additional 1.03 a year for Band D households. But West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority may be forced to find savings of up to 20m by 2013-14 – its chair has warned.
Coun David Ridgway said: “While our prime concern is always to maintain essential fire cover and protect firefighter safety we can’t ignore the current financial climate and the strain this increasingly places on domestic purse strings.
“Fortunately, we have been able to find sustainable staff savings of some 600,000 over the past year to help ease budget pressures and pay for critical investments in areas like water rescue and urban search and rescue training.
“The medium-term financial prospects are very worrying. Whatever the result of the forthcoming general election, the next government will be forced to squeeze public sector expenditure if it is to rein in excessive borrowing.
“In hard cash, that could force us to find savings of between 11m and 20m by 2013-14.”
Chief fire officer Simon Pilling admitted that the financial forecasts were challenging but insisted that work was already underway to identify the new technology, equipment and ways of working necessary to provide services to high standards in different ways.
Mr Pilling said: “It may well be that the pace of fire service modernisation needs to quicken, and that will be uncomfortable in many ways, but we exist to protect life and property and my staff have never shirked from that key responsibility.
“Efficiency and effectiveness have always been our hallmarks.
“A decade ago, in the face of doubters, West Yorkshire pioneered community fire safety work and has seen domestic fire deaths plummet by 40 per cent as a result.
“Between 2004 and 2009 the fight against arson saved the local economy 342m.
“What is difficult is not necessarily impossible.”
Mr Pilling gave an assurance that 2010-11 would see no reduction in operational standards or performance.