Fire service asks for 13 per cent budget hike

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is set to ask Powys for an extra £1 million for the next financial year.

Roger Thomas Chief Fire Office Mid And West Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
Roger Thomas Chief Fire Office Mid And West Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

On Monday, the fire authority is expected to discuss and approve a 13 per cent hike to its budget which will be levied on all six local authorities that Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWW) covers, including Powys, from April 1, 2023.

This would take its budget up from £53.824 million to £60.821 million.

At a Powys County Council meeting on Thursday chief fire officer Roger Thomas and chief financial officer Sarah Mansbridge explained to councillors why they need to increase their levy.

Mr Thomas said the numbers of retained firefighters is falling and that this was putting a strain on the service.

More funding and re-structuring retained firefighter contracts could “arrest that decline”, he said.

“We’ve had the on-call sector on the cheap for decades and it’s unsustainable in its current guise,” said Mr Thomas.

Powys Conservative group leader Councillor Aled Davies said: “We don’t know yet as a council what we will be getting from the Welsh Government as a settlement, the indication predicts three per cent.

“Your expectation for a much higher precept is going to create a pressure on the council.”

Of the £1 million, around £250,000 would be covered by the Welsh Government, while the remaining £750,000 would need to be paid from the council’s own finances.

Councillor Davies said: “The pressure of about £750,000 would fall on the council taxpayer of Powys, which is the equivalent to a one per cent charge.”

“An additional one per cent due to the precept is going to make a huge difference to the council taxpayers of Powys. Is there anything else you could do to deliver an excellent service without putting the precept up quite so much?"

Ms Mansbridge: “The 13 per cent has not been taken lightly. It dates back 15 to 20 years where, year on year, we have suffered below inflation and local authority settlements.

“We’ve come to a point now, where if we don’t invest in our service, our availability will continue to fall away, and as an emergency service we would not be able to guarantee that we would be able to turn out."

The increase would “stem the flow,” said Ms Mansbridge.

Councillor Gwynfor Thomas, who is also vice-chairman of the fire authority, said: “I assure members that the budget setting process has been exceptional.

“We’ve seen underneath the information. We’ve seen them search for savings and sadly if they were made, it would mean the closure of stations or removal of equipment.”

He believed the fire service’s ability to respond to emergency calls would be affected negatively unless the levy is agreed.

MAWW fire and rescue service covers a vast geographical area, which is two-thirds of Wales and includes the local authorities Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Swansea.

The fire service should have 702 full-time equivalent posts for retained fire-fighters, but the current figure is 598 and decreasing.

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