Fire authority confirms rise in charges to be added to council tax bills as budget approved
Councillors on County Durham and Darlington’s Fire and Rescue Authority have praised officers for their “prudent financial planning” as they approved the budget and increased council tax for the coming year.
Members gave the go-ahead to increase the amount paid to County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) via council tax bills by 1.96% for 2021/22.
Alongside the contribution to the fire authority, the majority of council tax goes to local councils with a section also going to the office of Durham’s Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, which also sets its own rate, known as a precept.
The increase for the region’s fire authority for 2021/22 would see a Band D property pay £107.55 annually towards services, compared to £105.48 the previous year.
Commensurate increases would also be applied to other property types with a Band A property paying £71.70 annually towards services, for example.
The council tax precept and budget were agreed at a meeting of the combined fire authority, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
The fire authority precept will be included as part of council tax bills for properties in the areas covered by CDDFRS.
Durham councillor John Shuttleworth said: “Whilst any [council tax] increase is unpalatable with the way things are, the 1.96% in the grand scheme of things equates to something like a cup of coffee over the period of a year.
“I think when it’s an emergency service that everybody requires and everybody expects, I think we just have to live with that and move forward.
“We live in uncertain times and I think we all have to back this at the moment.”
Combined fire authority chair and Durham councillor, John Robinson, added the precept increase for a Band D property would represent an extra £2.07 a year or around 3.97 pence per week.
Councillors praised the work of finance officers for their continued high-standard of performance against a backdrop of financial pressures.
However, treasurer to the fire authority, Tony Hope, said it was likely the authority may have to make savings in 2022/23.
The amount of savings required would be based on a number of factors, including Government funding and future Covid-19 pressures.
Councillors were also told that the fire authority cannot borrow money to fund any revenue budget deficit and can only borrow to fund capital expenditure.
While the authority can use reserves to fund revenue pressures, finance officers advised against this.
Mr Hope explained: “Our reserves are towards the lower level and we have amongst the lowest level of reserves of any combined fire authority in the country.
“In fact, the external auditors have also commented that our reserves are at a particularly low level and any further drawings on them to balance the budget wouldn’t actually be advisable.”
Durham councillor Alison Batey, who chairs the fire authority’s Finance Committee, praised finance officers for their work on the budget.
This included their “prudent financial planning” against a backdrop of a one-year financial settlement from the Government and the added impacts of Covid-19.
Cllr Batey added: “In the uncertain times that we’re actually in, our earmarked reserves are vital to retain.
“I don’t think it would be remiss to actually say the next few years are going to be very very difficult, I think we can all see that.
“I want to end on a positive and just say thank you to Tony and the team for managing this late settlement and also prudent financial planning.”