West Yorkshire Fire Authority votes to raise Council Tax Precept

WEST Yorkshire Fire Authority has voted to raise its Council Tax Precept – despite Conservative Councillors proposing an alternative that would freeze the tax rise.

One of the main streams of funding for the fire service is a precept added to Council Tax bills in West Yorkshire.

At a meeting of the Authority members were asked to vote on the service’s upcoming budget – which included a 1.99 per cent increase in the precept.

Members were told that the Government had not guaranteed funding levels for the service for future years, and the precept rise – which will amount to around £838,000 this year, was needed to protect the budget.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service

The rise equates to an extra £1.31 for each Band D household this year.

Officers told the authority – made up of members of all five West Yorkshire Councils, that unlike the NHS, the Government had not allocated the fire service as a public service that would be protected from cuts.

Councillor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) suggested an alternative budget – with no precept rise. He said his amendment would not see any reduction in services and would minimise the impact on tax payers.

He said support for the Authority from Government during the pandemic had been “heroic” and added: “Despite this we still get the Austerity story from the Labour group.”

He accused Labour – which has a majority on the authority, of “crying wolf” over fears that Government might cut funding for the service. The claim that the precept would prevent the loss of 44 fire fighter jobs was to “add drama” – according to Cllr Pollard.

He also suggested that it was highly unlikely that the Government would cut funding to fire services with the Grenfell Review looming.

Councillor David Hall (Cons, Liversedge and Gomersal) said the amendment was a “win win situation that would be very much welcomed by residents.”

Other members pointed out that failing to raise the precept would cause funding issues in future years.

Councillor Ryk Downes (Lib Dem, Otley and Yeadon) said: “We are not protected by the Government when it comes to funding and if we don’t put the precept up then that money is lost forever.

“If we don’t put the precept up then we’re stuck. It is far more responsible to put the precept up and have a very minor rise.”

Councillor Steve Tulley (Lab, South Elmsall and South Kirkby) said the Government had cut £26 million from the authority’s budget over the last 10 years, adding: “Once this Pandemic is out of the way they will go right back to cuts. It is in their DNA.”

Coun Josh-Fenton-Glynn (Lab, Calder) said he didn’t share Cllr Pollard’s “optimism” that the Government would continue to maintain funding for the service in future years.

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland (Lib Dem, Idle and Thackley) said not raising the surcharge would be an “act of financial vandalism” when there was no guarantee funding would be maintained in future years.

The six Conservative members on the Authority voted for the Conservative amendment, but the other 16 voted against.

The main budget, including the precept, was then voted through with 13 voting for it, six against and three abstaining.

After the meeting Coun Pollard (Con: Baildon) said “As Tory finance spokesperson on Bradford Council, I spend the first couple of pre-Budget setting months of the year looking at ways in which financial resources can be expanded to meet fairly tight Net Expenditure Requirements. The Fire Service budget ultimately passed today by the Labour controlled Authority was proposing precisely the opposite! It was a case of ‘let us hunt around to find ways in which we can expand the Expenditure Requirement to fit the resources we are making available by increasing the precept!’