Budget cap 'would put lives at risk'

LIVES will be put at risk if the Government carries out its threat and implements a cap on Essex Fire Authority spending, it was claimed last night.The warning comes after Local Government Minister Nick Raysnford revealed yesterday that the county's fire authority was one of six across the country to face the cap.

LIVES will be put at risk if the Government carries out its threat and implements a cap on Essex Fire Authority spending, it was claimed last night.

The warning comes after Local Government Minister Nick Raysnford revealed yesterday that the county's fire authority was one of six across the country to face the cap.

If enforced, it could see the county's fire authority forced to comply with a maximum budget figure set for them by central government.

And that would mean finding ways to slash costs, which this year led to a council tax precept of £56 for a band D household - an increase of around 16% on 2003/04.


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Reacting to the news last night, Graham Noakes, regional secretary for the Fire Brigades' Union in East Anglia, accused the Government of abusing its capping powers.

He said: "If the authority has to comply with the Government spending limits then that's going to be another £4 to £5million cut from the budget.

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"That can only be achieved if stations are closed, appliances are taken out of service and firefighters are made redundant - that's a massive thing to have to do.

"To take another £4 or £5million out of the budget would devastate our ability to provide fire cover across Essex.

"Any change to the status, downgrading or closure of fire stations will put people's lives at risk - nobody can argue against that."

Mr Noakes added: "One of our major concerns is that if the minister does decide to apply the capping, Essex Fire Authority is going to have to re-bill every household in the county with the new council tax demand - and that will cost £1million on its own.

"It's a perverse situation. We would say that it's an abuse of his authority, it would be putting people at risk and it would cost the taxpayers.

"There seems to be little sense in doing it."

Tory spokesman Philip Hammond also attacked the announcement. He said: "The capping process has ended up a shipwreck of a policy - unfair, untransparent and ineffective, designed to distract public attention from the real underlying problem which is wholly of the Government's making."

Essex Fire Authority now has 21 days to respond to the warning, before the Government decides whether or not to enforce capping.

Announcing the threat yesterday, Mr Raynsford said: " Police and fire authorities have a duty to be efficient and to act responsibly in setting their precepts.

"We have judged their budget requirements to be excessive if their budgets are more than 7% higher than last year, and if their precepts have increased by more than 13%.

"We will listen carefully to the cases put forward by the authorities I have named and, where justified, we will use the greater flexibility afforded by our new capping powers.

"However, authorities should be in no doubt that the Government means business."

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