Essex: Fire authority sitting on £14.1m in reserve


- Credit: Archant

ESSEX Fire Authority is sitting on more than £14million in reserves despite making significant cuts to frontline services in recent years.

As at March 31, 2009 the authority had £4.3m in reserve but by March 31 this year that figure had swelled to £14.1m, prompting some initial concerns from the union. The authority says its general reserves have increased by £10m in recent years because Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) had achieved savings “against the approved budget” and there had been a significant increase in the financial risks it faces.

A spokesman for ECFRS said it was “prudent” to increase reserves in the light of cuts in funding from the Government.

He said: “The general reserves of the authority have increased in recent years because the service has achieved savings against the approved budget and there has been a significant increase in the financial risks facing the authority.

“Prior to the Government’s 2010 spending review, reserves were held at a lower level, reflecting the expectation of annual increases in both council tax and Government funding. The risks that there could be significant unplanned costs arising were limited in the main to fluctuations in spending on retained firefighters, which is effectively a pay as you go service and dependent on the number of incidents in any given year.

“We are now seeing reductions in Government funding, rather than increases and many local authorities recognise that this uncertainty means it is prudent to increase reserves.”

Ricardo la Torre, chairman of the Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which recently ended a long-running dispute with ECFRS over its frontline cuts, said it had been assured the level of funds being held in reserve would help prevent the need for any more job losses.

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He said: “We at the FBU have raised our concerns over the amount of money being held in reserves, however we have been given assurances by the service that some of these reserves will be used to protect against further job cuts and reduction in fire cover.”