High fuel cost fears of emergency services

RISING fuel costs have hit emergency services hard with Suffolk police and the ambulance service admitting they may need more money.

Anthony Bond

RISING fuel costs have hit emergency services hard with Suffolk police and the ambulance service admitting they may need more money.

Suffolk Police Authority has blamed escalating fuel prices as one of the main reasons why the force overspent by £496,000 for its operational budget in 2007/08.

And it has warned that with petrol prices continuing to rise rapidly, it may need more funding from the Government.

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The East of England Ambulance Service predicted that by the end of this financial year it could have overspent by £1million on its fuel budget if prices stay as they are.

It warned this could result in cutbacks and has already contacted local primary care trusts (PCTs) requesting more money.

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In just a year the average price for unleaded petrol in Suffolk has increased from 97.1p to £1.18p with diesel rocketing from 97.3p to £1.31.

Matthew Ware, spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service, said: “We have got a long time to go before the end of March and we do not know what fuel prices are going to do in that time. But if we do not receive extra funding it would mean having to make savings in non A&E areas.”

Suffolk police has noticed increases in vehicle fuel costs, as well as the police helicopter, and in the last financial year overspent on its fuel budget by £176,000.

With no sign of fuel prices reducing, the authority is considering approaching the Home Office in a bid for more cash.

It will also review its policy in response to incidents, the impact of the reduction in police fuel depots and whether discounts at petrol stations could be negotiated.

Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said she was concerned about the effect of increased fuel prices on the current financial year.

“The bigger concern is how much the petrol prices continue increasing and that may have more of an impact and may mean that we overspend again this year unless we get an increase in budget,” she said. “It is something that we will probably write to the Home Office about to ask the Government to look at our funding. We are among the lowest police forces across the country in terms of increases that we have had from Government. They are asking us to perform at the highest standard but with an increasingly shrinking budget.”

Suffolk County Council - which is responsible for the fire service - said it expected fuel prices to continue to increase and appreciated it faced challenging times ahead.

A council spokesperson said: “We have a business continuity plan in place for the authority to ensure that we can continue to provide vital services whether it is to care homes or for emergency services.

“We constantly try to keep fuel usage down but we are also a responsive service. The county council holds reserves of diesel at eight depots and the fire and rescue service has stocks for its appliances.”

In response to the Suffolk Police Authority concerns, a Home Office spokesman said it did not specifically take into account the cost of fuel in determining grant levels.

“The police funding formula uses a range of data relating to demographic and social characteristics, which is heavily weighted by changes in population, to allocate the grant and reflect the relative needs of each police authority,” he said. “Suffolk has had a substantial increase in Government resources and has had a good funding settlement for the next three years.”

YesterdayUnison warned that social workers, carers, environmental health officers and other council employees could take strike action unless their mileage rates are increased in response to soaring fuel prices.

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