Fire service covering Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes keeps its powder dry for another year on holding referendum on council tax hike

Fire chiefs are keeping their powder dry for at least another year on trying to get a bigger council tax rise to fund their life saving services.

By David Tooley, local democracy reporter
Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 6:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 6:04 pm

Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority’s executive has this morning (Wednesday) supported a recommendation to increase its share of the council tax by 1.99 per cent.

The full fire authority will be asked to rubber stamp this at a meeting next week before its demand is added to those of Buckinghamshire Council and Milton Keynes Council to send out in March.

It will mean that the average Band D property will face a £67.16 bill for fire services, which will net chiefs an extra £400,000 for the year in a total budget of £31.3 million. £400,000 is approximately equivalent to the cost of employing eight whole-time firefighters.

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Councillors at the executive decided against recommending a costly referendum to increase bills over and above the 2 per cent extra they are allowed to get.

But they want to see what happens next year before deciding whether to trigger a referendum, which they would have to pay for.

Fire service funding has been an issue for years across the Bucks and MK patch.

And Mark Hemming, the director of finance and assets, revealed that the Government has not given them extra flexibility to increase their share of the tax.

The fire authority met virtually

“The authority currently sets a band D equivalent precept of £65.85 per annum. This is significantly below the national average of £78.56 and is the second lowest precept of any non-metropolitan combined fire authority,” said Mr Hemming in his report.

Jason Thelwell, the chief fire officer, said: “We are not recommending a referendum be held this year, just that we consider it for next year.

“But no decision has been taken on that and we are not recommending that we take one next year either.

“We will just look at it depending upon the outcome of the comprehensive spending review.”

In the chair, Milton Keynes councillor David Hopkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) said: “It’s just common sense.”

The one referendum held so far to increase council tax by above an allowed limit was when the then Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Olly Martins, lost a poll at a cost estimated at £600,000.

Councillors also decided not to increase their allowances for the coming year.