Fire service has £1 million reserve to fight pandemic

SOUTH Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has created a near-£1 million reserve to protect the service from pandemic-related “turbulence”.

SOUTH Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has created a near-£1 million reserve to protect the service from pandemic-related “turbulence”.

The move is a response to warnings about the potential dip in revenue from business rates and council tax because of Covid-19.

Stuart Booth, SYFR’s director of support services, said: “That’s there to help financially shield the authority from the turbulence that a lot of local authorities are now experiencing, the economy is now experiencing, and is likely to continue.

“A number of local authorities are now suggesting that they may have difficulties from a financial sustainability perspective.

“So we are loking to create a Covid-19 reserve that will help us manage that potential turbulance in the revenues that we receive from council tax and business rates.

“We believe that’s a sensible move and will help us plan with some confidence, moving forward.”

The Covid-19 Recovery Reserve of £970,000 was approved by the fire authority on June 22, as well as a new £646,000 reserve for “continuous improvement in the service.”

Mr Booth said: “It’s important that we support and facilitate that process through financial means that will enable us to foster and support ideas, opportunities and developments that the service is looking to make, to make it more effective and more efficient.”

SYFR delivered a £42,000 underspend on the £54 million budget for 2019/20.

Ring-fencing the new funds is part of SYFR reducing its reserves to about £10 million by 2022, having seen them as high as £26 million in recent years.

Mr Booth said: “We are still on course to achieve that objective.”

Fire authority member Cllr Charlie Hogarth asked why the pandemic costs needed to be separated from general reserves.

“I thought reserves were for a rainy day, which Covid-19 is,” he added.

“You’re going to get a situation when Covid-19 is over about where you are going to put that money.”

Mr Booth said: “It’s a specific event and a specific set of circumstances that we are trying to reflect in our financial planning.

“Whether that’s an exact amount we are going to need, we’ll only find out in the coming months as we take forward our financial plans.”

Disruption from Covid-19 has included training courses like water safety, held in Wales, cancelled.

The service has also made 300 calls to vulnerable residents during lockdown.

And stations are capable of being deep-cleaned and back in action within 12 hours, SYFR says.

Meanwhile, changes away from close proximity crewing (CPC) \_ ruled unaccepable in court in 2018 \_ also continue.

Chief fire officer Alex Johnson said Tanskersley was the only station yet to switch.

She added: “Anybody that’s had a drive around the county, obviously not during lockdown, will see that Aston Park and Edlington have skips and all sorts of work being done to bring these stations back to being fit for four watches and no longer CPC.”