Bucks Fire and Rescue crippled by cash shortages say inspectors

Bucks Fire and Rescue service is unable to operate effectively because it is suffering from serious cash shortages, a report has revealed today (Tuesday).

Although the service has been officially rated by Her Majesty's inspectors as requiring improvement, it has been praised for how it deals with incidents.

A Bucks Fire and Rescue service engine travelling in Aylesbury

A Bucks Fire and Rescue service engine travelling in Aylesbury

The inspectors concluded the service simply does not have enough staff and money to operate effectively and rated the way in which it looks after people as "good", despite the cash problems faced.

The report describes Bucks Fire and Rescue, which covers an area of 724 square miles as facing “significant financial constraints” and praises it for the way it copes.

“To its credit, it has developed and implemented an innovative, flexible and graduated approach to operational resourcing” said the inspectors.

They say the service “could be better” in how quickly and reliably it responds to fires and other emergencies and protects the public through fire regulation and fire prevention.

The inspectors said: “But the service is good at understanding the risk of fires and other emergencies.

"We have no concerns about how it deals with incidents.

"And its response to national risks is good.

“For efficiency we have graded the service as requires improvement.

"This is fundamentally because it does not have enough people and money.

"It also requires improvement at making its service affordable now and in future."

Bucks Fire and Rescue's chief fire officer Jason Thelwell said: “The report highlights the significant challenges we are facing and we are of course incredibly proud of our staff.

“Our staff have worked incredibly hard to maintain the service we provide to our community, but this is becoming increasingly difficult.

"The inspector has stated that this is a well-run service and that the service is to be commended for its resilience.

“The service receives the lowest council tax for any combined fire authority across the country at less than £65 a year for a band D property, and these financial constraints have resulted in 30 per cent fewer firefighter numbers, as well as reductions in other areas of the organisation.

"The inspector stated that ‘in large part this is due to circumstances beyond their control’.”

Mr Thelwell said the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority had been lobbying for further funding for the last few years.

He and the authority's chair are both calling upon the new Conservative Government to consider the implications of today's report.

He said: “We are asking it either to increase funding centrally, or to allow us to increase our council tax above the cap of two per cent (£1.30 a year) to enable us to raise our share of the council tax by £5 a year, so that we are not left behind.

“This money would be spent on more firefighting staff to respond to emergencies and undertake important prevention and fire protection activities.”

In highlighting areas that could be improved, inspectors say the fire service could be better at how quickly and reliably it:

> Responds to fires and other emergencies

> Protects the public through fire regulation

> Prevents fires and other risks

They also said the service required improvement to the way it managed performance and promoted leaders.

The report highlighted areas the service was performing well praising it for:

> Promoting the right values and culture

> Getting the right people with the right skills

> Ensuring fairness and promoting diversity

The inspectors conclusion was: "We would like to see improvements in the year ahead, but without increased funding, it is difficult to see where progress can be made."