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Blaming Fire Service for adding to council tax needs to stop, senior councillor says

Fire Engines generic (Pic: Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service)

BLAMING the Fire Service for putting one per cent onto the Council Tax in Powys needs to stop, a senior councillor has said.

At a council meeting to discuss setting the 2024/2025 budget, Conservative Cllr Gwynfor Thomas who is also chairman of the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service Authority claimed that the council were “wrongly reporting” the Fire Service levy.

Cllr Gwynfor Thomas

In January ahead of a meeting to set the draft budget the Liberal Democrat/Labour cabinet released a statement saying that they recommended a 6.5 per cent Council Tax rise.

They said that a “further one per cent” on the Council Tax taking it up to 7.5 per cent was needed to “support the £1.1million increase in the Fire and Rescue Authority annual levy imposed on the council”.

Cllr Thomas said: “It’s been widely reported, and I think wrongly that one per cent of our 7.5 is due to the levy submitted by the fire service.”

Cllr Thomas explained that the fire service had seen a £536,000 grant removed and £1.1 million worth of pressure put upon it due to a revaluation of fire-fighter pensions.

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He added that a population change had also led to a 2.8 per cent increase in the levy from Powys.

Cllr Thomas said: “My understanding from the Welsh Government is that those items were to be picked up by the revenue support grant (RSG).

“You are given extra funding to pick up those demands and pressures in the fire service.”

He added the council needed to raise the issue with the Welsh Government if members were unhappy about it.

Cllr Thomas added that he had written and received a response to his concerns from the Welsh Government finance and local government minister Rebecca Evans.

Ms Evans says that she has been told that the funding system is “unfair and lacks transparency” and that “pressure for change is bound to increase” if it continues to provide “inequitable results.”

Finance portfolio holder Labour’s Cllr David Thomas said that he “wasn’t aware” of any specific funding in the RSG that is earmarked for the fire service.

Cllr (David) Thomas said: “It’s £1.1 million being taken out of council services, it’s coming out of the total funding for this authority.

“I think it’s quite fair that we highlight the fact.”

Council leader, Liberal Democrat Cllr James Gibson-Watt stressed that the council’s relationship with the fire service is “very strong.”

Cllr Gibson-Watt believed the fire authority had “welcomed” the council identification of the proportion of Council Tax used to fund the levy as it’s “more transparent” this way.

“I’m certain you’ll fail to find any resident in Powys that begrudges the fire service the money it gets,” said Cllr Gibson-Watt.

The levy increase for Powys the largest hike of the six authorities that are in the fire service area, which are Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, and Neath Port Talbot.