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Council raises taxes, saves 1,500 firefighter jobs

The average homeowner will pay about $8 more in tax that will generate $4.5 million

The Coventry Telegraph

COVENTRY, England — The jobs of almost 1,500 West Midlands firefighters have been secured — after bosses put up Council Tax by £5. The rise, to be introduced from April, will generate an extra £3 million for the emergency service, safeguarding both jobs and fire stations.

It will also lead to the first recruitment drive in three years. Fire chiefs had previously raised the spectre of compulsory redundancies and station closures amid fears of funding cuts. But bosses won permission to generate cash by raising the organisation’s share of Council Tax, adding £5 a year to the bill of an average Band D home.

Fire Authority chairman, Coun John Edwards, said he believed taxpayers would understand the need for the extra money.

“Our firefighter numbers will have fallen from 1,600 in 2011 to 1,230 in 2015,” he said. “We have to start recruiting because we cannot crew all our stations if we fall below 1,230.

“It only costs around £47 a year for your fire service — people pay more for pet insurance. Every penny of the £5 increase will be spent on front-line services and won’t be squirelled away on inappropriate things.” The service will take on a limited number of trainees from April. They will be first new staff since 2010.

The organisation loses around 60 firefighters-a-year through ill health or retirement and, until now, they have not been replaced.

Members of the fire authority will be asked to approve the tax rise at their meeting next Monday.

The increase was mooted last December, when Coun Edwards claimed the service faced a 25 per cent grant cut over the four-year life of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending review, to end in 2015.

Speaking about the rise at that time, he said a relaxation of rules on the extent of Council Tax increases would be “helpful”. “This will allow us to collect somewhere in the region of an extra 10p a week for the average property,” he said. “It sounds negligible, but could give us as much as £3 million a year. We’ll do our utmost to avoid fire station closures and firefighter redundancies, but there will need to be radical changes in the way we deliver our blue-light service and fire safety programmes.”

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