North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has started buying “pre-loved fire engines” to replace its decades old appliances as a means of balancing the books.
A meeting of the North Yorkshire and York’s police, fire and crime panel heard yesterday the service was “very close to breaking” due to a lack of government funding.
The meeting heard the service, which protects 820,000 residents, had recently replaced part of its 20-year-old fleet with 11-year-old appliances from a fire service that was replacing its equipment with brand new vehicles.
Chief fire officer Jonathan Dyson said the national standard was for all fire appliances to be replaced by their 15th year because after that time it became “incredibly difficult” to replace parts, but North Yorkshire’s relatively low use of appliances meant fire engines faced less wear and tear.
“Whichever face I turn someone is unhappy about what we’re trying to do here. Everything is being directed towards frontline prevention or appliances and crew.”
Chief financial officer Michael Porter said the service had ordered 16 brand new vehicles, 12 of which would be delivered next year, and it was also in the process of trying to buy another 15 second-hand appliances.
“The age of those 15 will be in the region of six to seven years old, so that will mean we will have 31 which will be relatively new, that’s about three-quarters of our appliance stock within the service.”
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Panel member and former judge Martin Walker told the meeting he was particularly concerned about the service’s ability to replace its ageing appliances.
“With the best will in the world, due to financial constraints, having to buy 11-year-old vehicles, however well maintained or well built they are, is a timebomb. Even with small fire engines, which are becoming more of the norm… we are not talking about a small amount of money.”
Mr Porter said even though the fire service had learnt it would receive about £400,000 more from the government than it had been expecting last month, it would face significant financial distress for years to come if the nationally agreed pay rise for firefighters was above three per cent.
North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe nodded as Mr Porter told the panel:
“It does continue to be exceptionally challenging and tight. The 2.99 per cent proposed increase is below what we expect inflation to be for the financial year and is certainly below what we’re seeing in our cost increases.”
Mrs Metcalfe said she had made “strong representations” to the Home Office about the impact of pay if it went above three per cent and that the government’s funding formula for the service needed reviewing.
“It’s really innovative practise to be able to buy pre-owned… it’s going to save the service in the long-term millions of pounds. It’s really thinking outside the box as unfortunately we’re not in the position our neighbouring fire services are in.”