Lee Rowley MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Local Government and Building Safety)
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
13 October 2023
Fire precept 2024/25
Further to my correspondence of 26.09.23 regarding the Protection Uplift Grant, I am writing in advance of this year’s Local Government Finance Settlement to urge you to grant East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) the funds required to keep my constituents and others in the area safe.
I believe that ESFRS have contacted you directly and have reported an emerging funding gap of £2.1m, the bulk of which is driven by the impact of inflation. Representatives tell me that number is likely to increase further and ESFRS have already used reserves to help balance their budget for 2023/24 – which is clearly not a sustainable approach.
I'm deeply concerned that the service, in attempts to balance their budget, will be forced to cut essential frontline services, including proposals to change provision in the east of the county. ESFRS have already achieved savings and efficiencies of £12m over the last 13 years. I have significant and serious concerns about any further cuts to local fire services – Brighton and Hove and the wider region can only be safe with the vital prevention, protection and response services the ESFRS provides.
This year has brought services pressures into sharp focus due to a number of high-profile local fires, including the regional response to the devastating Royal Albion Hotel fire in Brighton. In addition, between April 2018 and March 2023 ESFRS has attended 334 primary fire incidents at buildings over 3 floors high in Brighton and Hove.
• 26 of these were in buildings reported to be over 10 floors
• 21 of these involved between 6 and 13 appliances
• At 25 of these incidents the fire started between the 5th and the 14th floors
• In total there was 1 fatality from these fires and a further 14 people were taken to hospital with either slight or serious injuries
• Over 30 of these fires were in medium risk buildings (5 and 6 storey buildings)
• Nearly 60 were in high rise buildings (7 floors and over)
The ESFRS’s gets the bulk of its government funding from the Local Government Finance Settlement, and I would urge you and colleagues to properly listen to and reflect the concerns of fire services as you make the current round of funding decisions. In particular, I am calling on you to protect the lifesaving services ESFRS provide by:
• Increasing the Settlement Funding Assessment to match the rate of inflation, so that fire services can continue to deliver vital emergency services
• Put into base budgets the one-off grants that services currently receive for pensions and post Grenfell investment in protection services
• Review the allocation of the Protection Uplift Grant to ensure it reflects the realistic cost of addressing the risks posed by the high number of high and medium rise building in East Sussex and the City of Brighton and Hove
• Fully fund the cost of the pensions remedy and the second options exercise for part time workers
• Fully fund the replacement and operation of end-of-life national resilience assets
• Provide access to funding to support the fire sector to achieve the national target of net zero by 2050
• Increase Council Tax flexibility for fire services to 3% or £5 whichever is the higher – this is particularly important as 70% of ESFRS funding comes from Council Tax
To reiterate, this is a matter of the fire service’s ability to keep my constituents safe, and I look forward to hearing from you on the specific issue of the Protection Uplift Grant, as well as the wider funding issues detailed above.
(co-signed by Lloyd Russell Moyle MP)