Many of you may already be aware that Suffolk County Council is in the process of setting its budget for 2023/24, following a public consultation where over 2,600 Suffolk residents completed our budget survey.
This feedback helped to inform our proposals for the next financial year, which will be discussed by Cabinet today before being voted on at next month’s full council meeting.
Providing value for money for our residents remains a priority for our council, not just when budget setting but in every decision we make, with this being even more pertinent during the rising cost of living experienced nationally.
Suffolk County Council has not been immune to the increased costs, and we have had to create £15.5m of savings whilst still protecting our frontline services. But we are not just exploring savings; we have also made decisions on where to invest in our council to benefit people in Suffolk and ensure the best use of our money.
I am pleased that our proposed budget for 2023/24 includes significant funding for new equipment for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Over £5.3m has been allocated to fleet replacement, which includes the purchase of 20 state-of-the-art fire engines, including nine new vehicles ready for use by the end of 2023.
The fire engines will be strategically placed across Suffolk to help deliver the fastest response to our county’s communities in an emergency.
One will replace a high reach aerial fire appliance at Bury St Edmunds Fire Station that is nearing the end of its operational life, enabling us to continue to attend incidents at height, such as in high-rise buildings.
Another will be based with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service’s Driver Training team, providing a dedicated training vehicle to equip both new and current staff with the tools needed to help develop their skills.
These new fire engines complement the four dedicated rescue vehicles purchased in 2021, containing specialist equipment for undertaking rescues and making the scene safe at incidents ranging from car crashes to building collapses. Solar panels and more fuel-efficient engines were also fitted to these engines as part of our council’s aspiration to be a Net Zero authority by 2030.
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service remains committed to helping address climate change, having seen its impact first-hand when firefighters worked tirelessly to respond to a record number of incidents during last summer’s heatwave.
The service recently replaced six of its pool cars with electric alternatives and has invested in installing electric vehicle charging points at some of its fire stations to accommodate this. New emergency officer vehicles, due to be introduced later this year, will also be electric, supporting Suffolk County Council’s continued ambition to protect and enhance our environment.
To help achieve this, we must also dispose of our old equipment responsibly and ensure that it is reused where possible.
In the spring of 2022, we donated two of our former fire engines to our counterparts in Ukraine. Six Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service staff travelled over 1,000 miles across Europe to hand over the fully operational vehicles, which are still being used in Ukraine today and have been vital in the country’s response to its invasion by Russia.
Last year also saw an inspection from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service, who undertook a comprehensive review of all aspects of our work, from how we respond to emergencies to our equality, diversity and inclusion policies.
Our inspection report was published last Friday, and I am delighted that Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service was rated as “Good” for its effectiveness and how well it looks after its staff.
Inspectors commended the service for working well with others to reduce the number of fires and praised the positive working culture, which includes promoting the right values and encouraging staff to learn and develop.
Whilst the report was largely positive, it also identified areas where Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service can improve, specifically in terms of its efficiency and how it can make the best use of staff across its prevention, protection, and response activity.
I am pleased to share that work is already well underway to address these points, with recent improvements resulting in a substantial increase in our home safety visits and fire protection audits of businesses and landlords.
This continuous improvement, along with the proposed investment for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service outlined in next year’s budget, will enable our county to remain a place where people lead safe and healthy lives.
Column by Councillor Andrew Reid, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Public Protection