The alarm has been raised over a projected £800,000 overspend by the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Each year, the budget for the fire and rescue service in Berkshire is set by members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA).

For the current financial year, a budget of £38.446 million was set as a balanced budget with no use of reserves.

However, changes to pay and a soar in firefighters overtime work have meant that the fire service is predicting that it will be unable to achieve that, with an anticipated deficit of £800,000.

Firefighters worked overtime a lot more than anticipated, caused by increased work during the summer heatwave and additional Bank Holiday due to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

The firefighters have been paid for this overtime work, with the total estimated cost of overtime work expected to be 453,000 by the end of the financial year. 

READ MORE: Impact of bullying and racism review felt by Berkshire fire and rescue service

The budget is also estimated to undergo further pressure due to a dispute over pay.

An offer to increase pay by five per cent for ‘Grey Book’ staff – covering uniformed firefighters and safety inspectors – has been rejected by the Fire Brigades Union which are seeking higher pay for members.

The 2022/23 budget only assumed a 2.5 per cent increase. The five per cent increase would mean the RBFA would have a projected overspend of £373,000.

Meanwhile, ‘Green Book’ administrative staff accepted a pay award that amounts to a £219,000 projected overspend.

The increase in fuel price by an additional  £44,000 has also been factored into the budget pressures.

READ MORE: 'Innovative' tri-service fire station proved to have more rapid responsive times

These figures are in budget monitoring report for Quarter 2 of 2022/23, and was discussed at a RBFA management committee, which is  which is attended by representatives of all six Berkshire councils.

Councillor David McElroy (Green, Redlands) said: “I think it’s worth saying that the Fire Service is doing an admirable job keeping the public safe as well as they do, despite the context in which they are operating, all while underpaid.

“My understanding is that we are expected to be significantly in the red, with a very real possibility that the situation will be even worse than current estimates.

“That this is where we will be, presuming we make even more significant cuts to what is already a very lean and efficient service is depressing.”

He went on to blame the budget pressures on the government’s ‘economic incompetence’, Brexit, and an alleged waste of public money during the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Councillor says "we'll be burnt to a crisp" before climate goals are reached 

Cllr McElroy said: “That the government still seems to think that the best way to get out of economic doldrums is more austerity, to make sure that the public are as sick, vulnerable, cold and under-educated as possible means I don’t think it’s good enough for us to just throw our hands up and say these are economic pressures that are out of our control.

“I get it, we have legal obligations, we may have no choice but to deliver the government’s counter-productive austerity agenda, but we don’t have to do it quietly. We should be going in to bat for the people who rely on these services, speaking out, being vocal and blunt about what and who is at risk of being lost.”

His speech was criticised by cllr Jeff Brooks (Liberal Democrats, Thatcham West), who accused cllr McElroy of “trying to frighten the horses.”

Cllr Brooks added that the RBFA has a history of delivering a balanced budget and has diligently saved reserves for times when there are “bumps in the road”.

Ultimately, the RBFA management committee agreed to note the report at its meeting on Tuesday, December 6.