Rising fuel bills hit Norfolk’s emergency services

Emergency services in Norfolk saw their monthly fuel bills rocket by 64pc in just two years, figures obtained by the EDP have revealed.

It puts further pressure on the county's police, fire and emergency services as they struggle to cope with swingeing cuts to their budgets and soaring costs across the board.

The figures, obtained by the EDP under the Freedom of Information Act, show the monthly bill for petrol and diesel across the three emergency services soared from �233,808 in January 2009 to �384,517 in January 2011.

Individually, Norfolk Police saw its fuel costs for that period rise by 59pc, from just over �97,000 to more than �154,000.

The East of England Ambulance Service saw the highest increase in Norfolk, with a jump of 78pc, although the figure across the whole of the Trust's six counties was slightly lower at 56pc.

And while Norfolk Fire Service's figures from January 2009 and January 2001 had the smallest difference – just a 10pc rise from �19,876 to �21,953 – it saw a more significant 39pc increase in the annual bill between 2007 and 2010.

Representatives from all three organisations told the EDP escalating fuel costs were yet another unwanted pressure on the services which were experiencing many cost increases at the same time as having their budgets slashed.

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Roy Harold, chief fire officer for Norfolk Fire Service, said fuel and utility bills total �750,000 for this year and renewing its uniform contract is set to cost an extra 39pc.

Norfolk County Council has had to cut the fire service's budget by 13pc – or just under �4m – over three years.

But Mr Harold said that masked the true reduction when taking into account inflation.

He said: 'We have got to find a real-terms cut of 25pc over the coming three years. With the price rises we are facing, we are having to make substantial savings just to stand still. It's tough. It's very, very tough.'

Norfolk Police are already looking to raid their reserves to cope with a �25m four-year funding gap.

The constabulary's annual fuel bill to power its fleet increased by 41pc between 2005 and 2010.

But with the monthly bill for January this year coming in �37,000 more than the year before, 2011 looks set to be even more expensive.

Bob Summers, treasurer to the Norfolk Police Authority, said: 'Rising fuel costs clearly are an additional pressure on the authority's budget and have to be accommodated by prioritising costs, ensuring that these can be fully funded.'

The East of England Ambulance Service said the rise in its fuel bills had been pushed up even further by an increase in the number of incidents it has attended in Norfolk.

But a spokesman said the Trust would not allow the extra pressure on its budget to impact on the service it delivers.

'This does present a challenge but it is one we are managing effectively. Our fuel budget for this year was set in January and agreed in March and the rising costs will have no impact on provision of patient care.'

All three emergency services are working hard to find ways to temper their fuel costs, from ensuring vehicles are properly maintained to deploying the closest car or truck to a call-out.

Although many journeys made by the fleets are unavoidable, both the police and fire service are making more use of technology like video conferencing to reduce routine trips.

Diesel vehicles now make up 80pc of Norfolk Constabulary's fleet while, as well as ensuring all cars and trucks run on diesel, the fire service uses only the most economical models.

Mr Harold said fire engines only managed between 2mpg and 4mpg, with blue-light journeys proving half as efficient as a normal drive.

That makes the education work carried out by the service, offering safety advice to schools and other organisations to try to reduce their chances of having a fire or road accident, even more important.

Mr Harold said: 'The less you call on us, the happier we are.'