Fire service pension pot raided during heatwave

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Fire chiefs in Norfolk raided more than £200,000 from a staff pension pot to help meet the bill for last July's heatwave.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Fire chiefs in Norfolk raided more than £200,000 from a staff pension pot to help meet the bill for last July's heatwave.

Norfolk Fire Service took £203,000 from its £1.2m uniformed pension reserve after being landed with a £350,000 bill.

As temperatures soared last summer, it was stretched to the limit and forced to rely more than usual on retained firefighters after a fourfold increase in calls - pushing up costs.

But the raid has alarmed Norfolk Fire Brigades Union members who have written to chief fire officer Richard Elliott for an explanation.

Neil Day, secretary of the Norfolk Fire Brigades Union, said members wanted assurances that it would not happen again.

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"The guys back at the fire stations are very concerned," he said. "The budgets aren't set up in a way where you can just tap into this one and borrow from that one. There's a longer-term concern for us that the money for the pensions will not be there. The response we've received so far hasn't been very satisfactory."

Mr Elliott said the fund was made up of employer contrib-utions and not from workers, and there was scope for the move because the reserve currently stood at around double the necessary levels.

And finance rule changes meant there was less local pressure on funds because central government was picking up more of the tab.

"It automatically puts it in your mind that we are raiding pension pots as a Maxwell type thing, but this is not employee contributions at all," he said. "Last year was exceptional, the nearest equiva-lent was 1976.

"The biggest expense for us was crop fires and there were peripheral issues - people called out had to be fed and given drinks. Some of the vehicles broke down and maintenance schedules went wrong. Once you start to add these things together it does impact quite considerably."

During one week the service received 1,000 calls more than normal. From July 2-9, there were 706 calls. This shot up to 1,533 on July 16-23, compared to around 350 callouts in a normal week.

"There would have been a bill at the end of the day which we would either have to carry forward into next year's budget or make a decision to pay for it," he added.