SOME of the region's leading fire officers have joined a call for a rethink in the way money is allocated to rural services.

A report by the Rural Services Network claims the government’s current funding formula potentially puts rural communities at risk by allocating rural services roughly two-thirds less than metropolitan ones.

Generally, rural fire and rescue services receive just £17.50 per head of population compared to £29 per head of population in metropolitan areas.

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The report says units serving populations spread out over large areas naturally have higher costs than those serving populations grouped together in urban areas, as they need more fire stations and cannot rely as heavily on nearby backup from other stations.

The network, which is a group of more than 200 organisations representing rural services, says current pressure on public funding could put rural communities ‘at risk’.

Fire services in the region agree.

Stuart Errington, assistant chief fire officer with Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said County Durham relies heavily on retained staff to cover the additional fire stations needed for remote rural areas. Roughly one third of staff are part-time.

He said: “We would welcome something that considers population sparsity. We firmly believe it’s expensive to operate a fire service in rural areas.

“Durham is a little bit unusual in that we have centres of population geographically removed from other areas.

“For example, from Middleton-in-Teesdale the nearest full-time fire station is Darlington or Bishop Auckland, which are 25 minutes away.

“So even though Middleton-in-Teesdale gets less than 100 calls a year, we have to have a fire station there.”

Dave McCabe, head of policy and protection at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said: “Rural areas like North Yorkshire are already under a handicap because the funding mechanism doesn’t recognise the “sparsity factor”.

“We’re spread out over such a large area and there’s no recognition of that from the funding mechanism.

"If we were a metropolitan area we would get much more funding for a more populated area, where the resources are much closer together."

Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue said it is always looking for people living within five minutes of a fire station to consider being a retained fire officer and would like to hear from anyone interested in becoming a fire officer in their spare time.

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