A FIRE chief who warned that proposed spending levels outlined by his controlling authority could lead to a failure in the service has won a concession from councillors.

North Yorkshire chief fire officer, Eric Clark, estimated in December that the fire and rescue service would need £25,891,400 to function properly in the coming financial year.

But authority members, who examined the books and considered the predicted level of Government funding help, agreed a figure of only £23,350,000, requiring Mr Clark to shave at least £541,400 from his proposed budget, and asked the service to explore ways in which more savings could be made.

When the authority met again on Wednesday, Mr Clark said the service was planning important areas of growth representing £799,000 to which no money had yet been committed.

These included staff recruitment and training, health and safety, community safety work among retained firefighters, information technology and replacement of operational equipment such as thermal imaging cameras.

Mr Clark said a balance had to be struck between growth, statutory duties including risk management and the burden that would fall on council tax payers.

But he warned councillors: "In arriving at that balance, the attention of members is drawn again to my advice that the current level of funding for the authority is significantly below that required to meet the demands placed on it now and in the immediate future.

"The items of uncommitted growth identify shortfalls in performance and if not funded produce an increasing risk to the authority of part or total failure in performance or duty of care."

Mr Clark, who said spending plans had been reconsidered in great detail, urged the authority to set the budget requirement at £25,582,000, which he described as "the bottom line."

Members finally agreed a figure of £25,500,000, leaving Mr Clark to save £82,000 by deferring the appointment of some staff.

Authority chairman Coun Geoff Rennie thought some of the least important staff posts could be deferred and said: "We cannot meddle with the equipment side because we need that to run the brigade. Staff are necessary, but not all are necessary immediately."

Authority members meeting on the second day of a 48-hour national strike by firefighters were told that North Yorkshire was budgeting for a pay award of between 4pc and 7pc as set out in the Bain report. Members later discussed the strike and the firefighters' national pay claim in private session.

* Councillors voiced concern when they learned that the councils of North Yorkshire and York, which constitute membership of the authority, are likely to be hit by an extra levy for the service again after a projected overspend of £368,900 was reported this year.

Mr Clark said efforts were being made to reduce the figure to about £300,000, but he claimed overspending was down to authority policies.

"Because I have kept to your policies and the base budget has not been adequate to deal with changes during the year, that has led to an almost permanent overspend."

Coun Caroline Seymour said: "We must make sure when we set a budget that it is realistic. We should not set budgets which have money slopping around but equally we should not set budgets where we are overspending."