Government plans for central fire service could put lives at risk, says councillor

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A SCOTTISH Borders councillor has said further cuts to the fire service in the Borders could put lives at risk, writes Kenny Paterson.

John Paton-Day made the comments as a public consultation on the future of the fire and rescue service was launched on Friday, running until May.

The Leaderdale and Melrose councillor said many fellow members of the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board oppose a single fire service for Scotland, as favoured by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Mr Paton-Day said: “It is obvious that the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has only one plan, and that is a single fire and rescue service.

“It is a fact that many of the board members and many fire officers and fire unions do not agree that a single fire service is in the best interests of the public nor fire service members.”

He added: “These reforms will not improve accountability or improve efficiency. They are about cost-cutting and yet more centralisation.

“The fire and rescue service has been cut to the bone financially, and any further reduction could put lives at risk.”

Mr MacAskill’s presentation on the reform plans, which he made to the Scottish Parliament, was provided to fire and rescue board members at February’s meeting.

In it, he describes the current fire and policing structure as “not tenable” and said sub-groups have been set up to look into changes for both.

The consultation will look at three options – eight services with enhanced collaborations, a regional structure with fewer boards or a single service.

He added: “As a government, we believe there are compelling arguments for one (fire) service.

“In our view, a single fire and rescue service, with a national framework and standards, will be best at reducing unnecessary duplication and cost and making sure maximum funding is channelled to the front line.

“One service provides the opportunity for greater accountability locally and improved service in our communities.”

But Mr Paton-Day argues some of Mr MacAskill’s party colleagues disagree with his restructuring.

“Many board members, including some SNP members, feel that this whole plan is not about what is best for the fire service or the public, but more about an SNP Government trying to justify its existence,” added Mr Paton-Day, who will be briefed further on the reform plans at the board’s March meeting.

“I do not know if that is the case, but it certainly is about centralisation and a one-size-fits-all service.

“I strongly believe in localism and it is absolutely essential that all our public services are open to local scrutiny.

“It is wrong and dangerous to allow – under the cover of financial difficulty – the ability of the public to question decisions and actions carried out in their name, to be reduced.

“It is taxpayers’ money that pays for all our services and we all have a right to be heard.

“I sincerely hope that the so-called consultation is a real attempt at finding out what is best for the fire and rescue service, and the public, but to be honest I doubt it.”

Mr MacAskill says only a regional model or single force would provide necessary savings for Scotland’s police forces.

To read and comment on the consultations for Scotland’s fire and police services,

visit www.scotland.gov.uk/Consulta tions/Current