Fire service cannot cut community links

I read with interest the article on February 17 on the proposed restructuring of the fire and rescue service.

The Fire Brigades Union represents all uniformed members of the service, across Scotland. We are the only trade union which negotiates on behalf of uniformed staff, so when Councillor John Paton-Day states that “fire unions” do not agree with the proposals he is incorrect.

The FBU has, over the last year or so, been aware of the developing issue around the funding of public services and in particular the ramifications for what we regard as a vital emergency service that our members provide.

It has become clear through the consideration of this budget reduction that current structures will not be sustainable.

The chief fire officers and the conveners of the Scottish fire authorities produced a paper for the ministerial advisory group indicating that within four years the only way to continue to deliver a service would be by structural change.

Where the FBU varies from their view is that we believe their proposed cuts between now and year four would do untold damage to the service. The stark question is: if the service must run on considerably less finance, what parts are protected and what are not? Mr Paton-Day, like all in local government, will understand the need to prioritise services. I suspect that if communities are asked what is the vital element of the fire and rescue service, the answer will in some way include the number 999 and a big red truck with firefighters in it.

Clearly there is a great deal more to the modern fire and rescue service, but our ability to mobilise, respond and conclude emergency incidents relies on local crews who react to local incidents. Talk of centralisation of this is absurd. Local fire stations will remain local fire stations; they will continue to provide high quality emergency response to their communities.

It seems strange, therefore, that the conveners of fire boards, who put forward the proposal, for cuts – including, crucially, to frontline stations – for four years, and then to merge the service, are now resisting to a proposal to use the merger to avoid frontline cuts. Surely the goal in this will be to maintain the level of rescue cover across Scotland, while providing it for less cost.

People can draw their own conclusion over who has what at stake if the Scottish Government proposals go through, but having been involved in the work that has gone into these proposals, the FBU is clear. If there is a desire to maintain frontline firefighting from existing fire stations, to anything like the level we currently enjoy, the service will have to radically change how it supports that frontline.

Firefighters believe they provide a quality service. We realise that if we are to continue to do so, something has to change. That change should be the corporate structures of the services rather than the provision of local fire engines.

We will continue to advocate on behalf of our communities, our firefighters and our local emergency control staff but we believe that restructuring the fire and rescue services offers the best option for the protection of those staff and those communities.

John Duffy

Scottish Secretary

Fire Brigades Union