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“Decade of cuts in Scotland has created perfect ‘Firestorm’” asserts FBU

26 October 2023

AN EIGHTY six-page report commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union and compiled by Unity Consulting Scotland has exposed what’s referenced as the “crisis” confronting the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The document states that a combination of cuts, a lack of recruitment, the crisis in the ‘On Call’ service, declining training standards and the climate emergency has created the perfect conditions for a devastating ‘Firestorm’.

Since its inception just over a decade ago, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has witnessed upwards of 1,200 jobs being cut, with Fire and Rescue Service bosses predicting another 780 posts could be lost in the near future due to a five-year ‘flat cash’ budget settlement from the Scottish Government.

This year alone has seen ten fire appliances plus a number of additional high reach vehicles and the permanently crewed river rescue boat on the Clyde in Glasgow withdrawn from stations, subsequently leaving communities with reduced Emergency Services cover.

All of this comes at a juncture when incident response times are rising and firefighters are expected to deal with an increased number of wildfires and floods as the climate emergency really begins to bite deep.

Something of a ‘State of the Nation’-style appraisal, ‘Firestorm: A Report into the Future of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’ duly identifies a Fire and Rescue Service in crisis with insufficient staffing levels, inadequate and out-of-date equipment, a crumbling infrastructure, an “aggressive” management culture, falling standards around training and an ageing workforce exposed to dangerous contaminants.

According to the Fire Brigades Union, all of this is being “ignored by the political leaders” who “set inadequate budgets and then claim that cuts to Fire and Rescue Services are ‘operational decisions for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s management’ and nothing to do with them.”

Underpinning detail

Affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Fire Brigades Union represents the interests of circa 5,000 members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

The report itself is based on research, interviews and an extensive survey in which 1,500 serving Fire Brigades Union members participated.

Recommendations outlined in the ‘Firestorm’ report include an end to year-on-year real terms budget cuts, a new budget settlement based on sustained investment to allow progressive modernisation, a long-term budget strategy to replace the current reactive annual budget setting cycle and significant year-on-year injections of capital investment in order to ensure the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service estate is fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Damning picture

John McKenzie, Scottish Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, observed: “This report into the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service paints a damning picture of underinvestment, declining standards and job losses, all of which serve to increase the risk posed to firefighters and the public we serve. We cannot go on like this. Our members and members of the public have had enough.”

McKenzie continued: “If the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is to meet the challenges of our times, we need immediate and radical change. The report sets out what that change should look like.”

On that same theme, McKenzie affirmed: “This report is full of ideas that would help reverse the catastrophic decline in a once proud Fire and Rescue Service. There are over 50 recommendations emanating from those who know the Fire and Rescue Service best: the firefighters who work on the front line in fire stations and Control Rooms across the country.”

Further, McKenzie explained: “Those firefighters want to be the best that they can be. They want to be trained to highest possible standards and to work in a Fire and Rescue Service that has the required resources to respond quickly to emergency situations and is equipped to meet the challenges of our times. They also want to be paid appropriately for the stressful work they do and to work in a welcoming and supportive organisation.”

In conclusion, McKenzie said: “Over the last decade, we’ve been failed by political leaders who’ve tried to ignore this crisis. They cannot ignore us now. It’s up to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service management and all political parties to respond positively to this report, reverse the cuts and play their part in building a Fire and Rescue Service that aspires to be world-leading.”

*Copies of ‘Firestorm: A Report into the Future of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’ are available by accessing the Fire Brigades Union’s website