Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is ‘£400 million short’

Audit Scotland has laid bare the the challenge faced by the Fire and Rescue Service after almost a decade of austerity.

The official auditing body has revealed that if nothing changes within the next ten years, the capital backlog could become so severe that the risk of asset failures, such as vehicle breakdowns, will increase significantly.” There have rarely been clearer images of the impact of austerity than fire engines breaking down for lack of repairs.

The service is also facing a crippling recruitment and retainment problem - full time staff are 16 per cent below necessary staffing levels, with volunteers 40 per cent below targets. On average, twenty firefighters are leaving the service every month.

The Fire Brigades Union has been sounding the alarm bells over the operation of Fire and Rescue. Just earlier this month, the union warned of “free market fundamentalism”, as the Scottish Government broadened the service’s responsibilities in a sweeping reform package. A spokesperson for the FBU said:

“The fire and rescue service does not operate in a market, where ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ determine outcomes.”

"The proposals, if adopted, would worsen service delivery, resulting in worse outcomes for the public in a number of ways including fire damage before extinguishment, injuries and deaths at incidents, business continuity and societal resilience."

Denise Christie, regional secretary of the FBU in Scotland, said:

“Many areas of this report are extremely concerning for firefighters and the communities of Scotland. The FBU are extremely proud of the work firefighters do but we have concerns about the management and funding of the service. Particularly, the £389m needed to maintain and invest in property, vehicles and equipment. This echoes concerns raised in a recent local area inspection of Glasgow by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services which found fire appliances were dated and cannot always accommodate the full range of firefighting equipment. It also revealed station refurbishments have been put on hold due to financial constraints leaving some in poor condition."

Responding to Audit Scotland’s report, Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson Daniel Johnson MSP said:

“This report rightly recognises some of the excellent work done by the Scottish Fire and Rescue service since 2015 - but much of it also contains many shocking revelations that will rightly concern people across Scotland.

“Independent auditors are suggesting the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has been underfunded by more than £400million – raising serious questions about the SNP’s management and support of emergency crews.

“The fact that the situation is so bad that fire engines may not even be able to run is a national scandal that could put lives at risk. The failure to recruit and retain firefighters, particularly in rural areas, is also of grave concern.

“The SNP government cannot try and sweep this report under the rug. Nationalist ministers must urgently explain how they are going to bridge this funding gap and give our brave firefighters the support they need and deserve.”

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