The Fire Brigades Union warns that ‘people will not forgive’ the SNP Government if they allow lives, homes and businesses to be put at risk due to strike action.
By Bill Heaney
Scottish firefighters are considering industrial action over a “devastating package of cuts”. Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will be consulted on a potential strike amid the cuts imposed by the Scottish Government.
A projected, five-year, flat cash budget, in place until 2027, has already removed 10 whole-time fire engines and 150 retained appliances are regularly unavailable due to significant recruitment and retention issues, the union said.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) announced the force will need to save a minimum of £14 million next year potentially leading to the loss of a further 339 firefighters and another 18 fire engines.
According to the FBU 1,200 frontline firefighters have been lost north of the Border since 2012.
The consultation could lead to a formal strike ballot and the union believes that by announcing the move on the eve of the SNP conference in Aberdeen it could pile pressure on First Minister Humza Yousaf to intervene. together firefighters from across Scotland for a mass rally in Glasgow to demonstrate against large-scale cuts.
John McKenzie, FBU regional secretary, said: “The cuts we are seeing imposed by the Scottish Government are a threat to the lives, homes and livelihoods not just of firefighters, but of everyone in Scotland.
“They will rob Scotland of the firefighters and equipment we need to keep our communities safe. Speaking to firefighters across Scotland, it is clear to us that there is a determined mood among members. After 10 years of cuts, our service cannot take any more. The public will not forgive the SNP Government if they allow this to end in strike action.”
In the summer, firefighters from across the nation gathered on George Square to protest against the planned budget cuts with the message that they would have “no other option” other than to take strike action.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “As the SNP gather for their party conference, firefighters have a message for the Scottish Government. These cuts are a threat to the safety of everyone in Scotland, and the Fire Brigades Union has a duty to oppose them.
“Firefighters do not move towards strike action lightly. The intransigence of the Scottish government has led things to where they are now, but it still has time to reverse course. The Scottish Government needs to listen to those in the front line of this vital service.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said “we are providing SFRS with more than £368 million this year, an increase of £14.4 million on 2022-23”.
They added: “While recruitment and retention of firefighters is an operational matter for SFRS, we are maintaining frontline services, with a higher number of firefighters in Scotland than other parts of the UK. Strikes are in no-one’s interests and ministers will continue engaging with the FBU to discuss their concerns.”
Labour member Katy Clark, left, raised this matter in the Scottish Parliament. She asked the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of any impact of operational changes in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, particularly on response times to recent high profile incidents, including the fires at the Ayr Station hotel and Kitty’s nightclub in Kirkcaldy.
The First Minister told MSPs: “I want to thank our emergency services and partners for their responses to those incidents, which were rightly operational matters for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Both fires took place in derelict buildings. There was no risk to life, there were no casualties, thankfully, and they were not rescue situations.
“At Ayr Station hotel, the SFRS deployed 15 appliances at the peak of the fire. A decision was made not to tackle the blaze internally, due to the building’s structure and to ensure that firefighters were not placed at risk.
“The SFRS has confirmed that the recent operational changes did not impact on the outcome of the Ayr Station hotel incident, and the Kirkcaldy fire occurred before any of the operational changes came into effect.”
But Katy Clark pressed on: “Is the First Minister aware of the serious concerns that the Fire Brigades Union has raised about the impact of the withdrawal last month of 10 appliances, which included the withdrawal of a specialist appliance at Ayr, which the FBU says meant that local firefighters had to wait for an appliance to arrive from Castlemilk, given that the Kilmarnock one had broken down? Will he meet FBU Scotland to discuss its concerns about the impact of budget cuts on public safety?”
The First Minister replied: “The cabinet secretary regularly meets the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and I am sure that she would be pleased and happy to meet the FBU, for which we have the utmost respect and with which we have regular engagement, to address some of the points that Katy Clark made.
“Despite the fact that we face very difficult financial circumstances we are providing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with more than £368 million this year, which is an increase of £14.4 million compared with last year.
“We are also continuing to invest in firefighters up and down the country. As of March 2022, in Scotland there were 11.3 firefighters per 10,000 of the population. That is in stark contrast to the position in England and Wales, where there were, respectively, 6.1 and 8.4 firefighters per 10,000 of the population.
” We will continue to invest in the fire service and in our brave firefighters for the exceptional work that they do. We will also continue to make sure that dialogue continues with the fire service and the Fire Brigades Union when that needs to happen, because, collectively, we all want to ensure that we have a fire service that is well resourced and well equipped.”
Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP) asked: “Will the First Minister outline what more can be done to take action against private owners who leave buildings derelict and at risk of antisocial behaviour, including fire raising, which has a significant impact on our councils and public services?”
The First Minister told her: “Derelict buildings are a blight on our communities and, as we have seen, they can pose a risk to the wider public. The best solution is, of course, for owners to maintain their properties or to dispose of them so that they are not a drain on our public services.
“The control of dangerous buildings is primarily the responsibility of local authorities. Under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, a council can serve a notice on the owner to require them to carry out the necessary work, or it can secure the site and carry out the work itself to make the building safe, right up to demolition.
“The police, local authorities and the SFRS all work together to minimise the risks that are posed by derelict buildings. The public can also play a part by reporting to Police Scotland, the SFRS or their local council any concerns that they have about derelict buildings that do not seem secure.”