Scotland’s fire control rooms face cull

Pat Watters, chairman of the new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Chief Officer Alasdair Hay at today's meeting. Picture: HeMedia
Pat Watters, chairman of the new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Chief Officer Alasdair Hay at today's meeting. Picture: HeMedia
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FIVE of Scotland’s eight fire control rooms are set to be closed following the creation of a single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service board today agreed in principle - by a single vote - to retain only three of the current control centres serving the country as part of a major rationalisation plan.

Under the proposals, which will now go out to public consultation, the control room at Johnstone in Renfrewshire is almost certain to be retained and two other control centres will be kept from a four strong list of centres at Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

The control rooms at Brooms Road in Dumfries, Thornton in Fife, and Maddiston in Falkirk are facing the axe.

The executive of the Fire Brigades Union in Scotland is to held an emergency meeting on the closure plan on Monday.

Alan Paterson, the chairman of the FBU in Scotland, branded the board’s decision as “premature”. He said: “This issue clearly hasn’t been discussed enough between our members and all stakeholders, including the Fire Brigades Union.

“There has only been initial discussions with the union and work that has included FBU representatives. But no final position was reached in order to consult with our members on that.”

Mr Paterson said the union had only learned of the closure proposals four days ago and argued that a decision on the number of control rooms to be retained should have been delayed by the board until the FBU membership had been fully consulted.

And he continued: “We will now go and consult with our members and will be directed by them. A fight will be the last resort. We have many avenues to explore well before that. These proposals will be discussed at an emergency meting of the regional committee on Monday.”

Remaining control rooms

The chairman of the board, Pat Watters, stressed that no final decision would be taken on the final locations of the control rooms until there had been full public consultation on the proposals. But he confirmed that one of the control centres to be retained would be at Johnstone.

He continued: “We have had many talks with our staff representative bodies. We were under the impression that they were fully aware of what was in the plan. If that was not the case we will make sure that is put to right.”

Speaking at the start of the board debate on the closure plan at a meeting in Aberdeen, Mr Watters said: “I know that this is extremely topical at the present time and probably very sensitive in how we deal with that. But I know that there has been a lot of hard work done by officers to get us to the position where we take this forward.

“There have been external meetings as well - maybe people were not exactly happy about the outcome and how it (the closure plan) was leaked. But can I say there was no intent to cause any slight to anybody - whether it was our staff, their representatives, or some of the local authorities who felt aggrieved about how it actually came out. We make apologies if people felt aggrieved about that.”

Officials had proposed that only two of the eight control room - at Thornhill, Johnstone, and McAlpine Road, Dundee - should be retained. But a motion that the board should follow the advice of officials was defeated by six votes to five in favour of the amendment to retain three of the eight control rooms currently operating in Scotland.

Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “Of course it’s important that the merger of the fire boards leads to relevant efficiency savings but there also has to be consideration of the wider economic impact. I’m concerned that these decisions have been rushed through and there hasn’t been any thought on what happens in the local communities where the call centres were.”

He added: “I would also like reassurance that the closure of these offices doesn’t lead to any dip in service. When people call 999 for the fire service they rightly expect that the help they require is dispatched as expediently as possible.”

Scotland’s Chief Officer Alasdair Hay said it was Scottish Ministers’ policy that the service should keep property holdings “to a minimum.”

And he continued: “Looking at the strategic intent as a whole, it is designed to look at the infrastructure that supported eight individual fire and rescue services and create a national infrastructure that supports one fire and rescue service.

“In doing that there is a requirement for us to to dispose and also invest in property.”

But he stressed: “Community safety and firefighter safety are the two absolutes for me. The work that is done by control room staff is absolutely vital in terms of ensuring both community and firefighter safety. They are an integral part of both of those.

“But local knowledge is not vested in the physical location of a control room facility. I believe it is vested in the professional staff that work within these control rooms.”

The strategic intent document before the board warned that failure to pursue a programme of property rationalisation and investment would involve continuing costs of £4.7million per year, equivalent to 162 firefighter posts.

The paper stated: “It is recognised that property rationalisation will have a significant impact on employees and throughout the process detailed analysis has been undertaken to understand the nature and extent of this.”

North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, who has warned that vital local knowledge could be lost as a result of the rationalisation plans, said: “This is a very disappointing decision by board members. I hope that people in the Grampian area will respond to the consultation, and that the SFRS will listen to what local communities have to say about their concerns.”

Alison McInnes, the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s justice spokeswoman, condemned the closure proposals.

She said: “Increasing the number of planned centres from two to three is simply not good enough. This will result in a significant loss of local knowledge, which we know is crucial to our emergency services.

“You can’t put a price on life and it is a false and crass choice to say we can either have more control centres or more firefighters. These call centres are frontline services. They are part and parcel of the important work of our fire service.”

She claimed: “After closing down our local courts, centralising our police and now shutting down vital local command centres, it could not be clearer that the SNP have the wrong priorities for Scotland.”

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