A flaming cheek! Fire chiefs’ £1m car budget as frontline cuts loom

FIRE chiefs are driving a fleet of luxury cars costing taxpayers £760,000 each year, at a time when the service is facing cuts.

FIRE chiefs are driving a fleet of luxury cars costing taxpayers £760,000 each year, at a time when the service is facing cuts.

Audi, Lexus, Mercedes and BMW are among the brands of company cars paid for with the help of public funds, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request.

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Senior officers on call, or on flexi-duty, are given an extra £4,200 a year to spend on a vehicle of their choice.

At Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service, Scotland’s largest service, topped the table for cash spent on cars, with 74 out of 119 officers eligible for the perk took it, at a cost of £315,700.

Some 27 officers from the Highland and Islands force claimed the allowance, at a cost of £120,329, with 18 from Dumfries and Galloway costing £106,366 in total. Elsewhere, 14 officers at Fife claimed £69,000, 20 recipients in Tayside cost £60,000 in total, 12 in Grampian cost £55,200, and 14 in Central Scotland claimed £33,600.

The overall bill comes to £760,195. However, figures for the Lothian and Borders force were not available.

A Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman defended the outlay.

She said: “The cost of these leased vehicles to the service is in line with agreements set by the National Joint Council, and costs to the service are the same, regardless of the make or model of vehicle an officer may select to drive.

“The additional cost of any vehicle which exceeds this agreed amount is paid for by additional contributions from the individual officer.”

Scotland’s eight fire and rescue services are being merged into one force next April, a move partly motivated by a need to save money.

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They were criticised last week in an Accounts Commission report, which found that five of the UK’s six most expensive services were Scottish.

The Scottish Government hopes that merging will save £293 million over 15 years.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont called for a more economic system.

He said: “I sympathise with the argument that vehicles are needed to cover various duties.

“But why they have to be top-of-the-range cars when much cheaper options would be perfectly acceptable is beyond me.

“As we move towards a single fire service, this is something we have to ensure does not happen.

“It undermines all the savings been made elsewhere.”

John Duffy, Scottish Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It’s a compromise between using somebody’s personal car and giving them a company car. Is it the best system? I don’t think anybody knows.

“It is something that is being looked at because you’ve got to be able to transfer officers from their homes to the incident.”