FMQs: Fire services ‘cannot stand still’ says Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister has been urged to abandon 'wreckless' plans to put up income taxes. Picture: Getty
The First Minister has been urged to abandon 'wreckless' plans to put up income taxes. Picture: Getty
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that the fire service in Scotland “can not stand still” despite concerns stations and firefighters are to be cut.

A leaked document from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service this week revealed that the brigade was looking at the possibility of having to ‘’re-balance’’ staff numbers and review its ‘’station footprint’’.

Chief Fire Officer Alasdair Hay confirmed on Wednesday that staffing issues mean 60 to 100 fire engines are out of operation every day across Scotland.

Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing has already told MSPs that no decisions had been made on the proposals - which Mr Hay had earlier described as a ‘’fundamental redesign of the service’’.

But Ms Sturgeon was pressed on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, with Labour MSP Neil Findlay raising concerns.

He asked the SNP leader if “cutting yet more firefighter posts and closing fire stations” would either “make our communities safer” or would instead “put more lives at risk”.

And he told Ms Sturgeon: “If you don’t know the answer have a guess.”

Minister created the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in 2013, with the national organisation formed from the merger of the eight regional brigades.

Since then the number of firefighters has fallen by 700 - although the Scottish Government has stressed there have been no compulsory redundancies and no station closures.

Spending has also been cut over this period, although Ms Sturgeon highlighted that this year the Scottish Government had increased the operational budget of the fire service.

The First Minister praised firefighters for the “essential and vital work that they do” as she told MSPs the service has to adapt to changing circumstances.

Ms Sturgeon said: “There has been - since reform - no compulsory redundancies, no fire station closures. In fact over the last year we’ve seen the recruitment of 100 new firefighters.

“But the fire service just like any other public sector can not stand still when circumstances are changing. There’s changing risks, changing patterns of demand, changing technology.”

She added: “It is right that the fires service look closely at how they deal with that but as they do the priority of them and of this government is not just in protecting the frontline but enabling our firefighters to do an even better service for the people of Scotland in the future.”