999 reforms - 'Merging fire departments makes sense'

Edinburgh has a long and proud tradition when it comes to shaping the work of fire fighting, not just in Scotland but around the world.

The Capital proudly boasts of having the world's first municipal brigade and pioneering fire chief James Braidwood - whose statue stands in Parliament Square - virtually wrote the modern fire fighting manual.

Our new firemaster Jimmy Campbell is following in this tradition by being the first in the country to call for reform of the current structure.

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His argument for three - or even one - super brigades to cover Scotland instead of the current eight is compelling, especially in the face of savage public spending cuts.

Of course, any reform must follow the over-riding principle that no one should wait a second longer for a tender to arrive after dialing 999, and that fire crews continue to receive the same specialist back up they need to keep them safe.

But what is the point of continuing to pay eight firemasters, eight human resources and pay roll departments, and so on, when the work can be done more efficiently with fewer of them?

Scotland was once covered by an effective single fire service, during the Second World War. Merging once again makes sense - and not just for fire brigades. Police chiefs are considering it too.

The search for ways to use taxpayers' money more efficiently cannot and must not end there, either. How long, for example, before we are forced to ask if we really need 32 councils in Scotland, four of them for the Lothians?

Kiss and fly tax

ANYONE who hoped the appointment of a new boss at Edinburgh Airport might lead to a u-turn on plans for a "kiss and fly" tax will be disappointed.

In his first interview since taking on the job, in these pages today, Kevin Brown makes it clear the 1 charge will stay.

Critics are concerned that any extra cost could scare off business at a crucial time for the economy.But, like those who oppose a "bed tax" to raise funds to boost tourism from city hotels, they have failed to offer workable alternative ways for Edinburgh Airport to fund its expansion.

Neither charge is perfect, but at least they stick to the basic principle that the user should pay.