Fire service budget: 'Cuts must not hit services on the front line'

THE effects of the recession will be with us for years to come. Today we report another rise in local unemployment, while the long-term effects of paying off UK debt have been well-documented.

There is a general acceptance therefore – even in an apparently reluctant Downing Street – that there will need to be cuts in public services.

The Scottish Government claims it is already being squeezed by Westminster, while the city council is looking at drastic ways to fill a 90m budget black hole.

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But it will worry most people that cuts are also looming over fire and rescue services in Scotland, including Lothian and Borders.

As we report today, those in charge of the local service think they will have to axe 5 million from their budgets in three years – and this from a service that is one of the most efficient in Scotland.

The key effort must be to prevent the cuts affecting front line services – and after last year's death of Ewan Williamson everyone in Edinburgh knows the true value of such work.

And if there is any move to look at a possible national pay freeze for firefighters then that too should be looked at carefully in the context of Ewan's sacrifice and the risks his colleagues continue to make.

A necessary debate

THE publication today of Margo MacDonald's Assisted End of Life Bill will widen the debate as to whether those who are terminally ill or whose lives have become intolerable due to degenerative conditions should be legally allowed to choose to commit suicide.

The Lothian MSP has drafted her Bill after lengthy consultation with more than 400 individuals and groups and says there is widespread support for examining the issue.

That claim is backed by a major poll conducted by STV last year in which three quarters of those asked agreed that certain groups should have the freedom to die if they wished.

Holyrood's health committee will now take further submissions before deciding whether or not the Bill should be presented to the parliament. To go forward, the committee will have to be satisfied that the proper safeguards can be built into any legislation.

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This is a difficult area but those living in many other countries already enjoy freedom of choice on this vital matter. Whether you agree or disagree with the principle that people should have the right to end their own lives, it is surely right that it is fully debated.