Fire college saved as minister pours cold water over merger

SCOTLAND'S national fire training college at Gullane has been saved from the axe.

Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said the Scottish Government had rejected a proposal to close the college and merge it with Scotland's police college at Tulliallan in Fife.

The move was suggested in the independent Howat report on government spending, commissioned by the previous Scottish Executive.

It argued savings could be made by amalgamating the two colleges and selling off the East Lothian premises.

But on a visit to the college, Mr Ewing said: "We have decided to maintain the college here in Gullane because it's a valuable asset to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and indeed to Scotland."

The Scottish Fire Services College, which has been in Gullane since 1954, provides initial training for all recruits in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, as well as other specialist training.

More routine training for existing firefighters is carried out locally.

Mr Ewing said the government was committed to a central college, catering nationally for all eight services across Scotland, where that made sense.

He said: "Clearly within what is a tight spending review, only a collective and collaborative approach to the delivery of training will ensure that we deliver maximum value from our limited resources.

"A key part of this is the retention of the Gullane site, in which much investment has been made over the past 54 years, and which we are committed to continuing."

Bob Virtue, director of fire service training for Scotland, who oversees the college, welcomed the government's decision.

He said: "Not only of national importance, the college is a valued resource in East Lothian and as part of the Gullane community.

"Opened in 1954, the college employs 55 members of staff and has a regular 120 trainees per day, 60 of whom have just been recruited to the service and are receiving their initial training."

East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray said the government had made the right decision.

Back in June, he had called on the government to end the uncertainty over the college's future and make clear it was not accepting the closure proposal from the wide-ranging Howat report.

Today he said: "We are still waiting to hear which of the Howat report recommendations the SNP intend to pursue, but I'm glad to hear this is not one they will accept.

"The college at Gullane has been doing a good job for many years and as the local MSP I'm delighted it will continue to do that job."

Andy Fulton, brigade secretary for the Fire Brigades Union in Lothian & Borders, also welcomed the announcement.

He said: "The police and fire services are entirely different occupations and the training for them is entirely different.

"We very much support the maintenance of our separate training facilities."