Scottish fire service buildings maintenance costs soar as oldest fire engine now 31 years old
The cost to maintain fire service buildings in Scotland has risen by more than 56 per cent in the past five years, figures show.
A freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found maintenance costs rose from £4.64 million in 2018/19 to £7.27m in 2022/23 – an increase of 56.7 per cent.
Another request by the party found the oldest fire engine in use by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) was registered in 1992 – 31 years ago. It is not clear what the average age is of appliances used by the service, which has more than 1,600 vehicles.
Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: "These findings speak to the neglect suffered by our fire service at the hands of successive SNP governments.
"They illustrate the scale of the cuts to whole-time and retained duty staff over the past decade, with the chief officer warning that significant additional cuts are coming down the line.
"Firefighters put their lives on the line to keep communities, households and individuals safe. The least they deserve is to be properly resourced with suitable and modern equipment. It's clear from these figures that this may not always be the case.
"The Government needs to back our firefighters. This requires resourcing and equipping the service properly so that it can tackle the challenges it faces day-in, day-out."
The figures come at the end of a week which saw the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) release a report claiming the SFRS is "in crisis", while dozens of firefighters descended on Holyrood to call for an end to budget cuts.
According to the FBU report, the resource budget of the SFRS has dropped by 22 per cent in real terms since 2022/23.
Colin Brown, FBU executive member for Scotland, said: "This week the FBU published the 'Firestorm' report which exposed the multiple crises facing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
"It is a damning indictment of a decade of cuts, jobs losses and declining standards.
"We have heard politicians from across the political spectrum expressing their concerns and support for our call to reverse the Scottish Government's five-year, flat-cash funding allocation and for a major injection of investment in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
"We now need MSPs to turn their words into action and deliver on this commitment when the budget comes."
SFRS chief officer Ross Haggart said: "While the longer-term picture shows an overall decrease in wholetime firefighters, this is the result of a number of planned and co-ordinated factors, including changes to duty patterns and appliance crewing, as well as retirements, natural turnover and vacancies.
"The recruitment and retention of on-call firefighters can be challenging within rural and remote areas. However, we continue to drive improvements to attract new staff.
"In terms of our fleet and estate, it is well documented that SFRS has an insurmountable capital backlog and needs critical investment to ensure that we have the right stations, training facilities and vehicles fit for the 21st century.
"Our capital budget has remained at £32.5m for the last seven years and while we do prioritise our spend to ensure we can respond effectively, in reality we need at least £60m per year to address this backlog.
"We have been clear that we must modernise to ensure we are best-placed to meet the changing risk and demand we face across Scotland - while also addressing our ongoing financial challenges.
"This is undoubtedly a difficult time for the public sector in Scotland and we have been clear that tough decisions will have to made without investment."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Firefighters play a vital role in protecting our communities and the SFRS has continued to deliver the high standard of services required to keep Scotland safe.
"That is why, despite difficult financial circumstances due to UK Government austerity, we are providing SFRS with more than £368m this year, an increase of £14.4m on 2022/23.
"Whilst the allocation of resources, including the provision of equipment, along with the recruitment and retention of firefighters, are operational matters for SFRS, we are maintaining front-line services, with a higher number of firefighters in Scotland than other parts of the UK.
"Ministers will continue engaging with the FBU to discuss their concerns."
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