Scotland’s Fire and Rescue Service is facing a £400 million repair bill to fix its ageing fleet of vehicles and properties, leading to warnings that breakdowns are increasingly likely without action.
The prospect of station closures and reviewing the number of fire engines it runs have now been raised in hard-hitting report by the public spending watchdog.
Annual investment of £80.4 million is needed to bring the national force’s assets up to “satisfactory” standards, according to Audit Scotland. Alternatively £37.8 million per year is required over the next decade just to ensure things don’t deteriorate further.
But the report warns: “It is unlikely that funding will be available to achieve either of these options.”
The findings have been branded “shocking” by opposition politicians at Holyrood who say it shows the extend of underfunding of the service by the Scottish Government.
Audit Scotland finds that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has invested about £94 million in its property, fleet and other vehicle assets since it was established five years ago. But a further £389 million is needed to address the condition of its assets at the moment.
And it warns: “If capital spending remains at 2017/18 levels the capital backlog will reach £406 million over the next ten years and the risk of asset failures, such as vehicle breakdowns, will increase significantly.”
The cost of both maintaining and bringing its assets up to standards over the next decade will top £800 million, according to Audit Scotland. The cheaper option would be ensure no further deterioration at a cost of £378 million over the next decade.
But funding is “unlikely to be available” for either of these options, the report states.
“It is imperative therefore that the SFRS uses transformation to review and develop options for how it can reshape its property, vehicles and equipment to meet the needs of a modern service while also being financially sustainable.
“This may mean closing, moving, sharing or changing the use of some of its properties as well as considering the range and deployment of its fleet of vehicles.”
The Fire and Rescue Service is praised for its “strong” financial management and long-term planning and is now being urged to press on with its “transformation” agenda to meet the changing needs of modern Scotland.
Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “While the single fire service itself has made some improvements, the challenges ahead are quite astonishing. The SNP government has allowed a maintenance backlog of £400 million to build up and that’s entirely inexcusable.”
Labour’s Justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said the report contains “many shocking revelations”.
He said: “Independent auditors are suggesting the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has been underfunded by more than £400 million – raising serious questions about the SNP’s management and support of emergency crews.
“The fact that the situation is so bad that fire engines may not even be able to run is a national scandal that could put lives at risk.
“The failure to recruit and retain firefighters, particularly in rural areas, is also of grave concern.”
A spokeswoman for the SFRS said it is delivering a “safe and planned transformation.”
“We are building a willing coalition for change, navigating a challenging financial environment, and ensuring each of our proposals will enhance both public and firefighter safety,” she added.
Community Safety minister Annabelle Ewing said the national service is in “a good position to complete the process of reform”.
“The report makes clear that modernisation is needed to reflect the risks that the public face today,” she said.
“The SFRS inherited a substantial capital backlog from the eight legacy services and the Scottish Government continues to work closely with the service to identify and provide the capital funding it needs for buildings, fleet and equipment.
“This year the Scottish Government increased the spending capacity of the service by £15.5 million to invest in transformation plans – and maintained an increase of £21.7 million in capital funding announced in the 2017-18 Budget.
“This investment, coupled with service transformation, will ensure that communities across Scotland remain protected from emerging risks and threats.”