FMQs: Richard Leonard tells Nicola Sturgeon to back "radical change"

Nicola Sturgeon was today urged to back  "real and radical" change for Scotland as she clashed with new Labour leader Richard Leonard at First Minister's Question.

Nicola Sturgeon was today urged to back  "real and radical" change for Scotland as she clashed with new Labour leader Richard Leonard at First Minister's Question.

Mr Leonard was making his first appearance at the weekly joust between the party leaders at Holyrood and was welcomed by his rival leaders including Ms Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson. He went onto grill the First Minister over fire service cuts

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The First Minister also clashed with Ms Davidson over claims that Chancellor Philip Hammond's package of £2 billion for Scotland in the budget was a "con."

Mr Leonard said he had joined firefighters outside Holyrood today who were protesting against hundreds of job losses in recent years.

"These courageous women and men put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe. But since Scotland's fire and rescue service was centralised, these heroic firefighters have seen over 700 front-line jobs axed.

"They have watched their pay cut in real terms year upon year - they see a service in decline."

Mr Leonard hit out a Tory austerity coupled with a "decade of mediocrity and indifference from the SNP."

He said: "We have the result of falling wages, shrinking public services, rising poverty widening inequality, local government budgets decimated."

He added: "More of the same just won't do - Scotland needs real change and radical change. Will the First Minister stand up - stand up for Scotland's firefighters, stand up for Scotland's public services workers, stand up for all of Scotland's people and finally use the powers of the parliament to stop the cuts."

Ms Sturgeon also paid tribute to the risks taken by firefighters to protect the public. She insisted that the operational budget for the fire service has gone up this year by £21.7 million, and said £10 million in VAT will be reclaimed next year after decisions taken by the Chancellor in the budget.

She added that since the new national Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was established in 2013 there has been no compulsory redundancies or station closures. An additional 100 firefighters were recruited in January, while a campaign to attract 300 further firefighters being launched next week.

"Our focus has been and will continue to be protecting frontline services," Ms Sturgeon said.

On pay, the First Minister said: "This Government to this day remains the only Government in the whole of the UK, and here of course I include the Labour Government in Wales - we are the only government in the UK that has given an unequivocal commitment to raise the 1% public sector pay cap."