Firefighters descend on Scottish Parliament to rally against cuts

© Dougie Nicolson
Richard Leonard

Fire service cuts are slowing down the response to life-and-death incidents by up to 10 minutes, a Fife firefighter has warned.

Hundreds of frontline rescue staff marched on Holyrood on Thursday to protest against reductions to firefighter numbers and the threat of station closures.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard urged the Scottish Government to end the cuts that have resulted in the loss of 700 firefighter jobs lost since 2013, as he addressed the rally outside the Scottish Parliament.

A leaked Scottish Fire and Rescue Service document revealed the brigade was looking at the possibility of having to “re-balance” staff numbers and review its “station footprint”.

Speaking at the Fire Brigades Union protest, Kris Edwards, a Dunfermline firefighter, said crews were “struggling” to cover areas safely because vacancies left by retiring staff had not been filled.

“Most of the time at this point we can scramble a crew together,” he said.

“It’s not so much that we are not able to attend but sometimes to get the additional support may take an extra five-10 minutes, which in a fire situation can be all it takes for someone to lose a life.”

Mr Leonard told the protest: “Now is the time, now is the hour for the Scottish Government to step up to the plate, use the powers that you’ve got, stop the cuts in public services, stop the cuts in the fire and rescue services.”

The fire service received some good news from the Budget with an announcement that it will no longer have to pay VAT, but campaigners say the measure must be back-dated to secure an extra £140m for Scotland’s emergency services.

Tthe Chancellor Philip Hammond was hammered by a series of union leaders at the FBU event for failing to improve the pay of public sector workers such as firefighters and for allowing key services to suffer.

In his debut at First Minister’s Questions, Mr Leonard called on Nicola Sturgeon to explain why the public and firefighters were seeing a “service in decline” on her watch.

Ms Sturgeon said the service’s operational budget had been increased this year by £21.7 million to support investment in equipment and other resources.

She said £10m next year would be reclaimed as a result of the new VAT exemption.

“Since reform of the fire service (in 2013), there have been no compulsory redundancies and no station closures,” the First Minister said.

“A hundred additional firefighters were recruited in January this year, and a recruitment campaign for 300 additional firefighters will be launched next week.”

Ms Sturgeon said pay negotiations were also ongoing, adding that the Scottish Government was the only government in the UK so far to confirm it will end the 1% public sector pay cap.