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Emergency fireworks ban would avoid ‘firestorm of problems’

Ministers have been accused of “dithering” over new guidance to reduce antisocial behaviour involving fireworks, despite warnings of a possible spike in incidents this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Government announced last November a fireworks review group to consider evidence from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, animal charities, veterans and the pyrotechnics industry on the sale of rockets to the public.

Campaigners have called for politicians to use emergency powers to temporarily ban home use of fireworks to avoid a “firestorm of problems”, after many public displays were scrapped to help prevent further spread of the virus.

MSPs have also raised concerns about the sound of rockets and smell of gunpowder in residential settings triggering panic attacks in those who have experienced conflict.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, forwarded to every member at Holyrood, the charity Animal Concern Advice Line said it had already received calls about frightened pets.

Secretary John Robbins warned the “adverse effects of fireworks” on animals, the elderly, those living alone and sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder will “no doubt be extra acute this year” as people stay at home to avoid public displays.

He said: “The very necessary cancellation of public fireworks displays this November, coupled with the lack of any extra controls over the retail sale and private use of fireworks, is sure to create a firestorm of problems.

“This will include putting extra burdens on the police and fire services.

“It will no doubt also result in extra admissions to hospital accident and emergency departments and perhaps intensive care units at a time when the NHS is under considerable pressure due to the pandemic.”

Legislation on the sale and storage of fireworks is reserved to the UK Government but the Scottish Parliament can change or pass laws in relation to their use, including at what times explosives can be set off.

Mr Robins asked the first minister to consider using emergency powers to ban the retail sale and personal use of fireworks, and to restrict their use to licensed public displays during the pandemic.

A consultation ordered as part of the work of the fireworks review group found there was strong support for a change in how fireworks are sold and used in Scotland.

The activities of the review group were curtailed by the pandemic in March but the minutes of its last meeting, on August 13, suggested the group would
publish a list of recommendations to MSPs by the end of this month.

North East MSP Bill Bowman.

The recommendations have not yet materialised and North East MSP Bill Bowman wrote to community safety minister Ash Denham on Friday to ask whether the group will publish its recommendations in the coming days as promised.

Mr Bowman said incidents of antisocial behaviour at fireworks events had increased in recent years and echoed the warnings of the Animal Concern Advice Line that the lack of official events could lead to spike in incidents this year.

He wrote to Ms Denham: “I have been contacted by constituents and other interested parties, who have expressed their concerns regarding the irresponsible use of fireworks in the run-up to Bonfire Night.

“As you will be aware, incidents of anti-social behaviour around this issue have been a problem for many years, and seem likely to rise this year due to the lack of organised events as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would be grateful if you could supply an update on the position and confirm when we can expect to have sight of the group’s report.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are currently working to take forward the actions outlined in our fireworks action plan, including running public awareness campaigns to promote the safe and considerate use of fireworks.

“In partnership with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Crimestoppers, these include drives to highlight the impact fireworks can have on people and animals; along with the current rules, regulations and reporting options for firework misuse.

“The firework review group is also considering the options for tightening fireworks legislation and is expected to make recommendations soon and the minister for community safety will update parliament.”

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