A DECISION to close the national fire training college at Gullane was today condemned as “wrong-headed” and “unacceptable”.
The board of Scotland’s new single fire and rescue service yesterday accepted a recommendation that the college should shut, with fire training centralised at Cambuslang.
But the board rejected another proposal, to cut the number of fire control rooms from the current eight to just two – at Johnstone in Renfrewshire and in Dundee. It would have meant Edinburgh’s fire control room at Tollcross closing, with emergency calls handled by staff in Dundee.
Instead the board decided to move to three control rooms. Johnstone will be one and the other two will be chosen from Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.
The change of heart on control rooms was widely welcomed, but the board was attacked over the closure of the college in Gullane.
East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray said the decision – part of plans to save £4.8 million – was “simply unacceptable”.
He said: “The college has been doing a great job for many years and brings in training business from south of the Border too.
“This is a wrong-headed decision. If the college must close then I would want the Scottish Government to consider Gullane as the new national HQ for the fire service.
“They have a great building in a beautiful setting within easy reach of Edinburgh, and it will be a travesty if they close Gullane then buy or build something somewhere else.”
The closure comes as a fresh blow to jobs and the local economy in East Lothian, hard on the heels of the decision to shut Haddington Sheriff Court.
He said: “The college occupies a prime site in one of the most attractive villages anywhere in Scotland, and now the Scottish Government is going to leave it as a vacant lot.
“A former hotel just down the road lay vacant for many years and that has just been redeveloped, now Gullane faces the same problems all over again at the college.”
Andy Fulton, Fire Brigades Union official for the East of Scotland, said the closure proposal had only been made public on Monday. He said: “There has to be consultation when you are talking about something as major as a closure which obviously affects people’s jobs. Taking a final decision within a few days is just not appropriate.”
The college at Gullane was recommended for closure by an independent report on government spending in 2008, but saved from the axe with the Scottish Government saying it was “a valuable asset to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and indeed to Scotland”.
Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone called for “meaningful consultation” on the control rooms. She said: “I’m glad they have agreed these closure plans should not be sneaked through. This issue creates uncertainty for staff in Edinburgh and will rightly concern people about the quality of service they might receive if 999 calls aren’t handled by operators with local knowledge.”
A fire service spokeswoman said the closure of the college at Gullane was a long-term plan and part of moving from an infrastructure for eight separate organisations to one suitable for a single service.