Single Scots fire service ‘will leave public at risk’

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The chief fire officer for Lothian and the Borders has warned that creating a single Scottish fire service could put the safety of the public and firefighters at risk.

Jimmy Campbell believes that around half of the £59 million of savings the Scottish Government expects to find will affect the front line.

He wants the service to remain in local authority control, where significant savings have already been found without cutting jobs.

It is estimated that every £1m of front-line cuts will affect 52 firefighter jobs – leading to fears that up to 1500 jobs could be lost.

An update on Scottish Government legislation is expected at Holyrood tomorrow, then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is expected to announce a decision on the future of the service on Thursday.

Mr Campbell said: “If we have to fund cuts above £30m, we believe we will have to find cuts in the front line.

“If the government expects to find savings of £59m in the service then that will affect the front line.”

A single fire brigade for the whole of Scotland is expected to replace the existing eight regional brigades by 2013.

But the Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland, which Mr Campbell chairs, wants the service to continue to fall under the control of local councils.

At present, councillors from Edinburgh, the three Lothian councils and the Scottish Borders are all part of the decision-making process for the Lothian and Borders service.

Mr Campbell said: “To go down to three [regional fire services], we think, would be the best option, would be the least risky and would continue to maintain the safety of the public and our firefighters.

“Ultimately, what could be at risk is the safety of the public and firefighters. But, whatever decision the Scottish Government have made, it is clear that the Chief Fire Officers Association will have a key part to play in building the new service.”

Full details of the government’s plans, and a single Scottish police force, are expected to be revealed later this week.

Speaking ahead of the decision, Mr MacAskill said: “Cuts to our budget from Westminster mean that we can no longer afford keep the same structures, paying for support services eight times over.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have been meeting with firefighters, and proposals will be brought before parliament shortly.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com