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Scott urges fire service to act on recruitment

Urgent action is needed to address the shortage of retained fire fighters in Shetland - Photo: Austin Taylor

LOCAL MSP Tavish Scott has again stressed the need for action to address the shortage of retained firefighters in Shetland.

His comments came in response to an Audit Scotland report into the merger of Scotland’s eight fire and rescue services, which was published on Thursday morning.

The financial watchdog said the controversial merger was managed effectively and found the new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s performance to be improving.

However, it warned of a potential funding gap of £42.7 million by 2019/20 and urged management to come up with a long-term financial plan by March next year.

The SRFS’ annual budget has dropped to £259.2 million this financial year, 10.8 per cent less (or 15.7 percent in real terms) than what the eight legacy services spent in 2012/13.

The Audit Scotland report also highlighted that 85 per cent of fire stations in Scotland rely wholly or in part on retained fire fighters.

Scott said: “Shetland depends on our retained units and many are struggling to recruit and retain enough firefighters.

“Currently the Fire and Rescue Service is looking for recruits in Bixter, Bressay, Fair Isle, Fetlar, Hillswick, Sumburgh, Walls, Scalloway, Baltasound, Brae and Lerwick.”

He said he was concerned that progress to attract new recruits could be hampered by centralisation.

“The Fire and Rescue Service is undertaking a project to address this in the medium to longer-term, looking into the key issues of sustainable crewing arrangements and barriers to recruitment and retention.

“But they are first having to spend time on standardising and consolidating the retained system following the merger of the old regional fire services into a single centralised service for the whole of Scotland.”

He said valuable time could be wasted on standardisation with the potential end result that ‘one size fits all’ is imposed on island areas.

“It is vital that the national fire service recognises the special needs of the islands and does not try to impose unsuitable systems designed for the central belt,” he added.

Next week SRFS representatives will appear before the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, of which Scott is a member.

“I am concerned that this funding gap may hamper the action needed to address the shortage of retained firefighters,” he said.

Caroline Gardner, auditor general for Scotland, said: “The creation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was well managed. This achievement provides a valuable opportunity to share the lessons of how this was done with other public bodies going through a merger process.

“The service is reviewing how it will work in the future, and there is still a lot of hard work to do.

“Even without the funding gap identified in our report, a long-term financial strategy would be essential.”