The Scottish Fire Service of the Future
UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation
on The Scottish Fire Service of the Future
· UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to
the Scottish Executive's consultation on the future of the Scottish
· We support the Executive's moves to enhance the Fire Service's
links with local communities, and to promote and develop best practice
working. Clearly it is important that the Fire Service shares its
expertise on health and safety issues with local communities and
· However, UNISON has real concerns on the proposals for
closer working with the private sector, and indeed is vehemently
opposed to the introduction of PFI within the Fire Service.
· We are sceptical of the Executive's over reliance on consultants'
opinions in determining the future direction and organisation of
the fire service.
· UNISON strongly believes that the views of local communities,
the Fire Service, and trade unions should be given prominence in
the debate to take the service forward.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish
Executive's The Scottish Fire Service of the Future consultation.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000
members working in the public sector in Scotland. UNISON members
are employed within the Scottish Fire Service as support staff,
and as Scottish citizens our members have an interest in the functions
and service provision of the Scottish Fire Service.
UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's
1. UNISON agrees that Community Fire Safety work should be placed
on an equal footing with existing statutory duties for brigades
and authorities. It is important local communities are aware of
their responsibilities as regards health and safety and fire prevention.
In order to meet this new statutory duty, the Executive should ensure
that the Fire Service has the necessary resources and personnel.
2. All fire brigades should participate in local Community Safety
Partnerships to advance the multi-agency approach to community safety.
Again, it is important that brigades are given the resources required
to develop and participate in these partnerships. The importance
of trade union involvement in the Community Safety Partnerships
should also be recognised, given unions' vast experience in health
and safety issues.
3. We welcome the recommendation to encourage closer involvement
of the Fire Service with young people, to promote citizenship, responsibilities,
and encourage young people into the service.
4. UNISON has real concerns regarding the development of partnership
schemes with the private sector. Clearly the private sector has
obligations it must meet as regards fire regulations and health
and safety within its own premises and activities. The Fire Service
can undoubtedly provide advice and guidance to the private sector
on health and safety and fire prevention. However, we are sceptical
that the proposed partnership opportunities are a means of introducing
privatisation to the fire service. UNISON is strongly committed
to a fire service that is publicly owned with public sector employees
working for the public interest. As a key emergency service giving
a lifeline provision for the community, private involvement in the
fire service is extremely alarming and a potentially hazardous prospect
for the health and safety of the public at large.
5. The enforcement role of the fire service should be placed on
an equal footing with existing statutory responsibilities for fire-fighting,
through legislative change.
6. The Executive should carefully consider the emergency recommendations
of the Wilful Fire-Raising thematic inspection.
7. We welcome the Executive's recommendations that the merits of
domestic sprinklers are kept under consideration in the light of
8. UNISON would like further explanation and consultation on the
opening up of fire service facilities for wider use by the community.
Whilst welcoming the moves to improve the fire service's ability
to relate more to the local community and respond to its needs,
we believe that employees and trade unions within the fire service
should be involved in the initial consultations on this initiative,
due to the resource and staffing implications.
9. We support the Executive's recommendations for a public awareness
campaign on the risk management approach to intervention. Again,
it is important to take into account the views of local communities,
business, and trade unions.
10. We agree that the Fire Service Act should be amended to reflect
changes from risk management approach.
11. The emerging recommendations of the thematic inspection on
rural and retained firefighters should be considered by the Executive.
We presume that the Executive would consult again on any legislative
changes to the retained units.
12. UNISON welcomes the Executive's proposals to seek views from
stakeholders and the wider community on the special services. We
trust that the views of the trade unions involved FBU, UNISON other
support staff unions - will be taken into account, and the additional
burdens the development of special services will make on the fire
service resources will be recognised
13. We strongly support the Executive in its moves to encourage
more women and minority ethnic people into the fire service. We
welcome recent initiatives to open up the Fire Service, such as
the adoption of the gender neutral title "chief officer",
and the thematic inspections on women and minority ethnic employees.
However we believe that a more strategic approach, including positive
discrimination, encouraging young people, new refugee populations,
and women into the service are required. More needs to be done to
address the male dominated culture within the service, to open up
the service to make it appeal to others. We support the proposed
activities of going into schools and colleges, working with community
groups and women's groups to encourage people to consider a career
in the fire service.
As a matter of urgency the fire service should audit employees
on gender and ethnicity (in part to comply with the Race Relations
Amendment Act); and with these results establish targets and timescales
to recruit more women and minority ethnic workers into the service.
The diversity programme should include training on equality and
diversity for existing fire service employees at all levels, a review
of existing equal opportunities and dignity at work policies, and
partnership initiatives with minority ethnic community groups. A
strategic programme on equality and diversity could help to combat
discrimination within the fire service, and make the service more
attractive to women and minority ethnic people.
We would also suggest that the Fire Service should look at the
issue sectarianism, and consider positive strategies to address
bigoted views and actions, and all types of bullying and harassment.
14. Whilst welcoming the Executive's recognition of the positive
attitude of fire service personnel, we are concerned that the consultation
document implies that current fire fighters do not have technical
skills. The consultation document should recognise the extensive
skills, expertise and knowledge of the fire service personnel. It
is good that the Executive wishes to give greater prominence and
respect to fire service personnel as professional workers, however,
a good way of doing this is through decent remuneration and respect.
Clearly all professions and occupations develop and respond to changing
technology, it is right that the fire service personnel should have
the opportunity to use new technology to deliver the fire services
that communities need.
15. We agree that there should be a strategic approach to the delivery
of fire service training. We believe that there is real value in
including trade union seats on the proposed Central Training and
Advisory Committee, so as the perspective of employees and the expertise
of trade unions on training issues can be incorporated into the
As expanded on in point 16, it is important to include training
and career development in the whole Best Value concept, so as it
is recognised that delivering Best Value within the Fire Service,
means ensuring staff are adequately trained and offered development
opportunities. As noted above, training on equality issues is crucial
to the development of the service.
16. We would like to see greater clarification on the definition
of Best Value. UNISON has real concerns that Best Value can be used
merely as a mechanism to achieve efficiency savings at the cost
of jobs and quality services. The references to pump priming and
economies of scale, only serve to confirm our fears that Best Value
is focused on cutting costs.
UNISON believes that Best Value should incorporate quality service
provisions, and a fair employment agenda which should include equality
of opportunity, family friendly working, training and development.
Best Value should be providing the best possible services by well
trained, competent and decently rewarded employees.
17. UNISON believes that quality of service should be a factor
taken into consideration in the procurement strategy for the fire
18. It makes sense that Brigades should work together to avoid
unnecessary duplication, and take advantage of working together
and sharing best practice. However, we are concerned that this collaborative
working is being imposed on Brigades, rather brigades being encouraged
to initiate joint working and develop best practice. It appears
that collaborative working is being pushed by the Executive merely
as a cost saving exercise rather than a valuable practice in itself.
19. UNISON is concerned at the Executive's over-reliance on consultants.
Those with the greatest expertise on the operations and service
delivery will more often than not be already within the Fire Service.
UNISON believe that there should be representatives from within
the fire service amongst the group proposing the set of recommendations
to increase service collaboration.
20. UNISON welcomes moves to reduce bureaucracy in the service.
However we believe that reducing administration should not be at
the cost of effective service delivery. Efficiency savings should
not put the health and safety of public or fire service employees
in jeopardy. UNISON is concerned that moves to a shared MIS would
lead to job losses. We would urge that all trade unions should be
fully involved in consultation processes, and that any reduction
in personnel should be limited to voluntary redundancies or early
21. In the comprehensive review of radio communications we trust
that views of employees, and unions will be taken into consideration
to ensure appropriate and effective communications systems are maintained.
22. We agree that in the light of September 11, a review of special
services and mutual aid is required. The views and expertise of
employees and trade unions should be considered in this process.
23. UNISON welcomes the focus on service delivery, but would like
to see more consultation and explanation on the "benchmarked
evaluation" process. It is right that the Fire Service should
be open to public scrutiny and transparency via the Scottish Executive
web site. However the service needs adequate resources to function
effectively in order to meet expectations and demands.
24. UNISON supports the proposals for a Fire Service Agency to
assist Brigades to meet common needs. However, we are concerned
that this will impact on existing staff in brigades throughout Scotland.
It is important that their views, and those of their representative
unions are considered.
25. We feel that the Executive should be seeking the views of fire
brigades as well as the consultants on the issue of sharing functions.
26. UNISON is strongly opposed to the implementation of the PFI
model within the Fire Service. UNISON has consistently opposed the
introduction of PFI within all public services. Our arguments against
PFI are well known: it is not value for money against the Public
Sector Comparator, lacks transparency and accountability, enables
contractors to make massive profits from refinancing projects, and
creates a two tier workforce - where workers lose out as their pay
and conditions are reduced.
It is equally alarming that the Executive is entrusting consultants
to evaluate the potential of PFI. The irony is that it is consultants,
financial advisors and lawyers who are gaining from PFI through
the bidding processes where massive profits can be made. The Executive
should seek the views of the wider community, unions and fire brigades
on the issue of PFI.
UNISON is aware of the recent reports on proposals for PFI in the
Highlands and Islands fire service. We are alarmed at the cost implications,
and the additional costs to taxpayers because of privatisation.
UNISON is clear that a more efficient, effective and better value
service can be delivered through conventional finance routes.
27. We agree that views should be sought on a streamlined working
structure and national framework for the Scottish Fire Service.
It is important that we achieve an efficient and effective service
provision. However, UNISON has real concerns that streamlining the
service will result in reductions in staff, and the centralising
of functions. We would expect that protection is given to employment,
and any job losses are managed through natural wastage.
28. Best Value should be further developed so as it means more
than simply efficiency savings. Best Value targets should include
quality service, fair employment, equality, training and development
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835