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Response to the Fire (Scotland) Bill

The UNISON Scotland Submission
To the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee
On their call for Written Evidence on the Fire (Scotland) Bill

August 2004


This Bill is the continuation of the Scottish Executive's plans to ‘modernise' the Fire Service and sees many of the issues in earlier consultations being put into legislation. Therefore it may be useful to look at UNISON Scotland's responses to these earlier consultations. These can be found at:

The UNISON Scotland Submission To the Scottish Executive
On - "The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service: Proposals for Legislation" :December 2003.


UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation on The Scottish Fire Service of the Future :July 2002



Before looking at the main objectives of the Bill it may be worthwhile examining the motive for this legislation.

The Scottish Executive highlights that one of the main motives for this Bill is to update current legislation relating to the Fire Service which dates back to the Fire Services Act of 1947 (the 1947 Act). Although the Fire Service has evolved and developed since then the Scottish Executive believes it is now time to introduce new primary legislation covering the role and functions of the Fire Service. However the Policy Memorandum states that the 1947 Act could be amended by secondary legislation and the use of guidelines yet the Scottish Executive still want to produce a new Bill which basically re-enacts a lot of the powers within the 1947 Act.

The Policy Memorandum also seems to indicate that a driving motive for new legislation comes from a similar move in England and Wales to replace the 1947 Act and a concern that updating the existing legislation would ‘do little to progress the modernisation agenda'. There is a concern here that the Scottish Executive is merely following the decisions taken by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and is not reviewing what is necessary for the Fire Service in Scotland.

The Scottish Executive also lists a number of problems which may arise without a reform of existing legislation. Amongst these is the concern that without reform certain operational matters would continue to be referred to Scottish Ministers rather than decisions being taken at a local level with the benefit of local knowledge and expertise. However this contradicts another of the Executive's consultations on the Fire Service namely their proposals to reduce the number of fire service control rooms and effectively lose the benefit of local knowledge and expertise.

Defining the Role of the modern Fire and Rescue Service

UNISON Scotland has concerns with the section in the Bill which extends the existing powers in the 1947 Act for Fire and Rescue authorities to enter into contracts with others to provide services in the execution of their functions - i.e. contract out some services. Although fire-fighting duties can only be carried out by other fire and rescue authorities (or other private companies who employ fire-fighters), this is not the case with other services. For instance, an example would be an agreement where a relevant authority contracts with a local authority to promote fire safety within its schools.

UNISON Scotland is concerned about the potential for current duties to be outsourced to external agencies and the impact this will have on fire service staff.

National and Local Priorities and Objectives

Although Scottish Ministers need to consult on the drafting on the National Framework, and any subsequent revisions, there is too little detail of what service issues will be included to provide an adequate response at this stage. There is a need for further clarification on the issues and targets that will be included in the national framework document.

UNISON Scotland has concerns over third party access to operational equipment during industrial action. This could result in untrained personnel accessing specialist equipment and could result in damage or extra maintenance requirements before the equipment could be fully utilised.

The Bill does not specifically provide details on local priorities and objectives and is only concerned that fire and rescue authorities ensure that service provision falls within the national framework.

Improving the Protection offered to local communities

The Policy Memorandum of the Bill indicates the abolition of section 19 (of the 1947: the Ministerial role in the decision making process affecting issues such as the closure of fire stations) will improve local decision-making. There is very little in the Bill which specifically addresses improved protection to local communities.

However in devolving such powers to local fire boards (and their respective local authorities) UNISON Scotland is concerned that the local structures that oversee fire station closures will be unaccountable and that communities will not be able to lobby the Scottish Executive. This could lead to similar problems as has been experienced with Health Boards, whose decisions have angered many communities but who have nowhere to turn to regarding issues such as hospital closures. UNISON Scotland would not support any development which lessened public scrutiny and accountability in the provision of public services.

The Bill does not provide much detail on issues relating to the protection of local communities as mentioned in earlier consultations. For instance the plans to replace existing Standards of Fire Cover with Integrated Risk Management Plans are simply not mentioned.

As UNISON Scotland stated in an earlier consultation response, we are concerned about the use of Integrated Risk Management (IRM) and the possibility that this might result in a reduction in fire cover. There is a concern that IRM has not been piloted in any area and as such there is no evidence that it can provide an improvement over current standards. UNISON Scotland is also concerned that a shift to IRM will take place before there are any pilots or evidence to suggest it will provide superior standards of fire cover.


The Bill abolishes the Scottish Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council and allows Scottish Ministers to consult any such persons as they consider appropriate. UNISON Scotland is concerned that such consultation may be inadequate without a statutory duty to consult professional fire service bodies, including trade unions, in the operation of the Fire and Rescue service in Scotland.


There are a number of employment related concerns within this Bill. These include the arbitrary power of Scottish Ministers to establish a negotiating machinery and the composition of such a body for the fire and rescue service in Scotland. UNISON Scotland has concerns that statutory body can decide which conditions of service should be negotiated locally rather than nationally.

UNISON Scotland is in favour of equal opportunities and diversity within the workplace but would like to see more detail on how the Executive propose to achieve this. UNISON Scotland would also like to see the Executive address the issue of equal pay within the fire service. In general UNISON Scotland regards such human resource issues as primarily the concern of fire authorities, their employees and the relevant trade unions.

There is also some concern that provisions within the Bill remove the obligation for the certification of premises and staffing resources which would have been required for this would be available for deployment elsewhere. UNISON Scotland would like further clarification on this issue and the involvement of trade unions in any discussion on the re-deployment of any staff.

Financial Issues

The Financial Memorandum of this Bill appears to be contradictory in that is states the Bill largely builds on the existing arrangements under which the fire service is structured and that the arrangements under which the funding is provided will essentially remain unchanged. However the same paragraph then goes on to explain that dependant on whether Scottish Ministers exercise their new powers this may give rise to additional costs. It also highlights that other issues such as the attempt to maximise efficiencies and developing collaboration as well as changes in the fire safety regime, will all have financial implications.

The Financial Memorandum goes on to raise the issue of fire service control rooms, where it states that there are a range of costs and benefits, quantifiable and non-quantifiable, relating to maintaining or reducing the number of control rooms. The report than produces estimates of the possible savings, presumably including the non-quantifiable costs and benefits!

UNISON Scotland would more clarification on the costs of implementing this Bill, especially in relation to the additional statutory duties to be undertaken and on the staffing and resource implications of the Bill.


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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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