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The Scottish Fire Service of the Future

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

July 2002

Executive Summary

· UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Executive's consultation on the future of the Scottish Fire Service.

· 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 businesses.

· 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 consultation.


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 current research.

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 strategy.

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 service.

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 retirement.

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 staff.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
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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