Fife fire cuts: firefighters demonstrate as councillors grill fire chiefs

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Councillors have stepped up their opposition to controversial plans to make cuts at fire stations across the region after grilling fire chiefs at a meeting this morning.

The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service’s proposal to cut second or third appliances from stations in Leven, Glenrothes and Dunfermline, and axe the height appliance from Kirkcaldy, have run into a storm of protest.

Senior officers summoned to the scrutiny meeting were met with a noisy demonstration by over 50 firefighters from across the Kingdom. It was organised by the Fife branch of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) which warned the cuts would lead to an increase to public safety - and that of firefighters.

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The service’s flat cash settlement from the Scottish Government means it has to find £11m in savings this year with more to come in 2024, with Fife taking what has been described as a disproportionate hit.

Firefighters demonstrate outside Fife HouseFirefighters demonstrate outside Fife House
Firefighters demonstrate outside Fife House

Appliances will be removed from Dunfermline, Methil and Glenrothes, and the height appliance scrapped in Kirkcaldy with cover coming from Dunfermline. It emerged at the meeting the cuts have been pencilled in for September 4, and could last for up to one year.

The SRFS said the moves were based on a “deep dive” into data, but was unable to provide the information requested by councillors.

The committee agreed the proposals must be scrapped, and it sent the matter on to Fife Councils cabinet committee to intervene, and also ordered council leader, David Ross, and new chief executive Ken Goodall to raise it directly with the fire chief and Scottish Government Minister. It also proposed a workshop where fire chiefs would return to discuss the issue with an invite to all of Fife’s 75 councillors.

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Councillor Bailey-Lee Robb (Cowdenbeath, SNP) summed up the view of the room when he said: “ I'd hope the SFRS re-watches our exchanges this morning and come with very clear answers. We got corporate answers today. I’d like clear answers - and the data.”

Fire chiefs spoke of “modernising a service that delivers value for money and retains operational resilience” - but their language was in stark contrast to the picture painted by firefighters and union officials who addressed councillors. Chris Murphy warned: “There is significant increase in risk to public and fire service if these cuts happen - make no bones about, that is what will happen. It will impact on community safety.”

Councillor Alistair Cameron (Kirkcaldy Central, Labour) was concerned over the removal of the height appliance from Kirkcaldy’s station: “This a bad decision that will affect people in Kirkcaldy. Cancel this proposal - the public won’t accept it.”

Under repeated questioning, fire chiefs said the decision was taken by the board two weeks ago, and said it would publish the paper “in due course” and also share its data with councillors who pushed repeatedly for the reasons behind the planned cuts.

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Councillor Eugene Clarke (Leven, Kennoway and Largo, Lib Dem), said: “There have been lot of questions, but not many particular answers on data, timeline, decision making process, impact on communities, and what does temporary mean? We need better answers.”

Councillor Darren Watt (Cowdenbeath, Conservative) was one of several committee members who expressed his concerns and frustrations at the briefing.

“We hear words such as data driven, efficiency savings, modernisation and different approach so often, if we had a £1 every time they were mentioned we’d go long way to plugging that £11m cut.”

Several councillors called for for the cuts to be scrapped completely - a view the committee took after more than an hour of debate.

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Cllr Allan Knox ( Tay Bridgehead, LIb Dem) perhaps spoke for many round the table when he said: “I had an open mind at start - I’m very disappointed with what I have heard. With regard to temporary removal, I am totally cynical - the reason it;s temporary is to avoid public stakeholder consultation.”