FURTHER cuts to Fife Fire and Rescue Service’s budget could increase the risk to local communities.
That’s the warning from Scotland’s public spending watchdog.
The Accounts Commission says the fire service, funded by Fife Council, has already made significant savings.
Now it is facing further reductions in its workforce and potential staff rota changes.
It was announced in the SNP/Lib Dem budget earlier this month that 10 vacant posts would remain unfilled, saving the local authority £300,000.
Council leaders gave assurances that public safety would not be compromised by the cutbacks.
But the commission said: “It is difficult to see how further savings can be achieved without the potential for some increase in community risks.”
The report said: “Members of Fife Council and the policy, finance and asset management committee will need to ensure that they are fully informed of the potential impact of their financial decisions on community and firefighter risks.
“Service management and elected members need to continue to ensure changes to service arrangements, such as shift and crewing levels, are undertaken with minimum impact on risk to firefighter and community safety and appropriate monitoring arrangements are established.”
In response to the audit, Fife Council leader, Councillor Peter Grant, said: “Despite facing the need to make significant financial savings, the service has managed to maintain high service delivery standards.
“It has demonstrated excellent progress on areas like preventative work and has effective arrangements for workforce management.
“However, it now faces significant challenges to make further budget savings over the next three years.
“Managers will have to continue to work creatively to minimise the impact of this.”
Councillor George Kay, chair of the police, fire and safety committee, said: “These audit results are exemplary in the light of major financial constraints the service has had to go through.
“We will be taking on board all comments on the improvement agenda, and the police, fire and safety committee will be ensuring that more time will be allocated to scrutiny of the service and to give stronger leadership.
“Fife Fire & Rescue Service should be applauded for its continued commitment to facing the pressures of finding financial savings while maintaining and improving community safety.”
However, former fire officer and FBU secretary Neil Crooks, now a Labour councillor, said: “This is a damning report by Audit Scotland which calls into question budgetary decisions taken by the SNP-led coalition.
“Financial pressures have forced Fife Fire and Rescue Service to cut the number of frontline firefighters to levels far below minimum safety standards.
“That this has been allowed to happen in the face of widespread public anxiety betrays a serious failure of political leadership at Fife Council.
“I can only hope the SNP-led coalition closely examines this report and come to the same conclusion that the people of Fife have already reached before these cuts threaten public safety.”