Fireworks in Scotland: analysis of responses to consultation

Summary of key themes to emerge from the consultation to gather the public's views on the use and regulation of fireworks in Scotland.

Part Three: Prevention and Community Involvement

Part Three of the consultation covered prevention and community involvement and asked three questions.

The consultation paper highlights that across Scotland, local partnerships which often include the local authority, Police Scotland, SFRS, Trading Standards and other community safety partners work together to ensure people and communities can enjoy fireworks safely. This happens particularly for large organised events and in preparation for Bonfire night when fireworks are most likely to be used in communities.

Depending on local circumstances, a range of approaches are often in place to prevent fireworks being misused and to target those who might be likely to misuse fireworks in and around Bonfire night. This includes:

  • Sharing intelligence among local partners about areas of high risk to prevent anti-social behaviour and increase public safety.
  • Prevention and education activities to promote fire safety to the general public and school pupils; information packs to local groups planning to hold firework displays; inspections of premises who store and sell fireworks; and removing material that could be used for bonfires.

Question 7 – What do you think could be done by national and local partners to further prevent the misuse of fireworks?

Around 14,150 respondents made a comment at Question 7. The themes raised tended to very much reflect those at previous questions, with many of those commenting calling for a ban on sales or suggesting that the general public should not be able to access fireworks.

Some respondents supported licensing or a permit approach of some kind, or noted their support for organised displays or called for there only to be organised displays. Respondents occasionally framed their comments with reference to national or local partners, for example that national government could introduce a ban or that local authorities could run a licensing scheme.

On the issue of licensing, further comments included that local authorities, working with their community safety partners, should have the final say on whether any particular shop should be licensed to sell fireworks or whether any particular fireworks display can go ahead. There were also occasional suggestions that any display should be registered with or approved by either Police Scotland or SFRS.

One area in which some respondents saw a particular role for the partners listed in the consultation paper (as above) was in relation to enforcement of current regulations or of any future regulations. Where references were specific, they tended to refer to Police Scotland being given greater powers to tackle antisocial behaviour or the misuse of fireworks, or to suggest that the Police could be more visible and proactive within communities.

A Professional or representative body respondent commented that, once local intelligence has established the areas in which trouble occurs, concentrated efforts, similar to those used to reduce knife crime, should be used to reduce fireworks crime.

As at other questions, there were references to the Police having a particular presence in communities in the run up to and around 5th November and to them needing the necessary resources to carry out their role effectively. There were occasional references to the local authority, or Trading Standards in particular, having a role in ensuring any selling of fireworks is in line with the regulations.

On a similar theme, some respondents referred to the need to make sure that existing penalties for misuse of fireworks are imposed, including for businesses that mis-sell, and for organisations or members of the public who misuse fireworks. There were references to confiscation of fireworks, parents being held responsible for the actions of their children and increases in the severity of the penalties available. For example:

Heavy financial penalties and lifetime banning of a licence to sell fireworks where shops are caught selling to minors... Criminal charges for anyone using fireworks as a weapon or as a threat against emergency services and also for anyone causing physical injury to anyone else whilst misusing fireworks.

Individual respondent

There were also suggestions that any organisation or individual licensed to purchase and use fireworks for displays should have that licence taken away if they contravene any of the regulations, for example in relation to the times at which fireworks can be let off.

Other comments often focused on further restrictions that partners could put in place, for example around where fireworks can be let off, noise levels for fireworks and requirements for notifying the community of plans to use fireworks. These issues are discussed further at Question 10.

There were a small number of specific references to the ideas referenced in the consultation paper (as set out above), including that sharing intelligence, and monitoring if there are particular problems in some communities, will be valuable. Some of the organisations that could be seen as key stakeholders commented on this theme. For example, an Emergency Service respondent and a local authority respondent saw continued close working and information sharing with key partners as critical.

There was also support for an education-based approach and that local partners could have a key role to play here. Education and awareness raising is discussed further at Question 9.

Community involvement

The consultation paper notes that enabling people to be involved in influencing decisions that affect their local community is important, and this equally applies to the issue of fireworks. Communities that are enabled to work together effectively, and in partnership with local partners, have the potential to identify more effective and sustainable solutions.

Question 8 – What ways do you think communities could be involved in supporting the safe use of fireworks?

Around 10,850 respondents made a comment at Question 8. Some stated a view that fireworks should be banned or should not be sold to the public, or said they did not know/were not sure how communities could be involved in supporting the safe use of fireworks.

Supporting organised displays

Among the remaining respondents the most frequently made point was that communities could support organised displays or that community groups could arrange displays. It was often suggested that such displays should be safe or well organised. The benefits of well organised and run community events were also raised by some participants at the consultation events.

Respondents who advocated organised displays sometimes also suggested benefits in discouraging private use of fireworks or in bringing communities together. For example:

If there were community displays around the times of year fireworks are mainly used, I think this would limit the number of people buying them for their own displays and also help bring the community together. Maybe encouraging community displays would be a good way forward.

Individual respondent

Other frequently raised points on the organisation of community displays were that these should be:

  • Licensed, authorised or regulated.
  • Run by professionals.
  • Well publicised to encourage attendance and also to alert neighbours, people who might be distressed by fireworks, pet owners and farmers that an event is going to take place.

Respondents also suggested that organised events should be inclusive, and should be affordable or free of charge. The distance required to travel to events, traffic congestion, lack of parking, cost of entry, the large numbers of people attending and poor access for the disabled were all cited as reasons people may currently be put off attending organised firework displays. Ideas for making events more attractive included providing food, more activities, or free transport.

While several examples of successful events were given, it was also argued that holding such events has failed to limit wider use or misuse of fireworks, or even that events have been cancelled because of antisocial behaviour.

Other reasons given for previous events being cancelled included costs to the local authority, the cost of public liability insurance and the complexity of the licence application process. It was argued that obtaining a licence for a community event should be made easier, that organisers should be supported in applying for a licence, and that appropriate safety courses or training could be provided:

As a member of a community group who has tried to organise a display I have come up against the huge stumbling blocks put in place to ensure safety… More help at local level needs to be arranged so that communities who are willing to take on the responsibility of organising displays … can do so.

Individual respondent

Provision of guidance to local community organisations who are looking to organise and run their own displays was also suggested at consultation events.

With respect to who might organise communal firework displays suggestions included the local authority, community groups, community councils, community centres, schools, sports clubs, churches, and organisations such as Round Table or Rotary. There were also suggestions that attempts should be made to involve young people in the organisation of events.

Varying levels of consultation and community involvement in deciding if and where firework events are held were proposed, including suggestions that licences should be subject to community council approval, that communities should have input to licensing panels, or that an event might be vetoed by the community if enough residents objected.

Although many of those commenting at Question 8 advocated organised displays, there was some evidence of different expectations of the possible scale and frequency of such events. While respondents often suggested large displays or displays organised by the local authority covering a large area, others argued for a greater number of smaller, more local events. This is illustrated by respondents who said:

1 display per local authority.

Individual respondent

Encourage more local events of smaller size for communities instead of one large display that can be too big to attend depending on age of children etc.

Individual respondent

Community oversight

Some respondents made a point related to potential involvement of communities in overseeing or policing the sale or use of fireworks, although sometimes referring to how this might operate after a ban on sale of fireworks to the public had been imposed rather than to policing under present legislation.

It was argued that communities should report misuse of fireworks, antisocial behaviour relating to fireworks, unlicensed firework sales, or sales to children and that there should be an easy way of doing this. An app, a dedicated phone line/email address or a monitored social media account were all suggested – as was the facility to make an anonymous report since, it was argued, people may currently be reluctant to report misuse for fear of retribution. Involvement of Neighbourhood Watch was also proposed – both in monitoring activity in an area and as a route for reporting misuse.

There were also references to the roles of community officers and community wardens, as well as calls for parents to exercise greater control over, or take more responsibility for the behaviour of their own children.

Other actions for communities

Respondents also cited the importance of education and raising awareness of the dangers associated with fireworks, sometimes suggesting that members of the local community could be involved in such activities. These issues are discussed further at Question 9.

As also discussed at Questions 6 and 10, there were calls for restrictions on the dates, times and places at which use of fireworks is permissible, including for organised displays.

More generally, a local authority respondent argued that enabling local communities to be involved in influencing local decisions on the safe use of fireworks is important while a community safety organisation respondent suggested that Community Safety Partnerships could act locally on the back of this consultation to involve communities in further discussion about what matters to them.

Involvement of community councils

Various roles for community councils were suggested – primarily in organising firework displays and involvement in licensing decisions. Other ideas included roles for community councils in: education; organising local consultations; liaising with the Police in areas where there is inappropriate use of fireworks; and in monitoring misuse.

However, enthusiasm for greater community council involvement was not universal. For example, a community council respondent noted:

As a Community Council we would absolutely NOT wish to be involved in preventing fireworks being used inappropriately… We would absolutely NOT support any move that placed responsibility on volunteers in the community to keep the public safe over and above the current requirements.

Community council respondent

Not a job for communities

Arguments that communities cannot or should not be involved in supporting safe use of fireworks were also made, often by respondents who saw the issue as a matter for government and for law enforcement. It was sometimes suggested that the issue is likely to be divisive – for example:

I would have concerns that this issue could be delegated to local communities causing arguments and friction between those who suffer from various aspects of fireworks and those who feel their fun was being taken away or diluted.

Individual respondent

It was also argued that:

  • In some areas there is little, if any, sense of community.
  • People who are engaged with their communities are not those likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour involving fireworks.
  • Those who do participate in antisocial behaviour may not feel part of the community and are not likely to be influenced by it.
  • Communities may be afraid to engage with those responsible for antisocial behaviour for fear of being targeted.

Respondents who argued against a role for communities also included some who suggested that there is no need for such involvement.

Communication and awareness raising

The consultation paper notes that national safety campaigns are run every year to encourage the safe use of fireworks. The SFRS, for example, run an annual campaign which aims to reduce rubbish and refuse fires, fires in derelict buildings, and fires set off deliberately because of anti-social behaviour. This is often supported by local partnerships who arrange amnesty days to collect bulk items that could be used for bonfires.

In 2018, SFRS developed and hosted a dedicated national webpage listing organised fireworks events across the country which were open to the public so that they could attend these and enjoy a firework display in safety.[5]

Question 9 – What do you think could be done to raise awareness of the risks of fireworks misuse among the public?

Around 9,870 respondents made a comment at Question 9, the lowest number of comments at any question.

There were calls for some form of awareness raising, publicity campaign(s) or advertising, often noting there should be a focus on the risks of firework misuse:

More adverts and information showing the actual consequences of misuse. Shock people into seeing the risks and think about the outcome.

Individual respondent

Focus of awareness raising activity

More specifically, respondents and consultation event participants suggested that there should be a focus on the impact on, and risks to, animals, including pets, wildlife and livestock. Other suggested themes for any awareness raising work or publicity campaigns were:

  • Real life stories showing the consequences of, and the injuries that can result from, the misuse of fireworks. Specifically, it was suggested that those affected directly by fireworks could be involved as part of a more hard-hitting approach which might involve visiting schools or other local venues to share stories (see below).
  • The impact the use of fireworks can have on some people, and on vulnerable people in particular. As at Question 5, there were references to people with PTSD, people with dementia, people with mental health needs and young children.
  • The impact on the emergency services, the NHS, and other public services. It was suggested that highlighting the resource/cost implications for key services could be effective in changing behaviours. The use of statistics and other information on the number and type of injuries sustained was proposed.
  • The safe use of fireworks, and the current legislation, regulations and good practice covering the sale and use of fireworks. In particular, it was suggested that the possible penalties for the misuse of fireworks should be highlighted, and that real-life examples of cases and sentences could be used. A Young peoples' group or service respondent suggested that information in plain English for parents and young people on both the law relating to fireworks and on penalties, might help deter involvement in illegal activities.
  • The benefits of attending organised displays and publicity around where and when they will be taking place.

A third sector non animal-related respondent proposed a week-long event with a number of charities working together to increase awareness of the need for venues to alert residents to the fact they are holding displays. They suggested that Noise Action Week, which runs in mid-May each year could, with additional support, provide an excellent vehicle for informing people about unacceptable levels of noise from fireworks.

Some respondents commented from the position of seeing the ban they were calling for having been introduced and suggested that the scope of, and reasons and rationale for, any ban should be publicised.

Approaches to advertising or publicity campaigns

In terms of approaches to be used, some respondents wanted to see hard-hitting advertising, including with the use of graphic imagery of harm caused to people and animals, for example:

Adverts showing the harm that can be done to people and animals when fireworks are misused. This could include images of injuries to people and animals, images of the distress it causes animals, and people suffering from conditions such as Anxiety and PTSD.

Individual respondent

With respect to the medium to be used, respondents referred most frequently to running campaigns on television and there were occasional references to the impact of historical advertising campaigns on firework misuse or drink driving. There were also references to social media, including the use of targeted advertising and awareness raising through local social media groups. Other suggestions were:

  • Posters, flyers or billboards, including at/near organised events and venues.
  • Newspapers or magazines campaigns.
  • Radio campaigns, including local or national radio.
  • Direct mailing or the widespread distribution of information leaflets.
  • Web-based promotion, including the use of email newsletters.
  • Advertising on public transport, including on buses or trains or at bus stops or stations.

With regard to the timing of publicity campaigns or advertising, it was suggested there should be a focus around specific dates and festivals where fireworks are most likely to be used, but also that a year-round approach may have greater impact in discouraging misuse of fireworks.

An associated point was that there needs to be a change in societal attitudes towards the misuse of fireworks, much as we have seen in relation to drinking and driving.

Community-based focus, including work in schools

Some respondents thought there should be a focus on raising awareness through the education system, including through schools and colleges. The importance of education in schools also emerged as a key theme from the consultation events.

Further comments included that any approach could cover pre-school, primary and secondary schools and the further and higher education sectors. SFRS and Police Scotland were both seen as having an important role to play in sharing information and stories around firework risks. A local authority respondent suggested targeted education in schools around anti-social behaviour using existing community policing connections in partnership with the SFRS.

Respondents also wished to see a role for communities in shaping a locally-appropriate and well-targeted awareness raising approach, including the specific risks or concerns to be addressed, and the local organisations or local networks to be involved in developing and delivering awareness raising work.

Lack of impact

Finally, some felt that awareness raising is unlikely to have an impact on the misuse of fireworks, including comments that advertising or publicity campaigns would not be a good use of funds.

It was felt that there are already good levels of awareness around the risks associated with fireworks, and that inappropriate use of fireworks is due to individuals choosing to disregard these risks. There was some scepticism that further awareness raising could have a significant impact on this type of behaviour, a position that was sometimes associated with a call for a ban on sales to the public:

I don't think that prevention will work - lots of education is already in place in schools and on firework labelling. Those who will be misusing fireworks will continue to do so, especially those doing so anti-socially or to harm. The only true solution here is a ban.

Individual respondent



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