Scottish Fire Symposium 2017: minister's speech

Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, addresses the Scottish Fire Symposium 2017.

Good morning. I would like to welcome you all, especially those visiting Scotland for the first time, and to thank the National Fire Protection Association and the Chief Fire Officers Association for inviting me here today to open the Scottish Fire Symposium 2017.

If you are visiting this, the Headquarters of Scotland's fire service, for the first time, I am sure you will be impressed by the state-of-the-art training facilities available not only to firefighters across the country, but also to our fire service's partner organisations.

This Symposium offers an ambitious programme, covering a range of issues related to fire prevention and response.

You will be hearing from a number of respected experts and taking part in workshops which I hope you will find both interesting and informative.

With an international audience, it is an excellent opportunity to share ideas and good practice and to make connections that continue to make a difference in the future.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which we refer to as the SFRS, is in only its fourth year of existence. Before April 2013, Scotland had separate services, each with its own headquarters, its own chief, and its own firefighters and appliances.

So, to start off this event, I thought I would give you an insight into the fire reform journey here in Scotland and our aspirations for the future.

In 2011, a commissioned report on the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland made clear that demographic, financial and other pressures could not be met by a 'business as usual' approach, or by slicing budgets across the board to cut costs.

There needed to be radical changes in the way that public services were designed and delivered, focussing on making more effective use of resources while delivering better outcomes for the people of Scotland.

High quality public services play a crucial role in shaping our economy and society. Our ambitious programme of reform in Scotland, with its emphasis on prevention, integration and empowerment, provides a long-term strategy for ensuring public services are sustainable and improve outcomes for Scotland.

Fire has been at the forefront of this reform. We needed to reform to protect and improve frontline services in our communities.

And so a decision was taken, in 2011, to embark on one of the most ambitious programmes of public service reform ever seen in Scotland by creating single national police and fire services.

Three key benefits of fire reform were identified:

  • improved service outcomes while protecting frontline services
  • more equal access to specialist resources and national capacity
  • strengthened connections between the SFRS and local communities

Legislation to create a single fire service and a single police service in Scotland came into being in 2012. Hard work and exceptional commitment demonstrated by those in fire and rescue services across Scotland was instrumental in the successful launch of the SFRS on 1 April 2013.

There are key differences between the fire landscape in Scotland now, and the one which it replaced and which still operates across the rest of the UK.

The creation of a single national service provided an opportunity for some functions previously undertaken by the Scottish Government to be transferred to the SFRS.

The SFRS receives its funding directly from the Scottish Government, and as part of central Government there is far greater political interest in the SFRS than before, which I'm sure they will tell you brings both valuable opportunities and unique challenges!

The service is overseen by a Board appointed by Scottish Ministers, currently ably chaired by Pat Watters – whom I meet regularly along with Ali, the Chief Officer. Pat and the Board are accountable to me for the operational performance of the service. However, the service has operational independence, and its policies and procedures, resourcing and operational decisions are the responsibility of the SFRS itself, as agreed with the Board.

At leadership level, the creation of a single fire service has encouraged greater involvement of fire personnel in strategic planning by justice and emergency services. This cross-working is crucial for successful forward planning to ensure that we continue to keep the people of Scotland safe.

Relationships with trade unions are also very important. I see that you will be hearing about this as part of tomorrow's programme. I am pleased to say that our connections with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Scotland are positive, and officials and Ministers meet regularly with their Scottish representatives.

The SFRS continues to invest considerable energy in working constructively with FBU Scotland. This is especially valuable now, in times of change.

Over the last four years, the SFRS has undertaken a huge amount of work to bring eight services together into a single body.

Perhaps what is most impressive is that the SFRS has achieved all this while operating within its budget and delivering the expected reform savings, with over £56 million cumulative savings over the past four years. The Service is on track to deliver efficiency saving of £328 million by 2027 to 2028.

Scotland now has the fourth largest fire service in the world, and the SFRS's creation is widely regarded as having been a success.

SFRS is actively investing in its future and continuing to shape a national service that is fit for purpose. And just one month ago, the Service welcomed one hundred and one new firefighters to its front line. These new firefighters join the service at an exciting time and I wish them well for long and fulfilling careers.

As you've just heard, fire service provision in Scotland has been on quite a journey so far! But the journey is far from over – although the destination is changing from reform to transform.

So what might the transformation journey involve, and why is it necessary?

The Scottish Government is asking the SFRS to undertake transformative change for a number of reasons, many of which might be familiar to you.

They include:

  • continued financial challenges around available levels of public funding and increasing pressure on operating budgets
  • the changing nature of risk – with fewer fires but increased threats from terrorism and flooding
  • increasing demand on health and social care services – a serious challenge for our society and one with which the fire service can assist

There is a real opportunity to explore where the SFRS can add further value to the broader public service outcomes that we are working to deliver across Scotland.

One of the SFRS's key attributes is that it has unique and well-established resources across the whole of Scotland, as well as levels of public trust not seen in other public services. It is essential that we utilise these attributes to maximum effect.

There are already some great examples of this transformative change.

For example, the Service is contributing to the Scottish Government's strategy on Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) through partnership working with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

We are committed to improving outcomes and we have an ambition that by 2020 Scotland will be an international leader in the management of OHCA.

I very much hope that the SFRS will play a full part in achieving that ambition. Events like yours can only help us to share good practice and enhance such services in all our countries.

Another shared issue for us all will be the increasing longevity of our populations and the growing number of vulnerable people living in their own homes.

Those most vulnerable to the risk of fire at home are also vulnerable to falls and other dangers. The SFRS is working with partners, including health and social care providers and the voluntary sector, to develop new ways to identify these vulnerable people, and to make early interventions to ensure they are protected.

Partnership working is so important and also rewarding when it leads to better outcomes for the public. I look forward to seeing how this work develops.

So – what happens next?

There remains a lot of work to be done by everyone involved in the development of the fire service in Scotland.

Many challenges and opportunities lie ahead, and neither the Scottish Government nor the SFRS are under any illusion about how hard some of this will be.

But there is clear engagement from managers, staff and unions and a real commitment to making this work.

And success will mean a sustainable organisation which contributes fully to the communities within which it works and continues to ensure the safety of the people of Scotland.

So there is a real purpose behind the transformation work we are engaging on and potentially very positive outcomes.

I hope that this has given you some idea of where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are aiming with regard to the fire and rescue service in Scotland.

I am sure that a lot of our challenges will be familiar to you and I hope that this event provides you with opportunities to share your experiences and learn from each other.

I know that the SFRS has already benefited from close working in recent years with services from Scandinavia, Canada and the USA.

To have one of Scotland's Assistant Chief Officers elected to the Executive Board of such an important global organisation as the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Fire Service Section is great credit to the SFRS and its standing within the worldwide fire community, and we greatly appreciate the NFPA coming to Scotland to present to this audience.

I know you have an interesting and varied programme with a lot to cover over the next two days, so I shall hand over to the Chief Officer, and wish you well for a successful and productive event.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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