Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

Fears over rural emergency cover

There have been fears about ambulance and fire cover

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader has warned of the danger to rural communities posed by cuts in emergency service cover.

Tavish Scott was visiting Aboyne and Ballater amid fears over ambulance cover being cut back.

He said he was also concerned about the threat to retained fire cover by the European Working Time Directive.

Mr Scott said: "People need to be confident that if they dial 999 that help will be with them quickly."

MEPs have been criticised for voting to end the UK "opt out" of the Working Time Directive, which prevents people from working more than 48 hours a week.

Mr Scott said of emergency cover: "This is particularly important for those living in remote and rural areas.

"I heard real concerns from retained firefighters in Aboyne today that removing the opt-out to the Working Time Directive could sound the death knell for retained fire services across the country."

But Ian Tasker, assistant secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, dismissed the fears as "scaremongering".

He said: "It is absolutely appalling that some politicians and employers play an emotional card and wrongly raise the spectre of reduced fire cover in an attempt to exploit the rights of British workers.

"This is quite clearly an erroneous and misguided attempt to persuade the public that we should continue to work longer hours in the United Kingdom than other European countries and, at the same time have less entitlement to holiday than our European colleagues.

"The minor difficulties in the current opt out being scrapped in respect of retained firefighters' ability to provide emergency cover can be resolved through effective rostering and dialogue with the Fire Brigades Union."

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