Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 17:13 UK

New fire engines 'waste of money'

combined fire vehicle
The vehicle combines an aerial platform and standard engine

Several Scottish fire brigades have been reported to public spending watchdog Audit Scotland over the purchase of new fire vehicles.

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson has asked auditors to investigate after claims the fire engines were too heavy, too slow and prone to break downs.

The state-of-the-art vehicles combine a pump and an aerial platform.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said they were too big for some Scottish streets and a "waste of money".

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue has 12 of the new fire appliances. The Central Scotland and Lothian and Borders brigades have two each and Dumfries has one.

Last year it emerged that Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service was considering legal action after paying almost £1m for two of the combined fire engines only to discover they did not work as intended.

Mr Matheson, a SNP MSP, told BBC Scotland he had referred the issue to the watchdog because he was concerned that taxpayers' money had been misspent on the Central Scotland appliances.

He said: "It looks to me as though about £2m of public money has been wasted through the purchase of a number of these appliances, and that in itself is unacceptable.

A fire appliance must get to a fire quickly but these combined vehicles are much slower and struggle to get down some streets
Gordon McQuade

"I have called upon Audit Scotland to investigate this issue so that we can identify what mistakes were made in deciding whether to purchase these vehicles in the first place, and to ensure that we do not make the same mistake again."

The new appliances were bought by several Scottish brigades in a bid to save money as they combined two vehicles into one, thus reducing staff needs and running costs.

But the FBU claimed the two appliances bought by Central Scotland Fire and Rescue had lain idle for three years and those purchased by Strathclyde Fire and Rescue were plagued with mechanical faults.

Gordon McQuade, secretary to the FBU in Central Scotland, said: "Our vehicles have never been used since they were purchased as they are too heavy for the chassis.

"In Strathclyde the vehicles are continually breaking down and have to be taken off the run so are obviously not able to be used at fires.

"A fire appliance must get to a fire quickly but these combined vehicles are much slower and struggle to get down some streets."

He added:"We warned bosses back in 2005 not to purchase these vehicles but they didn't listen to us.

Michael Matheson MSP
MrMatheson asked auditors to investigate the fire engine purchase

"The driving force behind buying these vehicles was that you would be able to reduce the number of frontline firefighters in Scotland.

"However, they have turned out to be a waste of money."

A spokesman for Central Scotland Fire and Rescue said the brigade was still deciding how the vehicles would eventually be used.

It is understood that two ageing aerial platforms, each costing £330,000, could be replaced with the new combined appliances.

The spokesman said: "We are currently reviewing how we will use these appliances. What is clear is that they will not be used as first envisaged."

In response to the news that auditors have been asked to look at this issue the Strathclyde, Lothians and Dumfries fire services all said they were happy with how their new vehicles were performing.

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