Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 16:32 UK

Fire brigades to share services

fire engine generic
The three brigades will share services in a bid to cut costs

Three Scottish fire brigades may share some functions to cut costs and "strengthen services", it has emerged.

Central and Fife fire boards have already voted in favour of the move, with Tayside expected to follow.

The cuts will see responses to major incidents, such as terrorist attacks, shared by the services. Payroll and IT staff may also be pooled.

Jim Wallace of Central Fire and Rescue said the service expected to have its budget cut in the future.

He said the discussions were motivated by the need to protect frontline services "wherever possible."

He added: "There is a very strong synergy between the three services - we share many of the same geographical boundaries for example.

"The whole point is to try to strengthen and provide more for less, given the climate we find ourselves in.

"All three services have a similar view on this. We look on it as an organisational change project."

Clearly, any cuts in front line services or fire fighter posts would be totally unacceptable to the FBU
Gordon McQuade FBU

Mr Wallace said the resource-sharing move was not "totally driven by finance", although the service will have its budget cut by 12-14% during the next three years.

He said: "The savings we make we may need to re-invest in other areas. We would be looking at shared services irrespective of the financial climate.

"Clearly if you are going to rationalise something, the law of averages would suggest you would not need the same amount of people."

Emergency response equipment may also be shared, but the number of firefighters and appliances would not be affected, according to Mr Wallace.

He added that the cuts would be considered by December this year, and that at least one of the brigades could begin sharing resources in the early part of next year.

'Totally unacceptable'

Fife's chief fire officer, Jimmy Campbell, said the change did not signal the merging of the three brigades.

He said: "At our meeting in September, I gave the Police Fire and Safety Committee my unequivocal reassurance that this is not an agenda for merging three fire and rescue services but, rather, a way of actually enhancing existing frontline services in a time of huge financial pressures."

He said the proposals were "firmly in line" with wider government policy of seeking a shared services approach in the public sector.

He added: "Fires and major incidents have no set boundaries. Each of the services has specialist expertise and resources which when used together will enhance the level of protection for our communities."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "While this is an operational matter for fire services, we welcome this approach which looks at opportunities for sharing back room services, while protecting front line services."

Gordon McQuade, secretary of the Fire Brigade's Union in Central Scotland, said they were yet to scrutinise any of the details of the plan.

He said: "The FBU will study any proposals put forward by the shared services working group.

"Clearly, any cuts in front line services or fire fighter posts would be totally unacceptable to the FBU."

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