Scottish Fire & Rescue Service – Audit Scotland report

The RFU broadly welcomes the report by Audit Scotland which reflects where the service currently stands as it continues its journey, merging from eight separate fire and rescue services into one.

It is disappointing (but not surprising) that the report contains a lack of focus on the Retained Duty System (RDS) which mirrors the services own list of priorities, whereby senior management continues to have a primary focus on the Wholetime Duty System, this despite the service facing a budget shortfall and numerous national reports highlighting the need for services to better utilise their RDS workforce.

While the public perception is that Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) is acting as one, internally there are major differences between the three service delivery areas (East, West and North) and how they operate, to the point where it could be argued that there are three separate services in all but name. This demonstrates that there is still a long way to go for the merger to fulfil the original objectives back in 2013.

The report makes a number of notable comments including the need for the service to increase the pace of change to allow it to transform into a more flexible, modern organisation and that there needs to be a review of whether community safety is as effective as it could be and to what extend it is having a positive impact on public safety.

Recruitment and Retention of RDS staff

SFRS has 356 stations across Scotland, yet surprisingly the number and location of these stations has not changed notably since regional services were established in the late 1940s, raising the question of whether improving service delivery to the public is being hampered by a lack of forward planning over the last decade.  This lack of evolution of its premises will undoubtedly have an adverse impact on the recruitment and retention of RDS staff in Scotland.

Four out of five of Scotland’s 356 stations rely wholly, or in part on RDS or volunteer firefighters yet the service continues to fail to get to grips with a reduction in its RDS establishment, which has fallen from 3,125 in 2010/11, to 2,870 in 2016/17, with an average of 20 RDS or volunteer staff leaving every month. In our opinion, the failure by the service to formulate a strategy for the viability of its RDS workforce is unacceptable and needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

Industrial Relations and transformation

Having been recently involved in negotiations with the service relating to the harmonisation of pay and conditions for firefighters, it has been evident that the consultation and negotiation process is painfully slow, mainly due to the FBU’s belligerent attitude to any proposed change.

It is not helped by the fact that the FBU refuse to sit in these negotiation meetings with other recognised unions, choosing instead to have separate meetings with the service, this causes duplication of meetings and an unnecessary divide between recognised unions.

If the service is committed to modern, meaningful and inclusive industrial relations, this current arrangement has to change to allow for all representative bodies to play an equal role in helping transformation to become a reality, benefiting all staff not just a certain section.


In short, our view is that if the service continues to manage change in its current form, it will be a slow and frustrating process which will not necessarily benefit the workforce or public.

Where we agree with the report is that the pace must increase if the service is to win the hearts and minds of its staff and be an attractive proposition to potential employees. The RFU will continue to represent the views of the moderate employees who are seeking for the service to modernise in way that provides an emergency service fit for the 21st century while ensuring its staff are adequately trained and resourced to perform their role.


The Audit Scotland report can be found here.

Key messages from report

  1. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) continues to deliver emergency and prevention services while progressing a complex and ambitious programme of reform. This involves integrating the resources, policies and practices of the eight former services into one, and transforming the service to meet current and future priorities and risks.
  2. The board continues to work well, with real strengths in the quality of discussion and scrutiny and challenge of management. The board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues facing the SFRS.
  3. The SFRS has an ambitious vision that involves significant changes to make it a more flexible, modern service. Progress with developing and implementing the plans for transformation has been steady but slow, due to a range of contributing factors:
    • The SFRS has taken a cautious approach with the aim of securing and maintaining political, staff, trades unions’ and public backing for its vision.
    • The need for sufficient funding to begin the implementation of change.
    • Limited capacity and continuity for leading transformation projects; experienced officers’ skills and time are in high demand, and changes in the leadership of projects are common through changes in role, promotions and retirement.
  4. The SFRS has continued to make progress with integrating different ways of working but has not yet achieved full integration. Harmonised pay and conditions for firefighters were agreed in April 2018, placing the SFRS in a good position to complete integration of the service.
  5. The SFRS has strong financial management and has developed a good approach to long-term financial planning. It is now in a position to progress with transformation. However, it has inherited a backlog of £389 million needed to maintain and invest in its property, vehicles and equipment. This backlog is insurmountable without transforming its current model for delivering services and additional investment.
  6. The Scottish Government’s 2016 Scottish Fire and Rescue Framework requires the SFRS to report progress on outcomes for communities. The SFRS has been very slow to develop a performance management framework to inform this. The available performance measures show signs of increasing demands on the SFRS since 2013, such as the number of fires, false alarms and non-fire incidents.
  7. Work at a local level with partners and communities continues to be well received, but the impact of community safety and prevention work needs to be evaluated. The SFRS recognises the need to work more effectively in partnership with its national partners, particularly Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service, but progress is needed collectively to make the best use of public resources.

Recommendations from report

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should:

  • increase its pace of reform and implement its plans for transforming into a more flexible, modern service. In particular:
    • agree as soon as possible, revised terms and conditions for its uniform staff that reflect the changes to the role planned as part of the programme for transformation
    • ensure through comprehensive and up-to-date workforce planning that it has the right skills and capacity in place to deliver its programme of transformation effectively
    • agree a long-term strategy for asset management and a medium-term asset management plan by December 2018, that reflect th eaims of transformation
  • ensure that well-developed performance management systems are effectively implemented by October 2018, so that the board, strategic management and local management can access good quality information to effectively drive progress towards its priorities and those set out in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Framework
  • with its national partners and the support of the Scottish Government, establish and begin implementing plans by December2018 to progress the Reform Collaboration Group’s strategy and vision for partnership working
  • progress its plans to develop and implement a framework for monitoring, evaluating and reporting the impact of community safety activity by December 2018
  • include Equality Impact Assessments with papers to inform board decisions and set out in its workforce planning how it plans to eliminate the gender pay gap.

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