It’s been an exceptional period of change for those of us working in the emergency services in Scotland. We have marked the inaugural year of the newly formed Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), established on 1 April 2013.
The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act paved the way for the most significant reform of fire and rescue services in Scotland since wartime. Eight regional services merged to create a new national organisation. The focus of fire reform was to protect frontline services, reduce duplication where we found it and drive out costs to operate within a much smaller budget. To deliver a more equitable spread of specialist resources across the country and to strengthen our relationships at a local level with councils, partners and the individuals who rely on our services in communities across Scotland.
There was no shadow year to allow us to create detailed plans of how we might develop working structures and take the organisation forward from its inception. What we did have was an absolute commitment from staff to engage with colleagues across the country to ensure that our transition to a single service was seamless and saw no interruption to the critical public services we deliver.
To the credit of our dedicated personnel, that aim was achieved and observers have been impressed at the progress made as an organisation in its infancy contending with change on a massive scale whilst at the same time responding to the continual challenges faced by an emergency response service.
We have responded to incidents that have often hit the headlines not just in our own country but also across the world. From last year’s extensive wildfires in the north of Scotland, which resulted in international media coverage of our beautiful highland landscapes, lit up by wide scale blazes, to tragedy later in the year when a police helicopter crashed in the city centre of Glasgow killing ten people.
Then a spectacular but devastating fire at the world-renowned Glasgow School of Art, which saw hundreds of firefighters, battling to save the building’s iconic contents. Although the priceless Macintosh library was lost in the ferocity of the blaze, fire crews were praised for managing to save 90% of the structural integrity of the building and 70% of the internal contents.
We have been tested a number of times in our first year as a national service and been under intense public scrutiny but I am deeply gratified that we have withstood that examination and indeed been highly praised on a number of occasions for our professionalism across a range of significant and diverse incidents.
Our staff have most recently been engaged in supporting the delivery of a safe, secure and successful Commonwealth Games and so once again, it has been imperative that our SFRS plans and preparations have been robust when the eyes of the world are upon us as a nation delivering a sporting event on a scale not seen before in Scotland.
The reform process will take a number of years and is part of a wider public sector reform in Scotland following on from the Christie Commission. It examined how to improve the delivery of public services in Scotland against a backdrop of diminishing budgets.
The financial challenges we face would have existed, irrespective of reform. As a single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, we’re better placed to address them. We have to reduce the cost base of the organisation by around £44 million in the first three years whilst at the same time protecting and improving frontline outcomes.
We must ensure a better, more equitable spread of specialist resources throughout the country, reducing primary fires and critically fire casualties and fatalities. We must continue to respond to emergencies, locally and nationally, working, as we do best, with other emergency services and partners. We must ensure prevention and protection services are at the heart of everything we do, working across the public, private and voluntary sectors to reduce the risk of emergencies occurring in the first place.
The statutory appointment of dedicated Local Senior Officers provides a point of contact for each of our 32 local authorities to ensure we have the mechanisms and relationships in place to work in partnership to reduce risk. Whilst we are a national organisation, the majority of our services are delivered at a local level and we recognise that different parts of the country will have different needs. Only by understanding those local needs can we deliver the type of services the public expect.
One of the key ways SFRS can improve the outcomes for the people of Scotland, is through enhanced relationships with other organisations and individuals to identify better ways of working together to support shared agendas.
Employing innovative approaches in joint venture with our partner agencies will ensure we continue to deliver our vital services and at the same time demonstrate the value we bring to the public. We continue to look for examples of best practice, not just to those working across the UK but also overseas.
As we move into our second year, it is an exciting time for the organisation. A time to consolidate some of the work we have done in year one, maintaining business continuity and developing the way we operate as a single service to ensure we remain in the headlines for all the right reasons and to create a safer Scotland.