02/02/2012

Audit Scotland Report on Tayside Fire & Rescue Board

Audit Scotland has published a Best Value Audit of Tayside Fire and Rescue. You can read Audit Scotland's press release about the report here. The report draws attention to a number of important areas, it suggests that the Board made the wrong decision with regard to Balmossie Fire Station, whilst at the same time also suggesting that the board does not challenge the officers enough.

As a member of Tayside Fire and Rescue Board I would respond as below.

Firstly, I would say that I believe that Tayside Fire and Rescue Service provides an excellent service to the people of Tayside and that this is due to good work by senior officers, firefighters and support staff.

I welcome the publication of this report, I think that it is important that elected members do listen to external voices about the operation of councils and joint boards. There are important points to take on board in this report, although I would also say that there are flaws in this report which would call into question the usefulness of the report.

I would, on the whole, agree that there is not a strong enough culture of scrutiny or challenge of the service within the board. Senior officers must be open to scrutiny. In the new structures which come about as a result of moves towards a single Fire and Rescue service it is important that the governance structures are clearly more than a rubber-stamp.

I am prepared to accept some of the criticism of the work of the board but it is at best surprising that after saying that there should be more challenge of officers that the board are then criticised for the one major occasion where the board diverged from the officers recommendations. The officers of Tayside Fire and Rescue did not convince the public of Tayside or the majority of members of the Fire Board that the proposed changes to Balmossie Fire Station were the correct way forward. It is just plain wrong to consult the public and then totally ignore the responses given. I accept that board members need to balance the responses which we receive. In the case of Balmossie it is clear that on both occasions there was a campaign against the changes and that the Fire Brigades Union was involved in that campaign. I am frankly shocked by the content of paragraph 24 of the report. It seems to suggest that because the FBU was involved in encouraging people to respond to the consultation that all opposition is invalid. There are between two and three hundred FBU members in Dundee, there were thousands of people who took the time to register their opposition. The report states that the 'vast majority' of responses were from FBU members. If the report is so wrong on this matter can we take the rest of it seriously? How credible is the audit when it got this so wrong? To suggest that board members should not listen to the views of trade unions is astonishing. It smacks of a tin-pot dictatorship that we should ignore the views of people because a trade union might have been involved, however tangentially, in encouraging them to make their views known. Even if it were the case that the vast majority of responses were from a trade union is Audit Scotland seriously suggesting that the board should ignore these responses and limit the civil liberties of trade unions and trade unionists?

With regard to Balmossie it should be remembered that on both occasions when the proposals were rejected there was broad cross-party support for rejecting the proposals. It might have been more appropriate to question what message it sends when a proposal is defeated that an identical proposal is brought again the following year. It would seem to question whether there is a belief that the board sets the strategy or not.

There is much to consider in this report but it does seem to have a major contradiction at its heart.

You can see a report from STV News Tayside which includes me giving my views here.