First Minister Humza Yousaf has been accused of “burying his head in the sand” over a lack of funding for firefighters.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the SNP leader of a real-terms cut to funding for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), amid fears hundreds of firefighters could be cut.

The alarm came following a report from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) which described the SFRS as being “in crisis”.

The service has already announced it will need to save £14 million next year, which could result in the loss of more than 300 firefighters.

The Scottish Government’s resource spending review, which was published last year, projected a flat cash settlement of £294 million annually until 2026-27 – although the 2023-24 budget allocated the service £363.7 million.

Read more: 'Risk to life' warning over a decade of Scots firefighter staff cuts

Pressing Mr Yousaf over the row, Mr Sarwar pointed to the report, which said there had been a 22% real-terms cut in resource funding for the service since 2012-13.

But he First Minister did not accept Mr Sarwar’s criticisms, saying the SFRS budget had risen and the number of fires had fallen by 14% during that period.

Mr Yousaf told MSPs that the Scottish Government has spent "more than £360 million this year" on the fire service, which he said was an "increase of £14.4m".

He added that between 2011/12 and 2021/22, the "number of recorded fires has dropped by 14%", suggesting that safety levels have improved.

The FM said that Scotland "continues to have more firefighters per head than other parts of the UK".

But the Scottish Labour leader accused Mr Yousaf of “saying firefighters are wrong”, as well as “burying his head in the sand”.

Read more: Hundreds of firefighters stage Scottish Parliament protest over cuts

Mr Sarwar added: “The fire service budget is set by the Government and it has fallen by 22% in real terms over the past decade.”

Mr Sarwar also quoted chief officer Ross Haggart, who said as many as 780 jobs could be lost if the Scottish Government does not increase funding.

He added: “This Government’s financial mismanagement is already affecting every part of our fire service, which is suffering from a decade of neglect.

“In the past 10 years, hundreds of firefighters have been lost and now a dozen appliances are being removed and the First Minister is ignoring warnings that his Government is putting lives at risk.”

Mr Yousaf said the number of appliances being removed was just 1.5% of the total number, accusing the Scottish Labour leader of “spin”.

“The facts are that since 2017-18, there’s been substantial year-on-year increases in funding to support the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service,” Mr Yousaf said.

“On top of that, we have more firefighters per 10,000 of the population than other parts of the UK.”

He added: “We continue to invest in our fire service and I want to thank and pay tribute to the FBU, to our firefighters on the ground and I’ll continue to give them a promise that so long as we are in Government, we will continue to ensure that they get the investment that they need to keep our public safe.”

The exchange between the two leaders came as firefighters staged a rally outside Holyrood, calling for more funding.

Gus Sproul, chairman of the FBU Scotland, said: “Since its inception just over a decade ago the SFRS has cut over 1,200 jobs.

“The FBU in Scotland are predicting that if there is no improvement in the budget from the Scottish Government another 780 could go in the near future.

‘Only this year we saw 10 fire appliances, nine high reach vehicles and the permanently crewed river rescue boat on the Clyde withdrawn from stations leaving communities with reduced emergency cover.”

He added that house fires this week in East Kilbride and Lochgelly “have shown the devastating consequences of delayed incident response times”.

Mr Sproul added: “We have been making our case repeatedly to Scottish Government ministers, but even with the chief fire officer admitting how devastating this budget will be, we are still being ignored.’ “If the Scottish Government continues to ignore the multiple crises facing the service then our members will be left with no option but to consider all options to force political leaders to wake up to the disaster that is befalling what should be a well-trained, well-equipped and well-resourced public service.”