Firefighters could go on strike in the New Year if the Scottish Government does not use its Budget to increase funds for the fire service, a union leader has said. 

John McKenzie, Scottish secretary for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has said Finance Secretary Shona Robison is in the "last chance saloon". 

He is urging the minister to use the Scottish Budget to "reverse a decade of cuts" he says have resulted in the loss of more than 1,200 jobs in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the withdrawal of frontline fire engines, and a "huge backlog" of repairs and maintenance to fire stations. 

Read more: Public pay the price for decade of Scottish Fire and Rescue cuts

Mr McKenzie said: ‘The situation is critical and cannot be ignored. The Finance Secretary is in the last chance saloon.

"Shona Robison must provide a significant increase in the budget for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service if we are to avoid strike action in 2024. Our members are not prepared to sit back and watch more jobs go and the service reduced to a shell through year on year cuts."

The call comes after Chief Fire Officer Ross Haggart who told the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee the service may have to save a "conservative estimate" of £14 million next year, the equivalent of 339 firefighters. 

The Herald: Firefighters from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) take part in the Cuts Leave Scars rally outside the Scottish Parliament in EdinburghFirefighters from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) take part in the Cuts Leave Scars rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Image: Jane Barlow / PA Wire)

Mr Haggart said: “A reduction of the number of firefighters by 339 would mean that we would be unable to crew 18 appliances.

"Perhaps I can put that into context by saying that we have 116 full-time appliances across Scotland. That size of reduction would mean that we would not be able to crew a significant proportion of appliances.”

Read more: One in three firefighters consider quitting in 'decade of neglect'

Mr Haggart said: “Changes of that magnitude, we would not be able to meet our current response times and things like that, which would mean we would not be able to keep communities as safe as they currently are because of the magnitude of the changes we would need to make.”
The Chief Fire Officer also told MSPs the service needed a sustained investment in its capital budget of £60 million a year to address "significant backlogs". 

He said SFRS would need to make savings of between £14 million and £26 million in 2024, a figure which could rise to £37-£48 million in 2026-2027.

The Scottish Budget will see Shona Robison outline the Scottish Government's tax and spending plans on December 19, 2023. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Firefighters play a vital role in protecting our communities and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has continued to deliver the high standard of services required to keep Scotland safe.

"That is why, despite difficult financial circumstances due to years of UK Government austerity and high inflation caused by the mini budget, we are providing SFRS with more than £368 million this year, an increase of £14.4 million on 2022-23.

“The Deputy First Minister said previously that the UK Government’s Autumn Statement delivered the ‘worst case scenario’ for Scotland’s finances.

“Ministers are assessing the full implications of that statement and the budget for 2024-25, including the resource and capital allocations for SFRS will be announced on 19 December.”