Fire union: Scottish services need more investment in wake of Grenfell tragedy

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Greater investment in fire safety and building standards officers is needed in Scotland in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, a Holyrood committee has heard.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said cuts to the number of fire safety officers working across the country should be addressed as a matter of urgency, with the number down by almost a quarter since 2013/14.

Meanwhile, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in Scotland told MSPs that local authority building standards departments were suffering from a “huge lack of investment”.

The Local Government Committee has extended its inquiry into building standards to cover fire safety following the London tower block blaze in June in which at least 80 people are thought to have died.

Denise Christie of the FBU said the number of uniformed fire safety officers in Scotland has fallen by 25% since 2013/14, down from 89 to 68.

Officers were now finding it “more and more difficult” to complete fire safety tests within the time they have available, she said.

The reduction has come alongside wider job losses across the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) amid falling budgets, Ms Christie added.

“We’ve had year-on-year cuts to our organisation and we are finding it very, very difficult to cope,” she said.

“We were promised that the reorganisation from the eight former brigades into the one Scottish Fire and Rescue Service would not impact on the frontline, but it absolutely is impacting on the frontline.

“And now we are seeing cuts to our fire safety inspection officers right across the country, and we’re hearing from our members that they are finding it very difficult to complete fire safety inspections in the amount of time they have got to do it.

“It’s really disappointing and it’s really concerning to hear.”

Asked if increased investment in fire safety officers was needed as a matter of urgency, Ms Christie said: “Absolutely, especially on the back of the Grenfell tower fire.

“The fire service isn’t just about responding to incidents, it’s about protection and preventing incidents as well.”

Kenny McKenzie of RICS said more investment was needed “across the board”, adding that recruiting staff to building standards enforcement roles had become “very, very difficult”.

“There is a huge lack of investment in local authority building standards,” he said.

He also called for “more teeth” for building standards officers to encourage people to adhere to regulations.

“One of the best things any government could do would be to give building control… the building standards verification process some enforcement teeth, we have no enforcement teeth at all,” Mr McKenzie said.

“It is very poor at the moment.”

The committee also heard from the witnesses on a range of other measures to improve safety including the introduction of stricter rules for public landlords, the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems in older tower blocks, greater awareness on fire prevention measures such as retaining fire doors within properties, and proposals for a one-off programme of “intrusive inspections” of high-rise flats to expose safety issues.