Contingency Planning Arrangements for Industrial Action in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
Arrangements Considered for the Maintenance of Effective Operational Response in the Event of Industrial Action
22. SFRS planning for the impacts of IA began in Summer 2022 and was co-ordinated by an Industrial Action Tactical Action Group (IATAG). This group was chaired by the Deputy Chief Officer and all decisions were noted within a central 'decision log'. Actions from this group were distributed to a range of functional groups who reported outcomes back to the IATAG. The group met on a weekly basis and the weekly IATAG decision logs and supporting papers were considered by HMFSI during this inspection. The SFRS Strategic Leadership Team met on a weekly basis to support the IATAG. This ensured that appropriate decision making and governance in support of the IATAG was robust. The Chief Officer or Deputy Chief Officer attended weekly National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) meetings, this ensured that the SFRS could align itself when considered appropriate with UK thinking regarding planning for IA. This approach was used to inform SFRS IATAG planning.
23. The SFRS considered a range of resourcing options (figure 1) to allow the maintenance of service delivery during IA; these were set out in the paper 'Operational Resilience in the Event of Industrial Action' and presented to the IATAG on 28 October 2022.
- Utilisation of operational staff not involved in IA
- Re-employment of previous operational members of staff
- Private Fire Services currently operating across Scotland
- Resilience Contracts
- Recruitment of Emergency Crews
- Military Aid to the Civil Authorities
24. The six resourcing options, on being presented to the IATAG, were each made the subject of a feasibility study that considered their merits. These six options are considered below:
Utilisation of Operational Staff not Involved in IA
25. The SFRS engaged in a wide-ranging communications exercise with its workforce to determine who may have been willing to assist with the provision of emergency response cover during IA. Confirmed numbers of responses to this communications exercise were shared with HMFSI. The Service accepted that there remained a level of uncertainty as to the numbers of personnel who would elect to work during IA and what terms they may work under e.g. work locations, roles willing to be fulfilled, working only in current roles etc.
26. The SFRS planning assumed that a number of On-Call firefighters would maintain their operational availability within their home station areas during periods of IA and be available for protracted or escalating emergency incidents across Scotland. There were a range of communication mechanisms through which the SFRS offered personnel the opportunity to declare their intentions to work, or not, during IA. The Service used this information to develop, as far as possible, an understanding of personnel and appliance availability for potential periods of IA. However, despite best efforts, it was difficult for the SFRS to fully ascertain the numbers and locations of On-Call firefighters willing to work during IA. This is not a reflection of the Service's work to ascertain as far as possible personnel availability, but rather of staff not being willing to state their intentions one way or another. FBU membership of On-Call staff, which has been historically low, has increased in recent years and this could impact the SFRS planning assumptions. The availability of On-Call appliances is also routinely impacted by insufficient crewing across any given twenty-four-hour period, and this should be factored into planning considerations by the SFRS. Notwithstanding geographical nuances across Scotland, many On-Call stations were expected, from a SFRS planning assumption perspective, to function during any IA periods. We believe this is a reasonable assumption on the part of the SFRS.
Re-employment of Previous Operational Members of Staff
27. The SFRS wrote to all recently retired staff in a bid to understand if suitably qualified and reasonably current people would be willing to play a role in providing operational cover during IA. The number of positive responses was extremely low, as such this was not considered as an effective option.
Private Fire Services Currently Operating Across Scotland
28. Wide ranging consultation with private companies who provide emergency response fire cover was undertaken by the SFRS. From this consultation exercise, one private company who declared that they could provide crewed emergency appliances during periods of IA, was considered a potentially viable option and was taken to the IATAG for discussion and decision. This private company offers a limited range of services and capabilities which could include a limited number of fully crewed fire appliances, one high reach appliance, a water rescue unit and road traffic collision rescue capability.
29. The SFRS would have significantly reduced capabilities to bring to bear in an operational context during periods of IA, this reduction is foreseeable. There may be a willingness for operational firefighters to work during any IA, and potentially make up sufficient crews to begin to close operational capability gaps. However, this is unlikely on a scale that would enable the SFRS to put in place a sufficient high reach vehicle capability (a maximum of two SFRS high reach vehicles may be available from On-Call stations during IA) or other specialist capabilities such as water rescue, line rescue and urban search and rescue.
30. At its IATAG meeting on 13 January 2023, the SFRS decided not to use the capacity of this private supplier due to logistical support challenges and the potential for interoperability and safety issues to develop within the SFRS command and control structures during IA. Whilst we accept that the use of this resource may have brought with it some significant challenge, it could also provide benefits and may have assisted in providing specialist capability cover that may otherwise be unavailable.
31. Recommendation 2 – The SFRS should fully consider all options available for the provision of emergency cover, including those that may be available via private fire service providers, in pursuance of its duties under section 9(2a) of the Act. The SFRS should maintain an ongoing awareness of resources that may be available from private providers and consider this option as part of its ongoing review of BCP arrangements. This is particularly relevant when no realistic, planned alternative for operational capability gaps can be put in place prior to IA.
32. Resilience contracts, which are in place in other Services in the UK, see firefighters committing to provide emergency cover in the event of IA. These arrangements may be entered into on a voluntary basis and would attract additional payment. Benefits of this solution are that it is relatively cost effective and ensures that competent personnel, already within the workforce, are available for deployment. Currently the SFRS does not operate resilience contracts. The SFRS adopted an approach to its preparations that considered events that follow any period of IA and actively sought a deconfliction approach. The SFRS considers resilience contracts as being potentially subject to legal challenge, and may not fit its IA deconfliction approach. There also remained a potential planning risk that having accepted resilience contracts, firefighters did not report for duty during periods of IA. This lack of certainty could lead to a situation where payments are made in times of industrial harmony and do not prove fruitful in times of industrial unrest. For these reasons, the SFRS did not consider resilience contracts as an effective option for use during IA and discounted them at an early stage in their planning.
Recruitment of Emergency Crews
33. Recruitment of emergency crews of 'Auxiliary firefighters' was discussed at IATAG. This approach would effectively mean that the SFRS would advertise for, employ, train and equip, people from various walks of life who may have no prior experience in the fire service or indeed any similar agency. These individuals would be given a basic training course and then engaged to cover periods of IA. Emergency crews of Auxiliary firefighters with a basic level of training could only reasonably be expected to provide limited support within the firefighter role. Use of Auxiliary crews presented significant challenges that would in our opinion have been insurmountable, for both SFRS and Military fire appliance crews. Several UK Fire and Rescue Services have actively sought to recruit emergency crews and while the levels of advertised renumeration varies, they are considerable on a per head basis. Utilisation of emergency crews was considered by the SFRS IATAG, but the option was deemed not appropriate and discounted for several reasons surrounding safety, for both this potential staff group and Scotland's communities. HMFSI support the SFRS in this decision.
Military Aid to the Civil Authorities
34. The Ministry of Defence (MOD), through the Armed Forces, can support UK Civil Authorities through Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA). Within the SFRS resourcing options for maintaining operational response during IA, one option was to make a request for MACA for military personnel to crew fire appliances.
35. Engagement between the MOD Joint Regional Liaison Officer (JRLO) and the SFRS, to discuss the availability of military personnel support during any IA, began in July 2022. A MACA request was formalised in December 2022 with a recommendation of support from the JRLO. Training for military personnel was scheduled to be conducted over 10 days and would have been delivered by SFRS personnel on MOD estate sites. Once IA dates were confirmed, training would have commenced to ensure military personnel were trained to the required standard.
36. It Is highly likely during periods of IA that SFRS resources will be severely depleted across urban areas of Scotland. The utilisation of military resourced appliances from identified MOD estate sites would have reduced the level of risk to communities during IA. However MACA would not have replicated the level of emergency response that the SFRS normally provides for the communities of Scotland. Military personnel provided as a result of this MACA request would only have engaged in external firefighting. They would not have entered any premises on fire (structural firefighting) and would not be trained in the use of Breathing Apparatus (BA) that can enable operations to be conducted safely in irrespirable smoke-filled atmospheres.
37. In addition to fires, the SFRS has a legislative requirement to provide an appropriate response to other operational incidents i.e. road traffic collisions, incidents involving hazardous materials, search and rescue from collapsed structures, flooding (and the rescue of people trapped by flood water) and incidents on major transport systems. Military personnel provided under this MACA request would not have been trained or prepared to respond to these types of incidents.
38. While MACA resources would have provided a degree of operational fire cover, with fire appliances crewed by military personnel being available across Scotland, there would still have been a significant impact upon normal capabilities that the SFRS can bring to bear for emergency calls. The SFRS' ability to respond in an appropriate way to incidents of the type set out in its legislative functions, would therefore have been highly challenged.
39. Any emergency response would also be subject to longer than normal appliance journey response times due to reduced resources and military crews travelling at normal road speeds and across greater distances than would normally be the case. Reduced capabilities would include high reach appliances, water rescue resources, hazardous materials incidents resources, line rescue capability, rescue from water etc. and this would represent a risk to the communities of Scotland.
40. This loss of specialist capabilities may have been able to be addressed in an incremental way on the day of any IA dependent upon SFRS personnel who elected not to take part in the strike action. The difficulty is that the exact number of people choosing to work, their geographical location, and specific skills and attributes, could not be accurately determined until the day of the IA.
41. MACA resources would therefore have formed the foundation of the available operational response to emergency calls in geographical areas out with normal On‑Call response station areas i.e. predominately urban areas across Scotland.
The extant options, and those considered by the SFRS IATAG as most feasible for the maintenance of emergency cover in urban areas would therefore have been:
- Armed Forces support through Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA).
- Utilisation of operational staff who opt not to be involved in IA.