I am not surprised by that answer. Does the minister concede that the meeting was convened only in the past few days, despite board members' repeated requests for a meeting with him? Will he confirm that the minimum requirement for tackling the pensions time bomb is a long-term commitment to deal with the fact that the pension scheme is unfunded? Does the minister acknowledge that the pension scheme is unfunded and that, during the 1980s and 1990s, Tory home affairs ministers and Labour councillors paid for essential fire services from the pension contributions of firemen?
I do not propose to discuss the history of the 1980s and 1990s, but I will mention more recent history. When I met the Tayside fire board in January of this year, I made clear my willingness to meet the conveners of all fire authorities in Scotland, which is what I did this morning, along with a number of firemasters and directors of finance. The meeting was constructive. After it, the vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, George Purcell, said:
"The discussions that we held this morning with the Deputy First Minister were positive, and I am pleased that he at least seems to be listening to the case COSLA has put to him in relation to fire brigade pensions."
There are two key issues, the first of which is the one to which Fiona Hyslop referred. Because of the level of recruitment in 1974, many pensioners are due to retire in the next two or three years. As
I am also very aware of the immediate financial pressures on many fire boards. Although I was not able to give the fire boards a firm commitment this morning, I indicated my sympathy for their plight and hoped that I would be in a position to give them encouraging news very much sooner rather than later.
It was specifically pointed out that the Lothian and Borders fire brigade is very aware of the need to maintain front-line fire services. However, the issue of pensions is important and I hope that we will be in a position to address the concerns that have been expressed.
I congratulate the minister on the discussions that took place this morning, particularly with regard to the fire services in Lothian and the Borders. Does he agree that, when we hear good news about the protection of front-line fire services in Lothian and the Borders and the fact that the pensions issue is being addressed head-on, and then consider the effects that such news will have on council tax levels throughout the area, we should welcome that news, not criticise it?
I should sound a slight note of caution: I did not have a cheque book in my hands this morning and there are some details that I still have to discuss with the Minister for Finance and Public Services. However, Mr MacKay is absolutely right. The Executive takes the proper funding of front-line services seriously. We are determined to fund those services properly to ensure that the people of Scotland—not just those in Lothian and the Borders—have fire services in which they can have confidence. Indeed, they have such services at the moment and we want to ensure that that situation continues.