Emergency Responders (Safety)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th November 2017.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister, in light of reports of crews being attacked when dealing with bonfires over the weekend, what action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure the safety of emergency responders. (S5F-01686)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

None of us should ever tolerate attacks against firefighters or, indeed, any member of our emergency services, who do a remarkable job in very challenging circumstances.

The minister for community safety visited Dalkeith fire station on Tuesday and spoke to firefighters who had been attacked while on duty on bonfire night. Thankfully, none of them sustained any significant injuries. Unfortunately, one police officer suffered burns from a firework-related attack, which I understand to be serious but not life threatening. I am sure that the whole chamber will join me in wishing that officer a speedy recovery.

We fully support the police and our courts in dealing robustly with such offences. Those who are charged with attacks against our emergency service workers can face a prison sentence, a £10,000 fine, or both.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

As the First Minister pointed out, last weekend our emergency services were the target of mindless violence, and today there are reports that front-line officers demanded specialist public order support, but were refused. As a result, an officer suffered serious burns from a firework that was thrown at her face.

The Scottish Government does not collate data on how many such incidents take place. If it does not know the scale of the problem, it cannot have any idea whether its solutions will be the right ones. As a first step to protecting those who dedicate their lives to protecting us, will the Scottish Government immediately begin gathering and publishing data on the number of assaults that have taken place against the emergency services, and will it commit to an urgent review of resourcing and protective equipment based on that data?

The First Minister:

I believe that work is already progressing on the very reasonable issue of data that the member raised, and I will have the justice secretary or the minister for community safety, who I believe is overseeing the work, write to him with further details.

The point about data is important and reasonable, not just when we are looking at this issue but generally. We will take that forward and reflect on whether further action is required on that front.

More generally, I am sure, as I said, that all of us want to send our sympathies and good wishes to the officer who was injured. I understand that Police Scotland had put in place a significant amount of planning for bonfire night. A significant number of additional officers had been deployed: double the number that is normally on duty. A formal debrief to review the events has been scheduled, to ensure that any lessons that require to be learned are learned for the future.

If lessons are to be learned, they should be learned, but all of us should come together to send the clearest of messages. Our emergency service workers literally put their lives on the line, each and every day, to keep us safe. It is unconscionable and awful that anybody could ever contemplate attacking a member of our emergency services while they are going about their duty. We must condemn that and make clear that there will be zero tolerance towards it.

The Presiding Officer:

There is a lot of interest in this question.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

Last year, the antisocial use of fireworks resulted in several convictions for mobbing and rioting in the Muirhouse area of my constituency. As Liam Kerr mentioned, this year, a police officer was hospitalised for burns following a direct hit from a firework that was deliberately thrown at her. Year on year, we are seeing an escalation in such behaviour. Does the First Minister agree that, as well as having a mature discussion on the licensing of private firework use, we need to dramatically invest funding in detached and sessional youth work in areas such as Muirhouse as a means of diverting young people from such activities in the first place?

The First Minister:

Yes, I do. That is a reasonable point to make. We need to do a number of things. First, we need to make sure that our police officers and firefighters are properly resourced on and around occasions such as bonfire night—I have already said that double the usual number of officers were on duty given some of the disorder that we have seen previously.

There is a discussion to be had on and probably a look required at the rules, regulations and laws on the sale of fireworks and their permitted use. As the member is aware, there is split responsibility between this Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. The Scottish Government has responsibility for legislation on the use of fireworks, but responsibility for the sale and possession of fireworks is reserved to Westminster. I am sure that there is no one in this chamber who has not had concerns raised by constituents this week about firework use. The Scottish Government will certainly, in those areas where we have powers, take a look at whether we should do any more or take any further action.

Alex Cole-Hamilton’s point about diversion is important, not just in this context but more generally. I have already praised and paid tribute to emergency service workers, but we also need to pay tribute to those who work with our young people, such as youth workers, who seek to engage them in more productive conduct than some of the conduct that we are speaking about. The member makes a valid point in that regard.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I support everything that the First Minister has said about attacks on fire service crews. However, attacks on the fire service come in many guises. Will the First Minister also condemn any proposals to reduce fire service staffing numbers and to close fire stations? Those are further attacks on the fire service. Will she commit today to halt any proposals that may come forward that would reduce fire service jobs and reduce the number of fire stations?

The First Minister:

We will continue to take action to protect the front line of our fire service to do the job that it is there to do. There have been no closures of fire stations since the reform of the fire service took place.

It is absolutely right that the fire service, given the changing demands on it, looks at the action that it has to take to ensure that our firefighters are properly equipped to do the job that we expect them to do. As we see in this year’s budget, we have increased the fire service’s revenue operating budget. We will continue to work with the fire service to make sure that it is equipped to do the vital job that all of us depend on it to do.