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Reassurance No Immediate Threat To Caithness & Sutherland Fire Services

10th February 2009

Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs have secured reassurances that there is no immediate threat to Caithness and Sutherland fire services, following a vote in the European Parliament.

The MSPs have visited fire stations and been in discussions with the Fire Brigade Union and the Fire Master for the Highlands and Islands and have also been in touch with Euro MEP, Catherine Stihler and UK Government Minister, Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy MP. As a result of all the contact and discussions they say they are "significantly re-assured" there is no immediate threat to fire services in the north, nor do they believe there will be disruption to fire services in the longer term.

Speaking also on behalf of north Labour MSPs, David Stewart and Rhoda Grant, Peter Peacock, MSP, said:

"There was much speculation last week that there was an immediate threat to fire services in the north, but the more we have spoken to those involved, the less that proves to be the case.

"Even though the European Parliament voted to end a general opt out of the EU working time directive, the Council of Ministers, which shares decision making on this important issue, remains opposed to that. The UK Government is one of a majority of EU governments which has the opt out and remains firmly opposed to changing the current position. If the Council of Ministers maintain their objection through what will be a lengthy process of negotiation and conciliation, the whole proposal will fall.

"My colleague David Stewart MSP spoke to the Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy's office about this issue and it has made clear the UK government intend to act in a way that will protect our fire-services.

"We have made clear to the Fire Brigade Union and to the Fire Master that we will ensure that everyone in the UK government and the EU who need to know about the unique circumstances of the Highlands and Islands will know about them. Keeping the excellent services of our retained fire-fighters is vital to meet our distinct needs. We have also made clear we will seek to meet the responsible EU Commissioner to leave no-one in any doubt about our distinct needs.

"If at any time in the future worthwhile change to the working time directive is going to take place, our objective is to ensure that any such change will fully accommodate the needs of emergency services in our area. Everyone we have spoken to, from local fire officers to UK Cabinet Ministers agree that sense needs to prevail and we can retain our excellent fire-services to provide the protection we all enjoy."

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