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SOME STANDARDS SLIP IN SCOTLAND'S FIRE SERVICES - AND LIBRARIES SPEND LESS ON BOOKS

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The performance of Scotland's fire brigades in meeting national standards for attending fires in town centres and s...
The performance of Scotland's fire brigades in meeting national standards for attending fires in town centres and similar built-up areas got worse in 1997/98 compared with the previous year. The gap in performance between brigades also widened. Overall, however, 90% of fires were attended within target time.

Two pamphlets published today by the Accounts Commission compare the performance in 1997/98 of Scotland's fire and police services and councils' leisure and library services (see below). These are the first in a series of six pamphlets comparing the performance of Scottish councils.

Fire service

The figures for the performance of Scotland's fire brigades show that:

- for fire calls to town centres and similar areas, there has been a drop in performance compared with 1996/97: the proportion of responses that met the national standards for speed of attendance and number of fire appliances deteriorated by over 14% in Dumfries & Galloway, over 12% in Highland and Islands, over 10% in Fife, 8% in Grampian and 3% in Lothian and Borders. The drop in performance by both Central Scotland and Tayside was marginal. (The information reported by Strathclyde cannot be compared with 1996/97.)

- the success of Scottish brigades in meeting the targets for fire calls to town centres and similar built-up areas varied from 46% (Highland & Islands) to 96% (Tayside); and for lower risk areas from 67% (Highland and Islands) to 99% (Dumfries and Galloway). (See Notes).

Commenting on the performance, Accounts Commission controller of audit, Robert Black, says:

'Although some brigades made small improvements in some areas, I am concerned that there have been some substantial drops in performance. Brigades need to examine why performance has slipped in some crucial areas.'

Police service

As in previous years, the number of crimes in Scotland has decreased. The total number of recorded crimes in Scotland in 1997/98 was 420,757, a decrease of just over 4% (19,980) compared with the 1996/97 figure. The figures relating to the performance of Scotland's police services and the percentage of crimes cleared up show that:

- seven out of eight forces improved on their overall clear-up rate compared with 1996/97, whereas Central Scotland saw a minor decrease in its clear-up rate (2.7%)

- the percentage of crimes cleared-up varied widely between forces, from 35% in Lothian & Borders to 67% in Northern.

Figures for particular types of crimes varied, with recorded cases of rape or assault with intent to rape increasing by 18% since 1996/97. In contrast, robbery and assault figures were down by 11% and car crime down by 16%. Clear-up rates for selected crimes varied from force to force and show that:

- all forces cleared up the vast majority (94% or more) of recorded murders, attempted murders and culpable homicides

- the clear-up rate for rapes and assaults with intent to rape varied from 100% in Central Scotland (12 recorded cases) to 63% in Strathclyde (281 recordedcases). Grampian reported a considerable improvement compared with the previous year

- the difference in performance was wider for other types of crime, eg clear-up rates for serious assault ranged from 92% in Fife to 47% in Strathclyde, and for robberies and assaults with intent to rob, from 69% in Dumfries and Galloway to 25% in Strathclyde.

On 5 February, the commission will publish performance information for finance and housing services, and services affecting the environment. Pamphlets covering education and social work will be published on 12 February. These pamphlets will be available from councils and from the Accounts Commission. The information can also be found on the Commission's web site on http://www.accounts-commission.gov.uk

Notes

Police and Fire services are provided by eight forces and eight fire brigades.

There is a national system, agreed by government and brigades, for categorising areas according to the extent to which they involve risk to life or property in the event of a fire. For the first four of the five risk categories, there are nationally agreed targets for speed of attendance and number of appliances:

Area riskCategoryNumber of appliances attendingTarget attendance time 1st Appliance 2nd Appliance 3rd Appliance

High35 min5* min8* min

Substantial25 min8* min

Moderate110 min

Low120 min

* 1 appliance only for known small fires

SCOTLAND'S LIBRARIES SPEND LESS ON BOOKS

In 1997/98 Scotland's councils generally spent less on buying new library books and materials than in the previous year, but many dealt with requests for books more quickly.

Library services

The figures for performance of Scotland's library services in 1997/98 show that:

- on average, councils spent approximately 10% less on renewing library stock than in 1996/97. Only seven councils increased their expenditure. The amount spent on books and other stock items ranged from less than£1 to£4.20 per head of population.

- fourteen councils reduced the average time taken to meet requests for books. The average time for dealing with book requests ranged from 10 days in the Shetland Islands to 50 days in Highland.

- more councils are using technology to help them manage lending services. Twenty-two out of 32 councils (seven more than the previous year) were able to report how many of their residents borrowed books and other material from their libraries during the year.

- the proportion of the local population borrowing from libraries varied from 16% in Scottish Borders to 54% in Perth & Kinross.

Mt Black said:

'Councils have difficult choices to make about the amount of resources that can be made available for library services in relation to the other important services that they must deliver. But it is encouraging to see that councils are introducing modern management information systems so that library services can be run more efficiently within tight budgets'

Leisure services

Figures for 1997/98 show that:

- on average councils subsidise around two-thirds of the cost of running sports and leisure facilities but are tending to recover slightly more of these costs from users each year.

- the average attendance per opening hour for leisure pools decreased in most councils that have them.

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