Second BBC Complaint re Scottish Fire and Rescue report


Initial complaint 31.5.18 – CAS-4946918-F6LDN5

Full Complaint: We heard, six times between 6 and 9am: ‘Scottish Fire and Rescue has a backlog of almost £400 million in vehicle and property maintenance.’ According to the BBC report, Audit Scotland have described the funding gap as ‘insurmountable’. The above information was extracted from the 5th statement in the summary on page 5 of the report. Missing from the BBC broadcast was any reference to statements 1 to 4 or the opening to statement 5, which include these key points: 1. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) continues to deliver emergency and prevention services while progressing a complex and ambitious programme of reform. 2. The board continues to work well, with real strengths in the quality of discussion and scrutiny and challenge of management. The board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues facing the SFRS. 3. The SFRS has an ambitious vision that involves significant changes to make it a more flexible, modern service. Progress with developing and implementing the plans for transformation has been steady but slow, due to a range of contributing factors. 4. The SFRS has continued to make progress with integrating different ways of working but has not yet achieved full integration. Harmonised pay and conditions for firefighters were agreed in April 2018, placing the SFRS in a good position to complete integration of the service. 5. The SFRS has strong financial management and has developed a good approach to long-term financial planning. It is now in a position to progress with transformation. This is a classic scare story, based on bias by omission, which was likely to be all the more scary given the time of broadcast and the repetition of one negative aspect, from a more complex and balanced document.


BBC Reply 18.6.18

The story to which you refer lasted for twenty-six seconds. The early team took the view – one that I share – that the most important and interesting point for our viewers was that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had a backlog in maintenance of vehicles and property approaching four hundred million pounds, an insurmountable position without further transformation and investment. The other points, including information such as “the board continues to work well” and “the board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues”, were not considered as being of comparable interest in a news story of limited duration. This was therefore not “a classic scare story, based on bias by omission”. You do not explain why the time of broadcast has anything to do with it. You talk of the “repetition of one negative aspect”: what we reported was the story and it can bear any number of repeats as long as it is accurate and fair – which it was.


Second complaint 19.6.18

It is essential when reporting on an important document to give viewers a representative and balanced account. Your report picked out the one negative and ignored five positive statements. That this was an example of bias by omission is quite clear. Repetition of this, unbalanced with any positive statement, six times in the early morning is likely to have scared viewers into thinking their lives may be at risk. Your mention of the 26-second length of the broadcast suggests you think this excuses imbalance. If it cannot be done professionally in the time available, then you should not do it at all. While this is a specific complaint about one issue, it is important to note that such imbalance is not uncommon in your reports. Your selection of the one negative aspect, ignoring two important positives, in the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service press release on Hate Crime in Scotland, 2017/18, on 16.6.18, on access to Higher Education on 13.6.18 and on the Scottish economy on 12.6.18 are the basis for other complaints.



8 thoughts on “Second BBC Complaint re Scottish Fire and Rescue report

  1. Contrary June 19, 2018 / 7:48 am

    Well, I watched that committee meeting, but didn’t hear the BBC report: what they said just wasn’t true. There IS NO backlog in maintenance, what is insurmountable is the amount of funding, their £400m figure, required for the full scope of future modernising plans – the fire service apparently has done well (if slow, according to the Auditor general) and is within budget for all maintenance etc – it is their plan for modernisation that is stifled!

    It was complex chatting about capital etc, and the auditor general didn’t have a breakdown in figures. What was clear was that the fire service is being held back by a) a uk national union (a pilot project, successful, to combine paramedic & fire services cannot go ahead because the union cannot pass the training required because they are stifled by being uk wide) and b) Westminster – I’ll have to look at the detail of that again or I’ll misinform.

    The report the BBC gave was an outright lie.


  2. johnrobertson834 June 19, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    Very interesting Contrary. I’ll use that info when we get to the next stage. Can you give me the link to the video of the meeting?


  3. Contrary June 19, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Erm, I accidentally watched it, on u-tube I think (it came on after FMQs last week) – my internet browsing it somewhat random! But I will look it out (I think it was the fiscal and something something commission… )

    I would like to emphasise that the Auditor General was very emphatic about the funding (£400m figure) was being suggested as the best guess good figure for fully modernising the fire service (assets, equipment, staff) – how ever many ways the MSPs tried to phrase the question the answer was the same, and she was impressed with fire service management and leadership and said they were realistic with their forecasts and ambitions. I am not sure what the remit of their report was, but it fell short on break-down of what actually might be priority for funding (they said the fire service itself would be best placed to answer that, but the committee in general wasn’t happy with this answer). What she (the Auditor General – gosh, I would love to have that job title, it’s almost ‘witch-finder general’ eh?) did definitely say that the fire service, as it stands, is on track for the given budget. It was her that used the phrase ‘insurmountable’ as regards the overly-hopeful figure for the modernisation.

    I’ll look out the video for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Contrary June 19, 2018 / 1:12 pm

    Ah right, got the committee name wrong, so it was difficult to find, it was ‘Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee’ – doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Here is a link to the you-tube video:


    • johnrobertson834 June 20, 2018 / 12:06 pm

      I suppose BBCScot can say they were reporting on the audit document rather than the committee meeting.


      • Contrary June 20, 2018 / 1:47 pm

        Do you think I picked up things wrong? I understood it to be (Liam?) Kerr MSP that used the phrase ‘four hundred million pound backlog in maintenance… is insurmountable’ to which the Auditor General said that wasn’t the case – yes, for the full investment into improvements for modernising it is (and probably the best option for full on fabby-do fire service), but for maintenance and upkeep of the current fleet and facilities the capital required is something like £37m over ten years (pennies in these terms). If the BBC gets all the words in the wrong order, they are to blame for misinforming. And if the report was confusing (which it sounds like it is), then the explanation is given in the committee meeting? Maybe I misunderstood though.

        To my mind the meeting indicated:

        1. the fire service is doing well
        2. fire service management is doing well & forecasting well
        3. the fire service is projecting staying within projected budget & the auditors agree (best case is they have a small surplus)
        4. Certain limiting factors were determined: a) a uk-wide union that will not look at particularly scottish fire service issues, (b) Westminster policies and laws on earnings before tax for pensions (retaining and recruiting senior staff problems, and (c) capital investment probably lacking for modernising the services (that’s yer £400m).



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