THE Highlands’ former fire convener has no plans to attend a meeting when the authors of a damning report on the fire brigade are expected to explain their findings in public for the first time.
It comes after the first attempt by a watchdog to discuss the report on Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service was aborted in April.
The service’s governing body, the Highland and Islands Fire Board, has its first meeting in Inverness tomorrow (Thursday) after the local government elections last month.
The old board had asked the Accounts Commission - which published fierce criticism of the service earlier this year - to attend a meeting in April and explain the controversial findings in public.
Serious concerns about the brigade’s management and level of training for crews had been highlighted.
However, a row broke out after auditors refused to discuss the matters publicly because of the upcoming council elections and left the meeting in a terse stand-off which angered board members.
The brigade has said it is addressing the report’s findings and made progress in firefighter training.
The new board - which is made up of councillors from the Highlands, Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney - will be asked to send a fresh invitation to the commission to try and hold a public discussion again.
Most of the Highland councillors who have been nominated for a seat on the new board served in its last term but convener Richard Durham lost his seat in the election.
The former Ross-shire councillor denied that there had been weak management as indicated in the report and previously said he “would love” to quiz the auditors in public when he was convener.
However, Mr Durham said he has no plans to attend a meeting between the board and commission as a member of the public so he can hear what the officials have to say.
“I would have absolutely no position to attend, I am an ex-convener,” he said. “The electorate have had their say and I am not part of the democratic process now. If I was invited I am sure I would attend but I don’t expect to be invited.”
Mr Durham said he was very disappointed by the board’s refusal in April to listen to the commission officials explain their reasons in private after it held a vote.
Mr Durham’s main grievance with the report is a suggestion the board did not heed advice from Scotland’s chief fire inspector back in 2003 when it embarked on a major investment of fire stations.
“I think the Audit Commission get some facts wrong in their report,” said Mr Durham, who did not think it was about apportioning blame but had questioned the service’s framework in the region.
“It is what the perception of best value in terms of the public purse and all revolves around what level of service to the people of the Highlands can be provided within that context. It all comes down to, is a fire station in a remote place public value?
“There is a Highland perception that it is and it is not just about money but sustaining fragile communities which is the other side of the coin. But when that fire station gets one call-out in a year there are issues of how competent the crews area.”
A commission spokesman said its officials were fully prepared to discuss their findings with the board in public now the election had passed.
Nominations will be sought for a new fire board convener to replace Mr Durham at the start of this week’s meeting.
The new board will have a short lifespan because a national fire service will be set up in April next year.