FRSA National Update
31 March 2023
Values and Culture in the Fire and Rescue Service
We welcome the report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) on values and culture in the fire and rescue service. This report was sparked by the conclusions of Nazir Afzal’s independent report which found that London Fire Brigade was institutionally misogynistic and racist. Since then, there have been a steady flow of reports of deplorable behaviour in a range of fire and rescue services. Our members have often had to endure poor treatment both by colleagues and management, and we deal with a regular caseload of bullying and harassment.
The issues raised by HMICFRS, as the report admits, have been reported for over two decades in government publications. While the Inspectorate say they have seen improvements, they argue that they are not enough. Consequently, many fire and rescue personnel continue to labour under the daily struggle to cope with systematic bullying and harassment. Given the scale of the problems encountered, the report identifies 35 recommendations which should be taken forward. We would urge fire and rescue authorities and the government to start to implement these with immediate effect.
The recommendations largely deal with process. While they are certainly an improvement, the problems of the fire and rescue service are too deep-seated to be resolved by improved processes alone. We were particularly disappointed that governance was not mentioned as a significant factor in this appalling situation. Far too often we see ineffectual and complacent governance, a failure to ask the right questions and follow them through, and systematically hold service leaders to account. Many authority members do not have the experience and aptitude to do the task that is set before them. Even with Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners, we have noticed that scrutiny meetings are often far too cordial and lacking the necessary challenge to drive change forward. Those responsible for governance do not actively seek good practice elsewhere, nor challenge the status quo in their own service. Too often those responsible for fire and rescue governance have been cocooned in complacency and self-satisfaction.
Underpinning this is the failure of the fire and rescue service to reform and adapt to changing circumstances. Even when there is an open door for reform by progressive representative bodies, the offer is not taken up. This has created a malaise which has permeated the whole of the service from top to bottom and has resulted in the fire and rescue service no longer being viewed as a reliable partner by our emergency service colleagues. Freelancing middle managers who seek to block reform, constant wrangling over interpretations of role maps, and a lack of ambition on the part of fire and rescue leaders both operational and political, have effectively ground progress to a halt, and worn down those who want a brighter future for their services and firefighters. Indeed, those who propose and try to implement change, are often the first victims of harassment and abuse.
We believe that the fire and rescue service can have a bright future. It can be a great career, and many people want to thrive in the knowledge that they are helping their communities – and they want to do more. We need now to move towards a fire and rescue service that ‘opens the windows’ towards change, and not actively seeks to resist it.
We stand ready and willing to assist in this process wherever possible.
Chief Executive Officer
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