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UK fire industry develops action plan to improve culture


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The UK fire industry has renewed calls to improve culture across fire and rescue services by bringing an end to misogyny, racism, bullying and harassment.

A new action plan has been announced following the two-day National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) event on culture and inclusion which brought together representatives from all UK Fire and Rescue services. Attendees were unanimous in their commitment to to improve culture and inclusion across fire and rescue services, with the publication of a clear and renewed national action plan within a month.

Th action plan is expected to set out milestones and success measures, giving the public, staff and wider stakeholders a benchmark to improve and can hold them to account. This will include NFCC setting up an independent external advisory panel to provide challenge, support and scrutiny to the NFCC plan.

Culture Review

The NFCC conference was opened by keynote speaker Nazir Afzal OBE who set out concerns and reflections following the recent culture review of London Fire Brigade and subsequent conversations with Fire and Rescue officers and staff from other services.

Afal spoke about the importance of people being able to report incidents safely and confidentially, confident that action would be taken.

Other leaders from across the fire and rescue services and more widely were in attendance including the Home Office, Women in the Fire Service, Asian Fire Service Association, Local Government Association, Fire Brigades Union, Fire & Rescue Services Association, Fire Officers Association, Fire Fighters Charity, HMICFRS and more widely.

‘Must not be tolerated’

NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham deemed any form of discrimination, bullying or harassment is ‘completely unacceptable’ in a modern-day fire and rescue service and that it ‘must not be tolerated.

“These forms of behaviours need to stop and stop now,” said Hardingham. “All UK fire and rescue services come together this week to renew their focus and commitment to making fire and rescue services open, inclusive and welcoming environments – services that the public and our staff can have every confidence in. As Chair of the NFCC, this is my number one priority.

He said that the discussions over the two day conference will help provide a further and collective step change to increase momentum, commitment and focus to culture change: “We have listened and identified key actions to take forward together, learning from other organisations as well as from each other.”

The NFCC Chair said it now intends to publish a new plan within a month, setting out clear actions to improve our culture. “This includes a commitment to ensuring every FRS has an independent, confidential reporting line so staff and the public can report concerns with confidence that they will be heard and action will be taken,” he said. “We will also be establishing an independent external advisory group who can provide check and challenge to ensure NFCC deliver against our commitments.

“I want the public and every member of staff to see and experience a fire and rescue service which values diversity, equality, inclusion, aspiration and fair challenge.  A key theme from the event was absolute agreement and commitment to learning; a commitment to transparency, to tackling poor practises and to celebrating good practises and behaviour; all underpinned by robust policies, processes, standards and inspection.”

‘Loud and clear’

NFCC Equality, Diversity and Inclusion lead, and Cornwall Chief Fire Officer Kathryn Billing said that the commitment from all fire and rescue services in the room came across loud and clear: “Eradicating inappropriate behaviours and cultural reform are a priority for fire and rescue services and we need to tackle it,” said Billing. Everyone within all fire and rescue services must see and experience the benefits of being in a safe, trusted and inclusive environment.

“We heard a number of positive examples from fire and rescue services who are creating positive, inclusive environments – as recognised by recent inspection outcomes. We need to learn from them and from other sectors about the work they are doing to improve workplace cultures. Everyone has the right to feel safe, supported and respected at work and we are absolutely committed to delivering this vital change, ensuring the public continue to get the high-quality services they deserve, to keep our communities safe.” 

‘The right to work without fear’

In a new statement, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Executive Council called equality ‘a trade union principle’ and that it deplores abusive and discriminatory behaviour in our service. “Firefighters have the right to work without fear of being mistreated because of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or neurodiversity – or bullied or abused while doing their job,” said the statement, “Just as much as fire contaminants and unsafe working practices, this kind of toxic culture is a matter of health and safety in the workplace.”

It also said: “Work is under way within the FBU to look at our record as a union, challenge our employers, and set out a path to transforming the culture of the Fire and Rescue Service.”

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