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Review launched into culture of all fire and rescue services in Wales

11 Mar 2024 5 minute read
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The Welsh Government has confirmed it is launching a review into the culture of all fire and rescue services in Wales.

Last month it announced it was taking “unprecedented” action to improve the culture and values at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service after a damning report, following a TV investigation in 2022, which uncovered a culture of misogyny at the service and wider failings in management and leadership.

The Chief fire officer of the service quit after a report criticised the culture of the service, warning that it tolerated sexual harassment, sexual abuse, racism and criminality.

Sexual harassment

An independent review led by Fenella Morris KC, identified: “The toleration of problematic behaviours, including sexual harassment; negative assumptions about women; domestic abuse and physical aggression outside of work; the expression of negative views in relation to the protected characteristics of sex, race and/or religion; bullying; harmful ‘banter’; drug and alcohol abuse; and improper interference with procedures.

“Misconduct, including criminal conduct, that has previously gone insufficiently addressed, to the detriment of the service’s culture.

“A lack of encouragement and support for people to speak up, and insufficient action when they do.”

Deputy Social Partnership Minister Hannah Blythyn subsequently announced that failures of governance at the service were so bad that she was sacking the fire authority members and bringing in commissioners to take the organisation over.

Assurances 

Confirming a Wales-wide review in a written statement today, (11 March), the Deputy Minister declared: “I said I would reflect urgently on the extent to which similar issues were present in Wales’s two other fire and rescue services. I have subsequently met both the chief fire officers of Mid and West Wales and North Wales fire and rescue services and the chairs of the fire and rescue authorities to discuss the Morris report and its recommendations.

“At these meetings I sought assurances about the culture and values and set out my expectations about workplace culture in the services

“Both organisations have embarked on comprehensive programmes to review and improve their organisational cultures.

“These build on their own staff surveys; seek to respond to an ITV News report about South Wales Fire and Rescue Service; the findings of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services in England Spotlight report and the Morris report.

“There are some examples of good practice in both services: for example, every fire station in North Wales has a dedicated support officer, who staff can approach in confidence and in Mid and West Wales, any employee can raise any issue with any level of management as of right.

“However, I continue to receive correspondence from current and former employees of both organisations, including allegations of bullying, sexual harassment and favouritism in promotion.

“The public need to be re-assured about the culture and related management practices in our fire and rescue services and staff need to be assured they have a safe and effective means to share their experiences – good and bad – within their organisation”.

Belated

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for social justice, Sioned Williams MS said: “While we welcome this belated announcement from the Labour Welsh Government to hold a review into the culture of all fire and rescue services in Wales, as Plaid Cymru have called for since the findings of the damning report into the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service  – it cannot distract from the fact that the Government’s failure to get to grips with this matter early on has decimated staff confidence in the process.

“It should not have taken further testimony from whistleblowers to ITV news to ensure action from the Deputy Minister on this.

“Despite allegations of bullying against South Wales’ current Interim Chief Fire Officer, the Labour Government has so far failed to address such concerns. It is clear to staff and to the public that his position is not tenable and that bold action is needed to address this. Questions also need to be asked about the way this appointment was made by the Commissioners.

“A Wales-wide review must be radical to tackle this inappropriate behaviour seen all too-often in our public services. To ensure a full review, Plaid Cymru urge the Welsh Government to provide the necessary resourcing, and to ensure that such reviews must be based on the same terms of reference as that in South Wales for consistency. Anything else will not address the much-needed confidence-building in the process.”

Joel James MS, the Welsh Conservatives Shadow Minister for Social Partnership, added: “The Welsh Government has taken the right decision in heeding my calls for a further review into other Welsh fire services.

“With worrying revelations about culture, a review is vital so staff and residents can have confidence in the services.

“If further action is required in the other fire services, the Welsh Government should not repeat the mistake they made with South Wales Fire of appointing commissioners to handle the process.”


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