London Fire Commissioner takes immediate action in response to culture review, UK
London Fire Brigade has published the outcome report of an Independent Culture Review, led by Nazir Afzal OBE, which was commissioned last year by the Commissioner, with the support of the Mayor. Nazir and his team heard the experiences of over 2 000 current and former staff, and the public, including members of the Grenfell community. The report contains accounts of poor behaviour and painful experiences over many years.
Despite work by the Brigade to improve equality, diversity and inclusion, the report reveals that in the Brigade’s processes, which mean women, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and members of the LGBT+ community have been more likely to experience poor treatment and do less well in their career.
The report confirms that the disadvantage and discrimination that affects Brigade staff does not translate into its operations and does not impact on the way the Brigade prevents and responds to incidents.
The Commissioner announced immediate action in response to the testimonies, analysis and recommendations from the review, as part of a long-term programme to improve the Brigade’s culture.
London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe said, “Today is a very sobering day. There is no place for discrimination, harassment and bullying in the Brigade and from today it will be completely clear to all staff what behaviour isn’t acceptable and what the consequences will be. I am deeply sorry for the harm that has been caused. I will be fully accountable for improving our culture and I fully accept all of the 23 recommendations.”
From today the Brigade is making immediate changes to provide increased protection for its staff. Anyone accused of discrimination, harassment and bullying will be suspended following a risk assessment, pending immediate investigation and dismissed if the accusation is upheld.
The report highlighted a lack of confidence in the Brigade’s current complaints procedure and showed that staff didn’t feel safe speaking up. Following the outcome of the review, the Brigade is introducing an External Complaints Service while internal processes are improved. Staff will be able to use the service to report poor behaviour rather than having to report it internally.
The Commissioner has introduced immediate changes to the Brigade’s approach to leadership. In the report, the Brigade’s leadership was described as disconnected and divided in their commitment to change and that they do not always display the behaviours asked of the staff. He has made it clear that leaders who do not value transparency, accountability and fairness will not have a place in the Brigade. All leaders will be undertaking inclusivity training, which has already begun, and from next month senior leaders will be visiting every watch and team to talk to staff about the review.
New central hub
The Brigade provides an essential emergency response and staff are frequently exposed to traumatic incidents. The report detailed that more support is needed for their mental health. From today staff will have access to help and support quickly, whenever they need it. A new central hub will be created on our intranet for mental health support. This will provide staff with access to 24/7 support in a crisis and access to the Brigade’s counselling and trauma support.
The Commissioner continued, “This report highlights many issues within the Brigade and it also highlights examples of completely unacceptable behaviour from some of our staff when dealing with the public. These staff jeopardise not just the trust placed in us but the safety of those who now might be dissuaded from requesting our help. We are introducing the use of body worn cameras for staff to provide the necessary reassurance.”
“The big changes we’ve already made and will continue to make are needed to ensure we protect the people and communities who have suffered poor treatment. I also want to ensure a safe, modern workplace for the dedicated, public-spirited people at the Brigade who are rightly horrified by what this review has uncovered.”
“We will challenge poor behaviour and do everything required to rebuild trust with our people and the communities we are here to serve. We will root out the people, systems and behaviours that discriminate against others and let the rest of us down.”
“I hope these immediate changes will demonstrate that we understand the gravity of these issues and have immediately improved protection for our staff and the public. We have a huge amount of work to do to improve the working environment of our staff and rebuild trust with the public. I know that change can take time, but change starts today.”
National Fire Chiefs Council comment
Mark Hardingham, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council said: “The NFCC is committed to supporting all aspects of the development of UK fire and rescue services, including culture and professionalism. The Independent Culture Review of London Fire Brigade contains disturbing and difficult information. We support LFB for recognising the need and commissioning this work as a positive step on a long, difficult but vitally important journey.
“We need to take the time to consider the report in full, but clearly the findings are wholly unacceptable of an inclusive, modern, blue light emergency service. I am clear that there is no place for harassment, bullying or discrimination in any fire and rescue service.”
“I know that LFB has already accepted the recommendations in full and, as they have communicated, will be taking immediate action in response, whilst also ensuring the long-term consideration of the cultural findings.”
“We will be studying the report and its recommendations carefully and considering them in the context of every fire and rescue service in the UK. We have a clear Core Code of Ethics and equality, diversity and inclusion are woven throughout the standards, products and guidance we provide for fire and rescue services and will be redoubling these efforts. This will include looking at each of the report recommendations to consider how they will influence the future work of the NFCC.”
The NFCC added that it wished to highlight some of the national products available to support the fire sector, developed in collaboration with UK fire and rescue services, through the NFCC People and Leadership Programmes. This information can be found here.
Fire Brigade’s Union comment
Gareth Cook, Fire Brigades Union regional organiser for London, said, “The LFB report makes for difficult reading. The reported incidents of racism and misogyny are extremely alarming. There is no place for such behaviour or attitudes within the fire and rescue service or within our trade union.
“The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) includes organised sections for black and ethnic minority members, for women members and for LGBT members. These sections were created because of discrimination, harassment and inequality within our industry and our union. We will ensure our equality sections are fully involved in any fuller response to this LFB report.
“The FBU has policies in place to address issues of discrimination and harassment. This can include (after due process) the removal of representation from individuals accused of such acts. It can also include disciplinary processes through the FBU itself. Both of these have been implemented in such cases in the recent past. We shall review the effectiveness of our rules and policies in the light of issues raised and of issues we have identified ourselves.
“The FBU, along with other trade unions, is already engaged in major work on the issue of sexual harassment. This includes issues in the workplace and also, if identified, within our own organisation. We have been working with the TUC and with the FBU womens’, section on this for some time and will bring forward changes to policies and structures as required.
“There are elements of this report which confirm concerns raised by the Fire Brigades Union over many years. There are also elements of the report which will cause considerable concern and alarm. We will need to study those areas carefully and respond more fully.
“The review highlights that morale and engagement in London Fire Brigade are low, 40 percent are frustrated in their job. Staff shortages, poor workforce planning, no leave availability, poor work-life balance and low recognition are cited. The review also finds there is a need for increased trauma specialism and mental health awareness. For us these findings of poor morale and a need for better mental health structures are highly linked.
“The review also acknowledges the pay restraints placed on our members through years of pay neglect. The review has found that staff fear the consequences of speaking out as they fear the repercussions. That is entirely unacceptable and must change.”
“Our rules and policies require every FBU member to treat others with dignity and respect and to challenge offensive behaviour of any kind. The union is committed to equality. We campaign against all discrimination by gender, race or ethnicity, sexuality, age, disability and religion or belief. We have a long record of campaigning on such issues. However, we have raised concerns about many of the issues contained within this report historically and as a consequence we remain sceptical about the changes senior leaders will implement with regards to their own behaviours.
The London region of the FBU is committed to working to address these serious concerns. “We aim to improve the working conditions of our members and protect them from discrimination and unfair or illegal treatment by representing them in the workplace. We are committed to building strong relationships between firefighters and local communities in all their diversity.”
“We have only very recently received this report and will continue to review it, as we look to build a full and detailed understanding of it.”
Sources: London Fire Brigade, National Fire Chiefs Council, Fire Brigades Union
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