Welsh government to take control of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service following damning review

The Welsh government expects the intervention to last at least six months, but has not set an end date, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

The Welsh government has announced the unprecedented step of taking direct control of the running of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

Four commissioners have been appointed to oversee it, following a damning review of the service’s culture in January.

The review was sparked by an ITV News investigation into claims of abuse and harassment of female staff by male firefighters.

Announcing the move - which takes effect from 5pm today - the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn said: "Sadly, I do not have confidence that the Service has the internal capacity or capability to oversee its own recovery.

"Management at all levels, up to and including the highest, has been implicated in the identified failings. They cannot be both the problem and the solution."

She added: "I am also seriously concerned that these failings jeopardise the Service’s ability to function safely and effectively."

Ms Blythyn noted the impact of this poses "real and immediate risk" to core services.

All functions of the fire service will now be overseen by the commissioners.

"They will have full powers to restructure and reform Service management and instill a positive, non-discriminatory culture.

She added: "They will remain until the work is finished, and until South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is demonstrably an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all."

The Welsh government expects the intervention to last at least six months, but has not set an end date, insisting that the measures will continue until there has been significant improvement in the culture of the service.

In January, the cultural review carried out by Fenella Morris QC highlighted a culture of tolerating 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.

In an open letter, published alongside the 185-page review, outgoing Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway says he is "profoundly sorry" and that he intends to retire.

However, it is not expected that the commissioners will reverse a significant pay rise awarded to Mr Jakeway, last autumn.

The Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service Huw Jakeaway stepped down from his post following the damning report. Credit: ITV News

South Wales Fire Authority - which normally oversees the fire service - unanimously approved the £12,000 rise in the midst of the cultural review. 

The Chief Fire Officer announced in January that he would be retiring on full pension later this year, despite the failures of leadership highlighted by the review.

Having previously expressed full confidence in the Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire Authority has today been severely criticised for failing to enforce any improvement in the service.

In a statement to ITV News, the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said it "acknowledges the Welsh government statement" and "welcomes the scrutiny and direction that will be provided by the four appointed commissioners."

"We would like to reassure the public and all staff that we would never compromise on their safety, and this was supported in the report," the statement added.

"To date, the Service has continued to take forward the Draft Action Plan in response to the recommendations within the Independent Culture Review Report.

"Last week we held five staff sessions to consult on the plan, with another three sessions planned for this week, to fulfill our promise of engaging with staff on how to take recommendations forward.

"Four working groups have been convened to deliver the Action Plan, and a governance structure was established, as detailed in the Draft Action Plan, published on our website on 16 January 2024."

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