Fire Service is 'institutionally misogynistic, racist and homophobic', MPs conclude

MPs have made several recommendations for improving the fire service after a series of reports by ITV News - UK Editor Paul Brand reports

The Home Affairs Select Committee has declared that the fire and rescue service in England is "institutionally misogynistic, racist and homophobic."

Concluding its inquiry into the culture of the sector following a series of investigations by ITV News, the committee says "barely anything has changed in the last 30 years."

In a letter to the Home Secretary, the Chair of the Committee Dame Diana Johnson MP states: "The culture in the fire and rescue service - the way that some people who work within the service think it is acceptable to behave - is lamentable".

She has outlined a series of urgent measures to improve the sector, including giving the fire inspectorate, HMICFRS, more powers.

The looming general election requires all select committees to rapidly wind up their work, meaning it has not been possible for MPs to write a full report on their findings into fire services.

However, ITV News understands the committee wanted to ensure that it recorded its deep concern in writing.

In her letter to the Home Secretary, Dame Diana references ITV News' reporting, stating: "We have seen media reports about senior leaders perpetrating bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, and not being held to account."

She also expresses concern that, "there are systemic failures throughout the fire and rescue service to prevent discrimination from occurring, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to provide support and redress to victims."

A series of investigations by ITV News has uncovered sexual harassment and abuse of women at fire and rescue services including South Wales, Dorset and Wiltshire, Tyne and Wear and most recently in Shropshire.

Two independent reviews sparked by our reporting have already concluded that there is a toxic culture in some fire services.

Earlier this year the Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire Service was forced to retire (on full pension) after a damning review into his organisation, with the service subsequently put into special measures by the Welsh government.

In Dorset and Wiltshire, a review found that misogyny and sexism was rife within the service, despite the Chief Fire Officer previously telling ITV News that his organisation 'does not have a problem with women'.

Committee chair Dame Diana Johnson Credit: PA

The Home Affairs Committee concludes that fire authorities, which oversee fire and rescue services, are not doing enough to hold them to account.

In Dorset and Wiltshire, the Chair of the Fire Authority Councillor Rebecca Knox, said she had full confidence in her Chief Fire Officer despite the deep cultural problems uncovered there.

Cllr Knox gave evidence to the committee at a session earlier this year, during which MPs said they found her attitude "incredible".

Dame Diana Johnson MP makes several recommendations to the Home Secretary:

  • The Government should conduct a review of the processes in place to deal with poor leadership and issue an enforceable set of standards;

  • HMICFRS is given enforcement powers so that cultural change can happen at speed;

  • The Fire and Rescue National Framework for England should be updated to include specific reference to cultural change;

  • Fire and rescue authorities in England should improve their scrutiny of senior leaders.

Dame Diana has told ITV News that if she is re-elected as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee following the general election, she will conduct a further inquiry into the culture of fire services.

A spokesperson for the National Fire Chiefs Council provided the following statement after the publication of the letter:

“The findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee, following their inquiry into culture in fire and rescue services, drives home the urgency with which we must act to tackle poor culture and behaviour where it exists.

“The recent update we published on the NFCC Culture Action Plan highlighted the work that has been undertaken across the sector and the impact this is having to drive change. However, it also emphasises that there is a significant distance to go to make the sector a truly safe and inclusive place for all people to work.

“With His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services also due to publish their thematic report into misconduct in the coming months, this, alongside the Committee’s findings today, reinforces the impetus with which all leaders in the sector must take concrete steps to root out poor behaviour”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We want to see fire and rescue services where professional standards are upheld. This is why we commissioned HMICFRS to conduct a thematic inspection of the handling of misconduct in fire and rescue services.

"We continue to work closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council and fire and rescue services to ensure proper standards."

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