Fire chief tasked with heading up South Wales service at centre of bullying allegations

The fire chief brought in to head up the troubled South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is himself at the centre of bullying allegations, ITV Wales can reveal.

Stuart Millington, who was until recently an Assistant Chief Fire Officer in North Wales, will be taken to an employment tribunal in Mold. He denies the allegations.

ITV Wales has been contacted by serving officers at both North and South Wales services who have expressed their deep concern that Mr Millington is not the right person to take the service forward.

Unions have told ITV Wales, their members were "shocked" to learn of Mr Millington's appointment. The FBU is questioning whether "due diligence" was done and is calling into question whether the process was "open and transparent."

Earlier this month, the Welsh Government took over responsibility for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service after a damning report exposed a toxic culture in the service and the departure of its chief Huw Jakeway.

Hannah Blythyn, the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, announced the appointment of four commissioners to oversee reform. They include former Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, and former Chief Constable of North Wales Police, Carl Foulkes.

They approved for North Wales' Assistant Chief Fire Officer Millington to become the Interim Chief, on Friday, 9 February.

The commissioners’ brief according to the Welsh Government, which has responsibilities for the service, was to: “Establish and oversee a new senior management team and related processes that are untainted by the failings identified in the report.”

But ITV News has discovered that Stuart Millington, is himself being taken to an employment tribunal facing allegations of bullying by a member of staff in his previous role as Assistant Chief Fire Officer at North Wales Fire and Rescue.

The Chief Fire Officer at North Wales Fire and Rescue said she was aware of the allegations against Mr Millington. Credit: ITV Wales

Local MP James Davies, Vale of Clwyd is "very concerned" about the allegations being made about Stuart Millington and his suitability to bring about change. 

He said: "People expect their public service not least their fire and rescue to be run appropriately with all the safeguards and governance you'd expect.

"If there are things that are going on, that shouldn't be, then they should be managed appropriately and reported as necessary. We hear that might not always be the case."

Mr Davies said: "I had a whistleblower come to me just about two few weeks ago raising similar concerns (to South Wales Fire and Rescue Service), if not worse, about North Wales about racism, sexism and so forth. So I have been following that up.

He wrote to minister Hannah Blythyn eight days ago and is calling for a culture review at North Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

ITV Wales has also been contacted by whistleblowers concerned about what they say has been a similar toxic culture permeating between officers. 

They have shown our team WhatsApp messages from a serving female North Wales employee making a racist joke about members of the Royal Family. Stuart Millington was not part of this WhatsApp group.

Another text says: “I’ve got plenty of stuff this is just testing the waters to see what I can get away with.” ITV News knows the identity of this employee. 

Serving officers who took part in the review to bring about change say they now feel let down by the appointment of Stuart Millington. Credit: South Wales Fire and Rescue Service

The South Wales Fire and Rescue Service was brought to its knees after recent allegations about the inappropriate behaviour of officers and management’s failure to tackle it.

Serving officers who took part in the review to bring about change say they now feel let down by the appointment of Stuart Millington.

One serving officer told ITV Wales: “Now I think it’s really sad for me to say this, I really genuinely believe if this is the way forward, and I can only go by what’s happened so far, I don’t think we will have a period of change. 

“I think things will come into place, I think it’ll be more of a tick-box exercise. I don’t think the culture the way it’s going now will change and that’s really hard and sad for me to say but it’s what I think.“ 

Regional FBU Trade Union secretary Duncan Stewart-Ball says "it's shocking" that Stuart Millington has been brought in to oversee changes at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

"We've requested further details about the process. It does feel like lessons haven't been learned in South Wales," he said.

Mr Stewart-Ball wants to see a Wales-wide culture review in the first service which would include North and Mid and West Wales. The Welsh Government has to date refused to order this.

He said: "There needs to be a culture review similar to what has happened in South Wales.

"You know the review into South Wales highlighted poor behaviours, unacceptable behaviours - to believe that they are confined to one service is wrong."

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer Dawn Docx has said she agreed with the "Welsh Government decision to second Assistant Chief Fire Officer Stuart Millington to take on the role of interim Chief Fire Officer at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and to work with the Commissioners."

Ms Docx continued: “We do not tolerate inappropriate behaviour or language of any kind in our organisation.

"We continually strive to achieve the best culture in accordance with our core values, and have robust policies, procedures and guidance in place that support us in achieving the highest possible standards expected by members of the public.

“We also regularly assess the effectiveness of these current procedures and practices relevant to workplace culture, comparing them to legal requirements and best practice and make recommendations for improvement.

And she added : “Whilst it would be improper for us to comment on any particular grievance, we do provide the Welsh Government with details of cases of inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and harassment, on a regular basis."

A South Wales Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: "Stuart Millington has been appointed as Interim Chief Fire Officer by the four independent Commissioners under their terms of reference in order to maintain operational leadership continuity.

"South Wales Fire and Rescue Service will continue to deliver its frontline services as usual. The Commissioners are committed to implementing all the recommendations of the review and delivering long term and sustainable change to the culture at SWFRS."

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Social Justice, Sioned Williams MS said: “The appointment of Commissioners was meant to usher in a new chapter of transparency and accountability in the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service – to protect staff and to ensure a safe working environment where any unacceptable behaviour is dealt with appropriately.

“Instead, the fact that there are allegations against the interim Chief Fire Officer who was only appointed by Commissioners last week is deeply worrying and threatens to undermine efforts to a create new culture within the Service.

The Conservative Shadow Minister for Social Partnership, Joel James MS, has written to the Minister demanding answers.

ITV Wales has asked the Welsh Government for a response, but it has declined to comment.

You can contact the team at wales@itv.com.

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