North Wales Fire and Rescue whistleblower says speaking out gets you 'blacklisted'

A long-serving officer at North Wales Fire and Rescue Service has told ITV News the organisation has a "repressive environment" and people who speak out risk being "blacklisted".

It's after ITV Wales revealed how North Wales Fire and Rescue Service's former assistant chief, Stuart Millington, who has been tasked with heading up the troubled service in South Wales is himself at the centre of bullying allegations.

Those allegations are due to be heard at an employment tribunal in Mold but not until next month. Mr Millington denies the allegations against him.

Just after we came off air last night with our revelations about new interim an email was sent to staff in the South Wales service which has been leaked to ITV News.

In it Mr Millington said: "I appreciate that there will be huge scrutiny for all roles in leadership positions within the Service and I would like to assure you that my intention is to work with all of you in the Service to deliver the recommendations of the Culture Review and work with the Commissioners for SWFRS to continue to make South Wales safer by reducing risk and to create an inclusive and welcoming workplace, where everyone feels valued."

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

Earlier today White Ribbon, the organisation which campaigns to promote equality and inclusivity in the workplace has today stripped North Wales Fire and Rescue of its membership.

They said in a statement: “We are extremely concerned about the alleged racism at North Wales Fire and Rescue Service reported by ITV Wales, our thoughts are with the victims.”

We have also been contacted by another officer with a long service with North Wales Fire and Rescue, he spoke to our reporter Joanne Gallacher, asked that we protect his identity.

“There’s bullying and intimidation, it’s a repressive environment, speaking out or not toeing the line, there can be recriminations, like disciplinaries and lack of promotion  opportunities and just be frozen out and blacklisted, I’d say the word is.“ 

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When asked if they feel they've been blacklisted, the officer replied: “Very much so unfortunately.”

Another employee from North Wales who told us he was too afraid to appear on camera gave us a statement about the latest revelations.

He says: “This has further eroded the trust and confidence of the employees in the leadership of the organisation.

"We need a cultural review now, people are reluctant to speak out, but we would be queuing up to speak out if the means to do so were safe and supported via a cultural review.”

The timing has led to questions being raised over "due diligence" during the appointment process, with Plaid Cymru's spokesperson for Social Justice Sioned Williams describing the allegations as "deeply worrying".

The Welsh Government are now under growing pressure to establish a Wales-wide review into the culture at Fire and Rescue Services.

Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn would not commit to a Wales-wide review when questioned during plenary on Tuesday, 9 January.

In response to those calls, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: "We welcome reviews into a variety of areas within our fire and rescue service and in fact we conduct our own staff survey which includes questions on our workplace culture.

"This is carried out every two years, the last one being in 2023, and enables us to identify opportunities for continuous improvement.

"Furthermore, in North Wales, we fully recognise the implications of the South Wales Culture Review report and have acknowledged that it offers valuable lessons for other fire and rescue services and the public sector as a whole.

When asked by our reporter, Joanne Gallacher, if they feel they've been blacklisted, the officer replied: “Very much so unfortunately.” Credit: ITV Cymru/Wales

"We have taken on board the recommendations as a result of the review in South Wales, with a thorough gap analysis against the report recommendations.

"We continually strive to achieve the best culture within our organisation 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 recognise that no fire and rescue service or indeed any public service can afford to be complacent, and there remains room for improvement for us all

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Commissioners are doing important and valued work to implement the changes needed at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

“They have full powers to restructure and reform Service management and instil a positive, non-discriminatory culture. They will remain until the Service is demonstrably an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all.

“An interim Chief Fire Officer has been appointed by the commissioners and a permanent Chief Fire Officer post will be advertised and appointed as soon as possible.”

In a statement, the Commissioners for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: "Interim CFO Stuart Millington’s appointment is on a secondment basis, which is a common practice across both private and public sectors. 

"A number of individuals were considered during the process, with Stuart meeting the prerequisites put in place by the Commissioners in regard to previous experience and ability to ensure business continuity within the Service. 

"Taking all that into account, the Commissioners for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service decided to appoint Stuart Millington as the Interim Chief Fire Officer."

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

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