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Failings at Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service revealed in damning report

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has deteriorated and needs to make urgent improvements, a damning report has found.

It has been placed in special measures by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services after it found it was not doing a good enough job of keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks.

The report also found the service was inadequate at looking after its people, with staff reporting 26 cases of harassment and 41 of discrimination in the past year.

Problems had already been raised during the last inspection in 2019 and the latest inspection in October and November 2021 found work to address them had not been properly coordinated.

Wendy Williams, Her Majesty's Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, said: "Unfortunately, our latest inspection shows the service has deteriorated since then and I have concerns about its performance in keeping people safe from fires and other risks.

"In particular, I have serious concerns about the way it promotes its values and culture, and how it is improving levels of understanding of the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion."

The report said the service was not good enough at assessing and preventing fire risks.

It hasn't developed a process to make sure its home fire safety checks can be easily prioritised to those at the highest risk, feedback given after fire safety audits needs improvement and more work is needed to address the Grenfell Inquiry findings. The service particularly needs to improve how it shares casualty information from fire survival guidance calls.

Mark Preece, Chief Fire Officer for GFRS, said an action plan has already been submitted to address concerns in the report and work had already begun to make improvements.

The service has spent £8million on 10 new fire appliances in the last year and the report acknowledges it has made progress in the availability of its crews to respond to emergencies which stands at 91 percent compared to a national average of 86 per cent.

Attendance times during the inspection period were an average of nine minutes 20 seconds and Mr Preece said a community risk management plan was being carried out to analysis factors such as the location of fire stations to ensure it was delivering the fire service in the most effective way.

An additional £2million funding has been used to hire 39 additional firefighters and more back office staff are to be recruited to help address the issues raised. He said some of the roles were being reintroduced after previously being axed.

Gloucestershire County Council has allocated £2million as part of this year's budget to support the changes and improvements.

Mr Preece accepted more work needed to be done to make the service a positive place to work for all staff.

The report found some pockets of the service where the lack of understanding and respect had led to "wholly inappropriate and unacceptable language and behaviour being normalised and left unchallenged".

Staff revealed they had experienced and witnessed sexist behaviour, racist comments and bullying in the workplace, with 26 reports of harassment and 41 reports of discrimination in the past year. Some were "clearly distressed" by their experiences.

Half of those surveyed felt they weren't able to challenge ideas without detriment as to how they will be treated afterwards.

The report said there is a lack of senior leadership visibility and efforts to change behaviours since 2019 has not been successful. Some staff do not understand the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and progress to change this has been slow.

Almost half of staff surveyed felt senior leaders didn't model and maintain the service's values.

High workloads were having a negative impact on staff mental health with no clear plan to address this. A quarter of staff surveyed said they had never discussed their health and wellbeing with their manager.

Mr Preece said:"Along with other senior officers, I have been out talking with crews and departments across the county, listening to their views and understanding how we might better engage, include and support them. This is one way we are working to embed our organisational values and promote a positive workplace culture.

"I am proud of all we achieve as a fire and rescue service, but I know there is much to be done and I will, with the support of colleagues remain focussed on delivering a service that has the right culture, values and actively welcomes and celebrates diversity in all its forms."

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, chair of the Fire Service Scrutiny Committee, said the inspector's report would be top of the agenda at the next Fire Service Scrutiny Committee meeting on September 2 and the cabinet member for fire would be expected to explain how he intends to overcome the shortcomings.

He added: "I'm concerned that our county's fire service has received a poor report and that the government's inspectorate has raised concern about two issues related to workplace culture and equality, diversity and inclusion.

"The fire service received much better reports a few years ago. Something has gone wrong."

Cllr Dave Norman, cabinet member with responsibility for fire, said staff deserved to work for a service where they are respected and treated fairly.

"Those who do not live by the same values as the vast majority of us, must, and will, be held to account. I accept that progress has not been quick enough, but I can assure those in the service and communities that we are resolute in our commitment to improve.

"The additional £2million funding, that was secured earlier this year, will ensure we can meet the requirements to reach the improvement journey objectives for the service without putting undue pressure on current hard working members of staff."

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service is now under enhanced monitoring by HMICFRS.

The service will be revisited by inspectors in the autumn.

See the full report here. 

The news follows Gloucestershire Constabulary being placed in special measures due to inadequacies in investigating crimes and supporting victims.

Punchline says: "What's going wrong with our public services? Someone needs to get a grip.

"We rely on the people at the top to keep them running properly and keep us all safe.

"If this was a business, unfortunately it would probably go bust."

What do you think? Email mark@moosemarketingandpr.co.uk

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