“We’ve got nothing to hide” says the London Fire Commissioner as he reports on progress to implement the recommendations set out in the independent review of culture of London Fire Brigade.
In a three-hour scrutiny meeting earlier this month, the London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe spoke about the wide ranging work carried out by the London Fire Brigade since the publication of the independent review of culture last November.
A new complaints service
He confirmed that 13 staff have exited the organisation since the introduction of a new independent complaints service, with six of those sacked and the remaining seven resigning and losing pension rights before the complaints process completed.
The Commissioner said that one of the most disturbing aspects of the review was the ‘terrible behaviours’ it uncovered and having this new process in place had led to over 300 contacts from LFB staff compared with just 22 in a similar period for the previous system. He warned that there would be more dismissals yet to come as many hearings have yet to play out.
Investment in cultural change
London Fire Brigade received £1.4m from the Mayor of London to set up the new complaints service off the back of the review by Nazir Afzal published in 2022. This is one many new wholesale changes that the Brigade is making to address the 23 recommendations in the report including a substantial investment in leadership training, a 24 hour reporting line for complainants and introducing vetting under the newly enhanced DBS processes now in place for all fire and rescue services. Out of the 23 recommendations, nine are complete and 14 underway. These recommendations are in addition to those in a previous internal review into the suicide of Firefighter Jaden Francois-Espirt.
The Commissioner restated many times during the scrutiny hearing that even if all the recommendations are addressed as well as those from the HMI reports, “You don’t finish addressing your culture. You have a duty to constantly review and acknowledge failings.”
Introducing a professional standards unit
A large part of the change is a ‘fundamental reshaping’ of the Brigade’s HR services that includes new leadership and establishing a large professional standards unit – the first in a UK fire and rescue service. The Commissioner confirmed that he had sought advice from across policing to create the right unit for the Brigade and was being advised by a secondee from the National Crime Agency. The unit is expected to begin operating in the new year. He said that the unit ‘will drive through change.’
In addition to a professional standards unit, the Commissioner argued for fire to become a regulated profession and have a barred list that would prevent fire and rescue staff being employed elsewhere. He argued the prospect of being added to a barred list would ‘act as a reminder that privilege comes with consequences if you don’t meet the standard.’ Throughout the hearing there were contributions from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The Commissioner said that the FBU had been ‘supportive’ throughout the process and is embedded in the structures that underpin the review process.
A move away from using charitable funding
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Freemasons donated £2.5m to the Brigade. During this hearing on the cultural review, one member of the scrutiny panel said that female members of staff had told him that they did not want to use equipment which had been bought by and carried the insignia of the Freemasons.
The Commissioner said that decision was made by his predecessor because there was a ‘desperate need’ at that time for equipment that could reach tall buildings. The Brigade has three 64m aerial ladders, two of which were funded by a donation from the Freemasons. He went on to explain, “My view is that public funds should pay for emergency service equipment. Moving forward, you will not see me turning to any charitable institution to provide funding for the London Fire Brigade.” He went on to add that he is unlikely to remove the insignia. “This equipment is being used in London and has saved lives.”
Following the publication of the review into culture at the Brigade, an Advisory Panel was established to provide support, challenge, and assurance on LFB’s response to the review. Membership is drawn from the Home Office, National Fire Chiefs Council, Local Government Association, Greater London Authority, HMICFRS and London borough councils. The panel has an independent chair and after an external recruitment process which saw 25 people apply, Martin Forde KC was appointed for a two-year term.
In February 2024, the inspectorate will return to review progress having placed the Brigade into special measures – or engage. The Commissioner said that HMICFRS is one of the most significant levers for change but it was ‘not about totemic emergence from engage,’ and that should they be regraded, it wasn’t the end of the process of change.