Our reporter Kate Lewis has the latests
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service “cannot be both the problem and the solution”, said the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership Hannah Blythyn.
Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday afternoon, the Deputy Minister outlined her response to a damning independent report into the service which uncovered a culture of misogyny and wider failings in management and leadership.
The Welsh Government is set to take “decisive action to the fullest power” they have, to improve the culture and values at the troubled service.
A spokesperson for South Wales Fire and Rescue said the service “welcomes the scrutiny and direction that will be provided”.
Last month, the Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Huw Jakeway, announced that he is to step down after a “shocking” report found sexual harassment and domestic abuse were “tolerated” by South Wales’ fire service.
The report follows an investigation by ITV News in December 2022 which found evidence that two firemen had been allowed to keep their jobs despite sexually harassing and abusing women.
Deputy Minister for Social Partnership Hannah Blythyn said Mr Jakeway’s retirement would not be “sufficient” to “stimulate the wholesale change in processes, values and culture.”
The Deputy Minister continued to say that said she had no confidence the service has the “internal capacity or capability needed” to oversee its own recovery.
The Welsh Government does not have direct control over fire services in the country.
The Senedd does have overarching responsibility for determining policy on fire and rescue services. However, at the local level, the forces are instead accountable to local fire authorities, who oversee their conduct.
Ms Blythyn told the Senedd: “I see no evidence of clear and committed leadership at the authority. Adding, it had “not held senior management to account.
“[There is] little confidence the review’s recommendations will be implemented”.
South Wales Fire Authority agreed to investigate other grievances at the service, but didn’t include the commitment in the agreement following the report’s publication.
Responding to the statement, the Conservative Shadow Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Joe James, said: “The management team have been instrumental in allowing the culture to fester in the fire service.”
He challenged the Welsh government’s appointment of four commissioners, saying there should be more transparency about they were appointed.
The commissioners who will oversee the service include the former Health Minister, Kirsty Williams and Carl Foulkes, former Chief Constable at North Wales Police.
Mr James added: “There is a real risk that without a well-thought-through approach from the Welsh government, that is sensitive to the good and positive aspects of working for South Wales Fire and Service, we will see more men and women leaving”.
The independent report by Fenella Morris KC into the controversial service was highly critical of both the discriminatory behaviours and attitudes at all levels, as well as the failures in management to address them.
It found material being shared which included sexually explicit images, images of graphic violence, and sexist comments.
The report’s authors also heard testimony claiming: “It’s a man’s world and it comes from the top”, and “You’d have to murder your own mother to get sacked from this place.”
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service became the first fire service in the world to be awarded ‘white ribbon’ status in 2014, a status that has now been suspended following the ITV News investigation.
Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams asked if the Welsh Government were satisfied that they are going far enough with their action.
She asked, “Would a review of all fire services in wales be a way of ensuring that such an unacceptable would be impossible?”.
The Deputy Minister also raised concerns the management failures identified in the report had compromised the service’s standards and firefighter’s safety.
Ms Blythyn warned “the organisation is uninterested in better ways of fighting house fires or minimising the risk of fatigue or ensuring firefighters have the skills they need.”
In the last year, the force has seen the highest number of ‘false alarm’ callouts in over five years. Something the minister said would’ve been avoidable had South Wales Fire and Rescue Service followed previous advice.
The service attended 8,347 in the year 2022-23.
In response to today’s plenary session says a spokesperson for South Wales Fire and Rescue said the organisation “welcomes the scrutiny and direction that will be provided”.
The statement continues: “We would like to reassure the public and all staff that we would never compromise on their safety, and this was supported in the report.
To date, the Service has continued to take forward the Draft Action Plan in response to the recommendations within the Independent Culture Review Report.
“Last week we held five staff sessions to consult on the plan, with another three sessions planned for this week, to fulfill our promise of engaging with staff on how to take recommendations forward.
“Four working groups have been convened to deliver the Action Plan, and a governance structure was established, as detailed in the Draft Action Plan, published on our website on 16 January 2024.”
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