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Fire service bosses slammed over spending and ‘cultural failings’

PUBLISHED: 18:40 19 July 2017 | UPDATED: 18:40 19 July 2017

Firefighters pay was capped while bosses enjoyed bumper rises.

Firefighters pay was capped while bosses enjoyed bumper rises.

Archant

Fire service bosses slammed over spending and ‘cultural failings’

‘Failings in leadership and culture’ within Avon Fire and Rescue Authority which saw managers handed bumper pay rises while firefighters’ salaries were capped have been exposed in Home Office report released today (Wednesday).

Former Fire Service Minister Brandon Lewis ordered the probe earlier this year after allegations of bullying, management infighting and inappropriate spending were raised from within the service.

Consultant Dr Craig Baker has spent weeks poring through documentary evidence and interviewing more than 50 people – and his findings ‘make difficult reading’ for senior fire authority figures.

That is because Dr Baker has recommended major reforms, including the stripping out of management layers and the replacement of senior figures, as key steps towards remedying the problems.

In the longer-term, he even suggests control of the authority could be handed to the Police and Crime Commissioner, as the police and fire services will shortly share a base and back-office staff in Portishead.

Dr Baker said: “It is clear that the leadership arrangements at the authority have not been working effectively for many years.

“The service management board in general, and the chief fire officer in particular, have been left unchallenged and not held properly to account for too long.”

Although a new authority chairman has recently been appointed and has voiced a commitment to instigate improvement, Dr Baker says ‘serious concerns remain’.

He added: “Both the management board and the authority itself appear not to recognise that matters must improve significantly.

“Both groups have sought to block any meaningful inquiry into issues that have occurred in the past; robust challenge is faced down with action such as code of conduct inquiries and exhortations to resign.

“I believe lack of change among senior management has gone beyond the point of stability and continuity.

“Because key people in senior management positions have been in post for so long, legacy issues cannot be dealt with effectively.

“I conclude it is now time for the leadership of the authority to be revitalised in order to drive improvements in economy, efficiency and effectiveness.”

In response, new authority chairman Don Davies has promised swift action to tackle the problems identified by Dr Baker.

He said: “The vast majority of our frontline and support staff will feel as upset and frustrated by this report as the local people we serve.

“Mistakes have been made in the past and they cannot be ignored which is why my focus is exploring the recommendations that have been made and taking practical steps to improve.

“We must accept and learn from the criticism and most importantly demonstrate through actions, not words, how we will improve.”

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