Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

04/03/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jane Dodds
Jenny Rathbone Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Joel James Yn dirprwyo ar ran Altaf Hussain
Substitute for Altaf Hussain
Ken Skates
Sarah Murphy
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Cerith Griffiths Aelod o’r cyngor gweithredol ar gyfer Cymru, Undeb y Brigadau Tân
Executive council member for Wales, Fire Brigades Union
Mark Hardingham Cadeirydd Cyngor Cenedlaethol y Penaethiaid Tân
Chair, National Fire Chiefs Council
Matt Wrack Ysgrifennydd Cyffredinol Undeb y Brigadau Tân
General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union
Peter Crews Ysgrifennydd Cangen Llywodraeth Leol Cwm Taf, Unsain
Branch Secretary, Cwm Taf Local Government Branch, Unison
Tristan Ashby Prif Swyddog Gweithredol Cymdeithas y Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub
Chief Executive Officer, Fire and Rescue Services Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Rachael Davies Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:59.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:59.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We are continuing our discussion of the review of the fire and rescue services today. I've had apologies from Altaf Hussain, and I'd like to welcome Joel James, who's replacing him. Are there any declarations of interest? No. Thank you.

2. Llywodraethu’r Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub: panel 1
2. Governance of Fire and Rescue Services: panel 1

So, we'll move straight into the first session on the governance of fire and rescue services, and I'd very much like to welcome Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who's joining us online, and Cerith Griffiths, the executive council member for Wales, also from the Fire Brigades Union, here with us in the Senedd. I just wanted to start off by asking you about this culture review. Cerith, in the BBC report, you were quoted as saying you thought the culture review by Fenella Morris was 'rather disturbing', I think were the words. I just wondered if you'd like to explain, if you made that comment, why you used those specific words.

11:00

I think, if you look at the number of complaints that were contained within the report, if you look at the nature of the complaints that were contained with the report, 'disturbing' probably describes it quite well. To think what people have been put through—. So, if you—. Well, look, I'm sure we're all familiar with the report, and, when we see some of those complaints, then they really are disturbing, they really are quite shocking. 

What insight did you have into these problems prior to the publication of this report?

I've been aware of a number of issues over the years, complaints that have been brought to us, and, when asked if people wanted to take it further, very many said they didn't, they just wanted things to stop. They just wanted—. For example, I can remember one individual approaching me with regard to a bullying allegation, and when I said, 'Look, I'm willing to take this further,' they asked that I didn't. People didn't want to put their heads above the parapet, people didn't want to make themselves known with regard to some of these behaviours, and it was then difficult to take it forward. I did raise an issue with the service and I asked them to listen to what their staff were telling them, and it was met with—. I won't say they were dismissive of it, but it was a case of, 'Well, if people have got issues, they need to bring them to us,' without the thought that people were, for want of a better word, scared to raise these issues.

So, what action were you able to take? I understand you had to respect the views of the individual, but what action were you able to take to make those appalling discriminatory behaviours stop?

It was difficult. We could raise issues and raise issues with senior figures within the service, but a lot of times, as I say, unless people were willing to make themselves known and to actually raise that issue, then there wasn't a lot that could be done. I have challenged bullying. It wasn't a case of—. I think there are different levels of bullying. Where I have challenged the belittling of an individual, they were very grateful that I did that at the time, but, as I say, as for taking it further and raising it as an issue, people, as I say, didn't want to put their heads above the parapet.

Okay. Now, the culture review wasn't uncritical of yourselves and said that the union had contributed to the service's cultural problems, particularly through resistance to members being dismissed for poor behaviour. In light of those concerns, what steps has the union taken in response to the review? Would you acknowledge that you played a part in this?

I think it's—. We recognised the criticism that was aimed at the FBU, and we fully accept the criticisms that were contained within the report. I think we—. Sorry, I'm going to just refer to the issues around supporting members, then. Now, the FBU has a policy called 'All Different, All Equal', which requires anyone to have been a victim of—. Or if somebody has been accused of bullying or harassment or unwanted behaviour, then we carry out an internal investigation, and that would determine whether we support the individual accused or not. And I'll give you just a—. It's never as clear cut as this, but if somebody's been accused of bullying or harassment and they say, 'Yes, I did it, and I would do it again tomorrow,' then, clearly, we would not represent that member. It's never as clear cut as that; there are always mitigating factors, and sometimes the individual making the accusation does not want to play a part in contributing towards that investigation, and then we would be representing that member. I'm guessing that possibly Matt would want to contribute more to that, but that's, in essence, the policy that we have.

11:05

Okay. As you say, it's never that clear cut, but if, for example, you've got evidence of WhatsApp messages being sent to an individual of a sexual nature, which, clearly, is bullying in the context of the workplace, that surely is something where you'd have evidence, rather than who said what to who, and that needs dealing with, because the impact on the individual is appalling.

It is, and, on the face of a straight WhatsApp message, that could constitute that we would withdraw representation from that member, but then, if you speak to the accused, there could be circumstances behind what led to that message being sent, whatever that could be. As I say, it's not as straightforward as saying, 'We're going to withdraw representation.' There are going to be—. There are two sides to every story, in effect.

Okay. But that is, in effect, causing a bit of concern. Mr Wrack, would you like to come in at this point?

Yes, thanks very much, Chair, if I can just put this into context. So, I think, with incidents like this, there are various ways in which the Fire Brigades Union becomes involved. One of those that I think is important to mention in this context is support for the victims, because, in most of the cases across the fire service in the UK, the victims of such incidents will also be members of the Fire Brigades Union. So, if you look at our annual report each year, you will see—. We don't report every case, but we report, for example, employment tribunal cases, where we have pursued, on behalf of victims, cases against their employer, often for a failure to act on complaints that they have raised. So, we are involved on that level regularly on behalf of groups of our members who have suffered such behaviour.

Secondly, within our own rules, there are rules against bullying, harassment and discrimination, and we have certainly brought cases against members, and we have had, for example, officials of the union who have been barred from holding office in our union when found guilty of such offences under our rules.

And then, thirdly, there is the policy to which Cerith referred, 'All Different, All Equal'. I think it's important to explain the background to that. The debate on equality and diversity goes back to the early 1980s, and it has been long and it's been difficult and there have been lots of failures in the fire and rescue service. We developed that policy as a union precisely because, in one case, representation was withdrawn from an individual and the union was taken to an employment tribunal. So, the policy that we have, which is very thorough, and has to be careful, is precisely in response to legal challenges that the union faced on this very issue.

So, we require our regions to ensure that an investigation is conducted; we have to then train people to conduct that investigation, and we've taken legal advice on the standards that we could apply if, for example, we're determining that we may consider not representing an individual member. And I'm sure you'll appreciate that it's correct and appropriate that the union goes through all those various steps. And again, we report each year in our annual report the number of applications under that policy, the number of hearings that have taken place and the number of occasions on which representation is withdrawn. And again, I'm sure you'll appreciate that to withdraw that representation is quite a significant step for a trade union to take, considering the fact that most people will join a trade union in order to get representation if they face discipline. So, it is a difficult policy. I'm not aware of any other union that has such a firm policy on this, by the way. I think it has been controversial, even within the Fire Brigades Union at times. We've maintained it and that's the policy that's in place.

An additional problem that we've faced in recent years, I think, as was mentioned to us by some of our south Wales officials recently, is that the number of discipline cases has grown generally in the fire service for some reason. That means there are greater demands on trade union reps at local level, including cases that might, in our case, come under 'All Different, All Equal', and therefore there is a greater demand for investigators. How do people get time released from work to carry out such investigations? There needs to then be a meeting of the regional committee to determine that's the case. The individual has a right of appeal, so, that may go to the executive council—sorry, the final appeals committee—to assess whether that decision to withdraw representation was correct or not.

So, there are various processes; it is not simply a straightforward decision that we find a WhatsApp message, for example, and can then automatically withdraw representation—or would want to—because, as I say, we have faced legal action on this very issue in the past.

11:10

Thank you for that background information. Can I bring in Ken Skates?

Thank you, Chair. Just two quick questions. One is kind of a detailed question, a point of clarity on rules and how things are conducted, and then the second is just more general. So, first of all, how was it that Stuart Millington came to be temporarily promoted, when I understand that, for most officers, they cannot be promoted if they are under investigation and subject to a tribunal? And then, up here in north Wales, a significant number of officers have stepped forward with concerns, spoken with journalists. Do you think they have been sufficiently reassured by the action that has been taking place since they were sharing pretty awful stories about misogyny within the force? Thank you.

Do you want me to answer that, Chair, or—?

In terms of Mr Millington, I have to say that I think that's a question to be asked of the commissioners. We've got some concerns about the appointment of the commissioners in south Wales and about the role, about timescales of how long commissioners will be there. We, as a union, support local democratic control of the fire and rescue service and local democratic accountability of the fire and rescue service to its local community. I think it is a very significant step, it's a major step, to appoint commissioners to take over governance of a service; that's not a decision we made. I have some understanding of why it's been taken. I think our concern would be, as I say: how long will it last? What was the process for determining the named commissioners? And then those commissioners become responsible for their own decisions. In terms of the appointment of Mr Millington, I think we probably share your question of, 'How was that decision made?' Certainly, there appear to have been some press reports about that. We have had no involvement, nor discussion, nor consultation about the appointment of Mr Millington to my knowledge.

Thank you. Is there anything you wanted to add, Mr Griffiths? Because I know that Joel James wanted to come in.

Yes, please, if I could. Just in terms of the appointment—Matt has set it out correctly—we were unaware. I was unaware until, I think it was quite late on the Friday afternoon. I forget if I—. I think it was raised by somebody who'd said, 'He's been appointed.' It—. I think I was quite shocked at the appointment, given that we know that he now faces an employment tribunal. And we're talking about somebody who's coming in to lead an organisation through a period of cultural change, and he was brought in on the back of quite a number of complaints, which was, yes, quite shocking.

Okay. Well, thank you for clarifying neither of you are involved in any of this. And, of course, it is an interim appointment. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming in this morning. I hope you don't mind, I just wanted to ask you a couple of quick questions about—. You mentioned there the Fire Brigades Union's investigation, if a complaint was raised. I just want to get some idea of how that's conducted, in a sense. Obviously, one of the concerns that was raised in the south Wales fire and rescue review was that lack of transparency, and I just wanted to get an idea of how that's conducted, and how that fits in with the formal investigation that's done by the fire authority. Obviously, we talk about: is your decision a final decision on the outcome, then?

The second load of questions to Cerith, if you don't mind—. You mentioned people who have raised concerns in the past with you. They didn't want to proceed. They didn't want to raise their heads above the parapet. I was just wondering—and again this was a theme that was raised in the review—about how an issue lies with the complaints procedure. A lot of people were saying that it's too heavy handed and leaves them open to—. It breaks up the morale in the station, you know. They are worried then about their career prospects. I was just wondering, is the formal complaints procedure an issue as well, do you think—

11:15

Okay. If you could give some brief answers, Mr Griffiths, because we have got quite a lot to get through.

In terms of the 'All Different, All Equal' investigation, what would happen, for instance—. If we look at Wales, and a complaint was generated in south Wales, then we would have investigators from either north Wales or mid and west Wales. Failing those services, they'd come from outside. They would then come in and investigate it and produce a report. Then, that would go in front of the regional committee to decide whether representation would be afforded or not.

With regard to complaints, I'm not sure how we would move forward on a complaints procedure. I think it's something that does need to be looked into, because people—. I had an e-mail last week from somebody who wanted to raise an issue, and they said, 'Please don't include my name on this'. This is following the report that has been submitted recently.

Thank you. Can I call in Sarah Murphy at this point?

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, both, for being here this morning. I'm going to ask some questions now that follow on quite nicely from what you have previously said about the Wales-wide review. So, on 15 February, it was reported that the Fire Brigades Union called for a nationwide culture review, following the shocking appointment of south Wales's new interim fire chief, whom you have just mentioned. Your regional FBU secretary said that there needed to be a culture review similar to what's happened in south Wales, because to believe that the poor behaviours and unacceptable behaviours are confined to one service is wrong. So, can you just talk us through—? Are you concerned that the cultural issues, misogyny and discrimination are also present in north and mid and west Wales, especially considering your call now for the Wales-wide review? Diolch.

Yes, we are very concerned, and that's why we have called for that Wales-wide review, and, if possible, to utilise the same team that was used in south Wales, just as a matter of consistency. Again, I'm aware of issues in mid and west Wales and north Wales. If you look at some of the cultural reviews that were done in London on the back of an individual taking his own life, and some of the issues that have come out of other services across the UK, I think that it would be extremely naive of us to think that there aren't issues in other services. As I say, for the matter of consistency, and to give those victims a voice—. I think that a lot of people feel why has it been that people in south Wales had a voice when other people in other services haven't had that opportunity to speak out.

Yes, and what has the feedback been since you called for that Wales-wide review?

It has been resisted so far. Assurance has been sought from the two services that the recommendations in the report in south Wales are being implemented. But, as I say, that doesn't give individuals a voice and to hear the issues that they have faced come to the fore.

Thank you. Also, I understand now that, with the culture review in south Wales, there has been a bit of a switch to a thematic review that's being proposed. Are you able to talk to us a little bit about what that is, and how that is different from the culture review that is meant to be carried out? And do you think that will impact, possibly, having a Wales-wide review as well, please?

11:20

Yes, the thematic reviews were on the back of the chief fire and rescue adviser producing a report saying that—. This was looking into a broadened role for firefighters and suggested some changes that needed to be made with start and finish times. It wasn't that it was resisted, but I think south Wales recognised that this would need to be done in social partnership, that they would need to consult with the trade unions on this matter, and that there would be some resistance from the Fire Brigades Union and other representative bodies. Now, that review was done. South Wales didn't see the need to make those changes, and understood that if they did make those changes, which would have seen some opposition from Fire Brigades Union members in south Wales, they recognised that there would be industrial strife for some years to come, and the changes weren't warranted or weren't seen to be warranted as much as they were being driven by the chief fire and rescue adviser and his team.

We need to be able to take staff along with us. When you make change, and the changes that were being seen, as I say, to a broadened role, I think that needed to have occurred first, but they put the cart before the horse, in essence, and tried to make a change that was going to be resisted, and then you'll just get further resistance along the line. And it was quite surprising when I saw that the terms of reference for the commissioners, going forward, was to implement these changes. Now, we're talking about cultural changes, and you need to have staff buy-in at all points with that. To try and implement changes to terms and conditions that didn't look as if they were being done in social partnership—. They say that it has to be done that way, but when it doesn't look that way, that's the perception you're going to get from staff, and staff then are going to resist that and some of the cultural changes you wish to make are going to be also resisted as well. So, I think it needs to be done in the right order, and unfortunately, this seems to be not being done in the right order.

Thank you very much. So, to clarify, then, the terms of reference for the commissioners is to also carry out this thematic review, whilst they're also meant to be overseeing the cultural review.

Sarah, can I just interrupt? Sioned just wants to come in. I'll come back to you.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Un cwestiwn bach ynglŷn â rôl y prif gynghorydd ac arolygydd tân a'r alwad yna rydych chi wedi ei gwneud fel undeb ar gyfer adolygiad Cymru gyfan. Fe wnaeth y prif gynghorydd ac arolygydd ddweud wrthym ni yr wythnos diwethaf nad oedd agweddau diwylliannol yn rhywbeth y byddai fe yn arferol yn disgwyl arolygu. Ydy hynny'n gyson gyda'ch dealltwriaeth chi o'i rôl? A hefyd, a allaf i ofyn, gan ei fod, wrth gwrs, yn cynghori'r Dirprwy Weinidog ar yr angen neu beidio ar gyfer adolygiad Cymru gyfan, ydych chi'n teimlo ei bod hi'n od ei fod e wedi dweud hynny?

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask one quick question about the chief fire adviser and inspector and the call that you've made as a union for an all-Wales review. The chief inspector told us last week that the cultural aspects were not things that he would usually expect to review. Is that consistent with your understanding of his role? And could I also ask, as, of course, he gives advice to the Deputy Minister on the need or no need for an all-Wales review, do you think it's strange that he said that?

Dwi'n meddwl ei fod e'n od, a dwi ddim yn deall pam maen nhw wedi dweud hyn. Fel dywedais i, licen i weld bod rhywbeth yn cael ei wneud dros Gymru i gyd. Dwi'n credu bod rhaid. Mae'n bwysig ein bod ni'n gweld hyn yn cael ei wneud, achos mae e'n rhoi llais i bobl, ta beth sydd wedi digwydd i nhw yn y gorffennol, a jest i symud ymlaen. Mae e'n rhoi llais iddyn nhw i symud ymlaen. Sori—beth oedd y cwestiwn cyntaf?

I think it is odd, and I don't understand why this has been said. As I said, I would like to see something being done throughout Wales. I think that's needed. I think it's important that we do see this being done, because it gives people a voice, whatever has happened to them in the past, just to be able to move on. It provides them with a voice to move on. Sorry—what was the first question?

Y cwestiwn cyntaf: o ran eich dealltwriaeth chi, oedd arolygu diwylliant a materion diwylliannol o fewn y gwasanaeth yn rhan o rôl y prif arolygydd? Roedd e'n dweud wrthym ni nad oedd e'n ystyried hynny yn rhan o'i rôl. Beth oedd eith dealltwriaeth chi?

The first question: based on your understanding, was the review of culture and cultural issues within the service part of the role of the chief inspector? He told us that he didn't consider that to be a part of his role. What was your understanding?

Fel roeddwn ni'n ei ddeall e, roedd hwnna yn rhan o'i rôl, ac rwy'n credu, pe byddech chi'n edrych ar beth oedd ei rôl e, fel roeddwn i'n deall, roedd e yn rhan o'i rôl e.

As I understood it, that was part of his role, and I think, if you looked at what his role was, from my understanding, it was part of his role.

Could I come in, Chair?

Yes, please. I was unaware of the comments that Mr Stephens has made on that point, and I have to say I'm somewhat surprised. If you look at the history of the service and the debate on diversity within it, going back to the 1990s, the then inspectorate, which covered England and Wales at the time, did do thematic reviews, including on equality and diversity in the fire and rescue service. I don't understand why someone, today, when that debate's been going on, and stalled to some degree for 40 years, would say that that's not part of his role.

My second point, if I can, on the commissioners: I have to be blunt that my concern, when reading about the commissioners—and some of the comments were made at the time of the appointments of the commissioners—was that if this is to deal with the cultural issues identified in the south Wales review, fair enough. However, that should not be used as some sort of tool to then lever in other change, including industrial terms and conditions changes, without normal accountability to local communities in south Wales that we would expect in normal circumstances. So, we've had that concern from the moment the commissioners were appointed.

11:25

Thank you. Sarah Murphy, did you have a further question?

Yes, just my final question. So, as well, on 7 February, the FBU published an independent report into sexual harassment in the union itself, and the report found that 30 per cent of women members who responded to the survey said that they had been subjected to sexual harassment in an FBU context. Do you think this is symptomatic of a broader systemic problem within the fire and rescue service, and how does the FBU intend to tackle these issues?

I think that's probably for me, Chair. Look, we did commission that. We've had debates on sexual harassment at, at least, the last two conferences of our union. I also sit on the Trades Union Congress general council and executive, and the TUC has itself created a working group called sexual harassment in trade unions, and I sit on that group as well. So, we haven't shied away from looking at ourselves. As you correctly say, this is in an FBU context, not in the workplace, which makes it more difficult for us to face up to, but it is alarming what we found. It reflects a range of behaviours that may be things like people being spoken over, comments about people—you know, the range of attitudes that may be found—and, yes, those figures are alarming. We have fully accepted—. We invited the authors of that report to our executive; it made for pretty hard listening, to be honest. And we have fully accepted the findings of that report and we've taken some steps immediately. We will be introducing mandatory training for all officials at brigade level upwards. We're introducing new measures about guidance on—. One comment was made about the chairing of meetings, for example, so we're looking at a whole range of issues within our own culture, and we will not be shying away from that. And there will be some, I've got no doubt, resistance to that. We've had to deal with some quite controversial cases internally as well. So, that's how we are dealing with it.

Look, I think there have been reports into other trade unions as well on similar issues, so the degree to which it reflects just a societal problem, and the degree to which it reflects something specific about the fire and rescue service, I think it probably is both. And one thing, touching on a point that Cerith made earlier about the fire service, that jumped out at me was the difficulties that many people had with reporting, particularly women: a lack of confidence in the processes, if they did report something. And we've got to ask why would people report something if they don't have confidence that things will then be dealt with, and I think that is a factor both in the union, occasionally, and in the fire and rescue service.

Absolutely. Thank you very much, and thank you, Chair.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Rŷch chi wedi eto y bore yma mynegi pryderon ynglŷn â phenodiad y comisiynwyr, felly wnaf i ddim gofyn ichi ailadrodd hynny, ond hoffwn i ofyn beth yw eich barn chi o ran sut y gellir mynd i'r afael â'r pryderon yma.

Thank you, Chair. You have once again this morning expressed concern about the appointment of the commissioners, so I won't ask you to repeat that, but I'd like to ask you what your opinion is on how we could address these concerns.

Sori. Fe gollais i bach, jest tua'r diwedd.

Sorry. I missed a little bit at the end of that question.

Mae'ch broadband, Sioned, yn disgyn allan.

Your broadband, Sioned, is dropping out.

Your broadband's falling out a bit.

11:30

I think it's how can these concerns be addressed, because we have already covered that you have these concerns. So, if you could focus your answer on that. 

The concerns on the commissioners, yes?

Again, the commissioners were appointed. We had no role to play in that. 

Yes, you've already told us that. It's really about what now, what next. 

Moving forward? 

We're willing to work with the commissioners. We're willing to work with whoever's going to lead the service forward. We've yet to meet with the commissioners. I believe that's in the pipeline. One of the officials in south Wales has met with one of the commissioners, but nobody's met with all four of the commissioners as of yet. But we are willing to work with them and make whatever changes are necessary to move the service forward. 

If I may say something, Chair, particularly about the FBU's role in taking things forward, I think we have a unique role to play in this. We have specific sections within our union's structure for under-represented groups—a women's section, a black and ethnic minority members section, an LGBT+ section, all of which could play a role in assisting a discussion with yourselves, a discussion with the Minister, and with each individual fire and rescue service. They could play a role in that. That's the first point. 

And secondly, Cerith mentioned the workforce playing a role in transforming its own workplaces. I think that's something that is often underestimated. We have active members of our union from each of those sections. I will give you one example. In the west midlands in England, our local committee has taken an initiative to create women's reps in every fire station, for example, so instead of just being parked over there at the regional level, they're actually in the workplace addressing issues on a day-to-day basis. I think that sort of approach, the development of equality reps, and so on, is the sort of thing we would like to see that is often overlooked and neglected. The danger of doing that is you end up with just a top-down approach that doesn't actually engage and discuss with the workforce. As much as perpetrators may come from the workforce, the victims also come from the workforce. 

Diolch. Gwnaethoch chi ddweud fel undeb bod y Dirprwy Weinidog wedi tynnu sylw at amrywiaeth o faterion nad ŷn nhw'n gysylltiedig â'r adroddiad gwreiddiol. Dywedoch fod angen trafodaeth ar wahân am y rhain, ac na ddylid eu cyfuno nhw â materion cydraddoldeb. A allwch chi ymhelaethu ar y datganiad yma?  

Thank you. You said as a union that the Deputy Minister had highlighted a range of issues that are unconnected with the original report. You said that these require a separate discussion, and that they should not be conflated with issues of equality. Could you expand on that statement?  

You have covered this in part already, but obviously you're very welcome to expand on it. 

Dwi ddim yn gwybod os gallaf i ddweud lot fwy na beth dwi wedi dweud yn barod, ond gallaf feddwl am y peth a gallaf ysgrifennu at y pwyllgor os oes eisiau. 

I don't know if I can say a lot more than what I've already said, but I can think about it and write to the committee if needs be. 

Diolch. O ran y pwynt wnaethoch chi ynglŷn â'r comisiynwyr, rŷch chi wedi sôn nawr eich bod chi'n awyddus i gydweithio fel undeb a bod gyda chi brosesau er mwyn galluogi i safbwyntiau menywod, lleiafrifoedd ethnig a phobl â nodweddion gwarchodedig gael eu cynrychioli yn y trafodaethau hyn. A oes yna rywbeth arall o ran sut hoffech chi weld y comisiynwyr yn gwneud eu gwaith, o ystyried y pwynt a wnaethoch chi ynglŷn â diffyg atebolrwydd democrataidd?   

Thank you. In terms of the point you made about the commissioners, you say now that you're looking to collaborate as an union and that you have processes in order to allow the views of women, ethnic minorities and people with protected characteristics to be represented in these discussions. Is there anything else in terms of how you'd like to see these commissioners do their work, considering your point about the lack of democratic accountability? 

Rwy'n credu taw un o'r pethau rŷm ni wedi'i weld lan at nawr yw cyfathrebu gyda phobl, ac rwy'n credu liciwn i weld hynny yn symud ymlaen. Rwy'n credu ein bod ni wedi cael hynny oddi wrth y Dirprwy Weinidog—bod yna ddiffyg siarad â'r gweithwyr a'r undebau. Rwy'n credu, yn symud ymlaen, bod rhaid i ni wella sut rydym ni'n cydweithio a siarad gyda'n gilydd i ddeall sut rydym ni'n mynd i symud ymlaen, a sut rydym ni'n mynd i'w wneud e gyda'n gilydd. Rwy'n credu taw dyna'r pwynt y byddwn i'n ei wneud yn gyntaf i gyd. 

I think one of the things that we've seen up until now is communication with people, and I'd like to see that moving forward. I think we've had this from the Deputy Minister—that there is a lack of talking and communicating with workers and unions. I think, in moving forward, we have to improve how we work together and communicate with each other to understand how we can move forward, and how we're going to do that together. I think that's the point I'd like to make first and foremost. 

Hoffwn i ofyn i ba raddau mae diffoddwyr tân, staff yr ystafell reoli a'u hundebau wedi bod yn rhan o’r camau nesaf yn y broses. Pa mor hyderus ydych chi fod barn y staff yma yn cael ei chlywed gan Lywodraeth Cymru?

I'd like to ask to what extent firefighters, control room staff and their unions have been part of the next steps in the process. How confident are you that the views of these members of staff are being heard by the Welsh Government?

11:35

Ar hyn o bryd, dyw hi ddim yn teimlo bod Llywodraeth Cymru yn gwrando ar beth mae’r staff yn ei ddweud. Gwnaf roi enghraifft ichi. Gwnaeth un o’r comisiynwyr fynd i’r ystafell reoli yr wythnos diwethaf neu’r wythnos cynt, a hanner awr oedd gyda nhw i siarad â staff. Roedd y staff yn teimlo fel bod neb yn gwrando, taw tick-box exercise oedd hi. Maen nhw jest mewn yna i wneud y newidiadau sydd eisiau cael eu gwneud, a dŷn nhw ddim eisiau siarad neu glywed lleisiau’r gweithwyr o gwbl—dyna beth oedd y staff yn ei ddweud wrthym ni. 

Currently, it doesn’t feel as if the Welsh Government are listening to what the staff are saying. I’ll give you an example. One of the commissioners went to the control room last week or the week before, and they only had half an hour to speak to staff. The staff felt that nobody was listening, that it was just a tick-box exercise. They’re just there to introduce the changes that are required, and they don’t want to talk or listen to workers’ voices—that’s what the staff were saying to us. 

Diolch. Mae’r Dirprwy Weinidog wedi dweud wrthym ni y bydd y comisiynwyr yn aros hyd nes bod y gwaith wedi gorffen. Sut olwg sydd yna ar waith wedi’i orffen? Sut mae hwnna’n mynd i edrych, yn eich barn chi? Oes yna unrhyw gamau pellach yr hoffech chi weld Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd?

Thank you. The Deputy Minister has told us that the commissioners will remain until the work is finished. What is your view of what a finished job will look like? How will that look, in your opinion? Are there any further actions that you’d like to see the Welsh Government take?

Dwi’n credu bod lot o waith o flaen y comisiynwyr a’r staff i gyd. Mae lot o waith o flaen pawb o ran newid sut mae’r gwasanaeth yn gwneud pethau, a diwylliant y gwasanaeth. Sut mae hyn yn mynd i edrych? Dwi’n credu bod hwnna’n mynd i ddatblygu dros yr wythnosau a'r misoedd sydd i ddod. Tra'n bod ni’n rhan o hyn, gallwn ni roi ein barn, a dwi’n credu ei bod hi’n bwysig ein bod ni’n gwneud hynny. Dwi’n credu ei bod hi’n bwysig eu bod nhw’n dangos eu bod nhw’n gwrando, hefyd, i bobl gael teimlo eu bod nhw yn rhan ohono fe, nid jest, fel dwi’n dweud, tick-box exercise, gadael e fynd, a dyna'r diwedd i bawb.

I think there’s a lot of work in front of the commissioners and the staff. I think everybody’s facing a lot of work in terms of changing how the service does things, and the culture of the service. How is this going to look? I think that is going to develop over the next weeks and months. As part of this, we can give our views, and I think it’s important that we do. I think it’s important that they show that they are listening too, so that people can feel that they are part of it, not just, as I’ve said, it being a tick-box exercise, we let it go, and that’s the end of it for everybody.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, a diolch i chi’ch dau am fod yma y bore yma, hefyd. Gaf i jest cymryd cam yn ôl, os mae hynny’n iawn? Rydych chi wedi sôn am y gweithlu, a pha mor bwysig ydy gwrando arnyn nhw i wneud rhywbeth sy’n fwy na tick-box exercise. Mae hynny’n bwysig ac mae'n ddiddorol clywed hynny. Ond gaf i ofyn i chi—i chi'ch dau, os gwelwch chi’n dda—yn eich barn chi, beth sy’n gyfrifol am y sefyllfa mae’r gwasanaeth ynddi rŵan? Beth sydd gennych chi, hefyd, jest i roi rhyw fath o atebion i symud yr holl beth ymlaen?

Thank you very much, and thank you to you both for coming here this morning. Could I just take a step back, if that’s okay? You’ve mentioned the workforce, and how important it is to listen to them to do something that’s more than a tick-box exercise. That’s important, and it’s interesting to hear that. But could I ask you—to you both, please—in your views, what is responsible for the situation that the service is in currently, and what also do you have in terms of solutions and moving things forward?

Dwi’n credu pe bai'r atebion gyda fi, fyddem ni ddim yn y sefyllfa hon. Ond dwi’n credu jest y ffordd mae’r gwasanaeth wedi gweithio dros y blynyddoedd—dwi ddim yn credu bod y gwasanaeth wedi gwneud digon i groesawu pawb mewn i’r gwasanaeth. Fel dwi’n dweud, pe bai'r atebion gyda fi, fyddem ni ddim yn y sefyllfa hon nawr. Yn anffodus, dyna lle ydym ni, ond dwi’n credu pe buasem ni’n gwrando ar leisiau menywod a phobl eraill i glywed sut fath o wasanaeth byddem ni eisiau ei weld, sut fath o wasanaeth byddem ni eisiau gweithio ynddo fe, byddai hwnna’n help mawr. Dwi’n credu bod angen gwrando ar y bobl sydd wedi gweithio dan amgylchiadau sydd ddim yn neis iawn iddyn nhw. Mae’n rhaid i ni wrando ar y bobl hyn i symud y gwasanaeth ymlaen. Efallai y bydd Matt yn gallu ateb yn well, neu yn fwy.

I think that if I had the answer to that question we wouldn’t be in this situation. But I think it's the way in which the service has worked over the years—I don’t believe that we’ve done enough to welcome everyone into the service. As I say, if I had the answer to this, we wouldn’t be in this situation now. Unfortunately, we are, but I think if we listened to the views of women and other people too in order to see what kind of service we would want to work within, that would be a great help. We need to listen to those people who have worked under circumstances that aren’t very pleasant for them. I think we have to listen to these people to move the service forward. Perhaps Matt will be able to answer this better, or further expand.

Thanks, Cerith. I think if I could make a couple of points on this question. First of all, in terms of responsibilities at Government level, I think more could be done to monitor the fire and rescue service. The figures on diversity that we get from the Welsh Government are not as good as those we get from Westminster. I'm normally a major critic of the Westminster Government, but actually on this issue they do better than the Welsh Government, in publishing on diversity. I don't see why it's a problem to collate that level of information. The Welsh Government should be doing that. I think there needs to be greater emphasis on diversity in recruitment. If you look at the south Wales report figures, they're not that much different in terms of women from the rest of the UK fire and rescue services. So, some progress has been made since 2010, but our view is that equality, particularly in terms of recruitment, has generally stalled across the whole UK since 2010. So, I think there are responsibilities at Government level.

And then, within the fire service, the single biggest issue I would argue for is to address the failure to act. I'm aware, and I've occasionally had to have discussions with chief fire officers, of individual cases where the issue has been raised by an individual employee that may have been an obvious breach of discipline, and there has, nevertheless, been a failure to act. In some cases, that failure to act is then passed off: 'Let's have a cultural review instead.' That's precisely the reason why we end up needing cultural reviews, because, for some reason, and I think it's at the very top of fire service organisations, there is an acceptance that, in some circumstances, we will not act. Whether that's because of misogyny or discrimination from the people concerned, whether it's because it's too difficult an issue to deal with, or whether it's because of personal past friendships, I don't know. There may be elements of all of that, but that is led from the top by chief fire officers, and they have to face up to that.

11:40

Thank you, Chair. Thanks for letting me come in. I just wanted to touch upon something, Matt, you mentioned there in terms of that failure to act. I know back in 2014, in the Williams commission, one of the concerns that they raised was that lack of a national framework that meant that the talent pool for senior leadership was quite small and, as a result, it led to a lot of people being promoted in-house, going up the ranks. To what extent do you think that has resulted in this, in the sense that there is that lack of talent at the top, and, as a result, it's very much business as usual? They just keep the motor ticking over, if that makes sense.

There are two points on that, I think. First of all, taking up one of the recommendations in the south Wales review, we do not support direct entry at higher levels of the fire and rescue service. I don't think that's the answer to the issues and the challenges on diversity. We need to be recruiting a more diverse workforce from day one as firefighters, and there need to be routes for them to progress within the service and, ultimately, become chief officers who were once women firefighters, for example. The idea that we have to then step outside and bring in people with so-called business expertise, to me, is not convincing at all. I've seen no evidence, by the way, when it has been used, that that has improved diversity issues within the fire service whatsoever. I don't think there's one iota of evidence to back up that argument.

In terms of the small pool, the fire and rescue service is a small service, and I think that does need some consideration. The truth is that firefighters move between fire services in the UK, and the three services in Wales would need to consider that as part of their plans for developing a new leadership team. Actually, there are recent examples of people moving: Mr Stephens used to be a chief fire officer in Merseyside. So, there are previous examples of using knowledge from outside of Wales, and I don't think anyone's arguing that it necessarily needs to be within Wales. But people brought in at the most senior levels to run a fire service that, ultimately, asks people to go into situations where they risk their life, and to have someone who has never done that themselves, creates very significant problems among people who are on the front line of that service.

Diolch. Dwi'n ymwybodol o'r amser. Jest un cwestiwn oddi wrthyf fi, ynglŷn â fframwaith cenedlaethol tân ac achub Llywodraeth Cymru. Mae hi bron yn 10 oed, fel dwi'n deall, rŵan. Beth ydy eich barn chi ar y fframwaith? Oes yna elfennau sy'n llwyddiannus neu sy'n gweithio? Ydy hi'n amser i ddechrau eto, a chael fframwaith newydd, er enghraifft? Fyddai hynny'n helpu? Mae yna lawer o gwestiynau yno, ond beth ydy'ch barn chi, i ddweud y gwir, ar y fframwaith yma? Diolch.

Thank you. I'm aware of the time. Just one further question, with regard to the Welsh Government's fire and rescue national framework. It's nearly 10 years old. What are your  views on the framework? Are there elements in it that are successful or working? Is it time to start again, to have a new framework, for example? Would that help? There are many questions there, but what are your views, really, on this framework? Thank you.

11:45

If I can jump in first, Chair, then Cerith. I think we strongly support a new national framework. Actually, in the early days of national frameworks, we felt that Wales was pioneering the way. I think that's lost its way slightly in more recent years. The idea that—. One of the problems in the fire service in the UK is a complete fragmentation of everything, that people in different parts of—. Let's use England as an example: different services in England can expect completely and utterly different standards of service to their neighbours who might be literally across the road. That makes no sense to us. So, I think that, while we support local democratic control of the fire and rescue service in Wales, there does need to be some guidance and some standards and targets. The truth is, if you look at response times of fire and rescue services in Wales, they have all significantly deteriorated over the past decade. In our view, that's not acceptable. I think the Welsh Government should step in and should be setting standards for improvement.

About the practical thing, what do people expect of their fire and rescue service: they expect that, if they dial 999 in an emergency, they'll get a good quality response as quickly as possible, and those times have slowed in each of the three Welsh fire and rescue services. So, I think there is a need for the national framework to address those issues and that probably needs a new national framework.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. A Cerith, oes gyda chi farn?

Thank you very much. And Cerith, do you have a view?

Ie. Dwi'n credu bod Matt wedi cyfro fe'n llawn. Ond jest pwynt ychwanegol allaf i ei wneud yw ein bod ni wedi gweld problemau ar draws Cymru gyda diffoddwyr tân rhan amser ac fel mae'r niferoedd yn cwympo trwy'r amser. Ac mae hynny'n rhywbeth rŷn ni yn edrych arno, ond fel mae hyn yn mynd i newid i'r gorau, dydw i ddim yn gwybod. Mae lot o waith i'w wneud yn y man yna. A byddwn i'n awgrymu, pe buaswn i'n creu gwasanaeth tân am y dyfodol, fyddwn i ddim yn defnyddio cymaint o ddiffoddwyr tân rhan amser, ond rŷn ni'n siarad am roi lot o arian i mewn i'r gwasanaethau i wella'r sefyllfa sydd gyda ni ar hyn o bryd.

Yes. I think Matt has covered it very well. But just one additional point that I would make is that we've seen problems across Wales in terms of firefighters working part-time and how—those part-time firefighters—the numbers are falling all the time. It's something that we're looking at, but how this will change for the best, I don't know. There's a lot of work to be done in that area. And I would suggest that we should create a fire service for the future, and, if I were to do that, I wouldn't use as many part-time firefighters, but we're talking about putting a lot of money into the service in order to improve the situation that we currently have.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Jest un cwestiwn arall, ynglŷn â Lloegr. Rydych chi wedi sôn am Loegr. Fel rydyn ni'n ei deall hi, roedd yna ryw fath o adolygiad yn Lloegr hefyd. Oes yna wersi i ni i edrych arnynt, i gymharu Lloegr efo Cymru a'r gwasanaeth? Jest yn fyr, os ydych chi'n ymwybodol o'r broses yna. 

Thank you very much. Just one other question, about England. You've mentioned England. As we understand it, there was some sort of review in England as well. Are there lessons that could be learnt, to compare England with Wales and the service? Just briefly; I'm just asking if you're aware of that.

Dwi'n credu y byddai Matt yn well i ymateb.

I think Matt would be in better placed to respond to that.

There have been several reviews into English fire and rescue services. Actually, they're not that different to the findings of the south Wales review, so I think, while there are things to be learned, in general, we can identify broadly that there are problems, particularly in dealing with complaints or behavioural problems, and, in many fire rescue services, there are problems about how those are then progressed, and then there's a lack of confidence. So, that would be the general conclusion I would draw from those reports into some of the English services.

Thank you. Before I call in Ken Skates, can I just clarify, Mr Griffiths, whether, when you're talking about part-time firefighters, are you talking about people who are retained, who have other jobs, who are in rural areas?

Yes. Sorry. Sorry, Chair, yes.

Thank you, Chair. I'm going to ask some questions about the role of fire and rescue authorities, and first of all, in your response to the 2018 consultation, the FBU said it supports the establishment of a wider range of agreed national standards that FRAs should meet and strengthening the Welsh Government's fire and rescue consultative forum as well. What would be the benefits as a result, and were your suggestions actually acted upon?

I'm guessing Matt—

Some of this has already been covered by Matt, I think. Is there anything either of you want to add?

I think Matt would probably have more than I would.

Okay, sorry. Yes, I think a national framework could cover issues around—. It's quite complicated how you'd set response standards in the fire and rescue services. The Welsh Government, early on, did attempt to do that. As I say, we've had problems with a slowing down of response. So, a discussion around that, a discussion around how you respond to different incidents. I think one of the bigger discussions across the UK is: what is the role of the fire and rescue service in the future? So, actually, we welcome the fact that, in Wales, you introduced a statutory responsibility for dealing with major flooding. That's the case in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland, but is not the case in England, and we think that's a failure in Westminster. So, that is a positive, but I think there need to be discussions. What do communities and what does the Welsh Government expect of fire and rescue services for the future? So, there are changing risks: we have an ageing population, which will affect the fire and rescue service; we have different forms of terrorism emerging, which will affect the fire and rescue service; we have climate change, which will massively affect the fire and rescue service around extreme weather events in particular. So, greater clarity on all of those and what is expected of the fire and rescue service, I think, would then provide better guidance to fire and rescue authorities when determining their policies and plans for the next 10 or 15 years. And that's my very final point: I think we need to be thinking 15, 20 years ahead, rather than simply to the next election or whatever it might be.

11:50

Brilliant. Thanks, Matt. And, just out of interest, what's your position on having a greater role for police and crime commissioners, and also greater co-operation between fire and ambulance services?

We are very opposed to police and crime commissioners. We've run into significant—. One is the—. A number of points. We think it's less democratically accountable than a traditional committee and council structure. It places too much power in the hands of one person. We've had some very—. I don't know if you've followed the events in Northamptonshire. It has been an embarrassing disaster for the fire service and for the police, fire and crime commissioner, in my view. We think that fire will always be—because it's the smallest service—the junior partner. We've got examples of money that was scheduled for fire and rescue being taken and put into policing. I think there is a very strong argument, an evidence-based argument, that the role of policing and fire are very separate in terms of how we respond to and engage with communities. We think, as a union, that there is a more natural affinity with health, because, if you look around the world, there are—. And it's a substantial debate in the UK, but there are significant numbers of fire services around the world, particularly in North America, but in Europe as well, where firefighters perform a much greater sort of medical-type role. We've made it clear to all Governments we've engaged with that we're happy to have all those discussions and to see changes in the fire and rescue service, but it needs to be done by, first of all, identifying that long-term aim, strategic aim, and then discussion on how you implement such aims, taking everybody with us.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks again for coming this morning. I just wanted to talk about the audit and inspection of the fire service, and I was just wondering about how confident are you with the current inspection regime that's happening, and how robust do you think it is to then pick up the issues that we've been discussing?

I think, at the minute, if you look at—. If we had a robust inspection scheme, then we possibly wouldn't—. Again, we wouldn't be finding ourselves in the situation we're in now. So, I think that is something that needs to be looked at, needs to be reviewed, and, yes, I think it would possibly pick up these issues. But, again, that would need these issues to be reported and to be reported in a manner that people are confident that they're going to get the right outcome and a genuine outcome.

Okey-dokey, then. And then, also, we mentioned about the audit, about the audit requirements placed on the fire and rescue service, and I just wanted to know: are these sufficient, and do you think they could be improved if they're not?

I think there's always a way to improve things. I think there's always—. You know, we take good practice from other areas and implement that. And I think, for all aspects of everything that we're looking at now, there needs to be a full review of all issues going forward so that they can be bettered, that things can get better for people who work within the services, and that they can feel confident that the issues have been addressed.

11:55

Okay. Just one final question, if I can, Chair. I just want to talk about the south Wales fire and rescue review. Obviously, that was a substantial document, but only about 35 per cent of the workforce responded to that, and I just wanted to know what your views were on why there wasn't a higher figure and what could be done to get that full response from the entire workforce.

I think my understanding would be that 35 per cent is probably a higher response than you would have had in other surveys. Now, whether you'd get more of a buy-in if you went to each individual, I don't know, but, again, it may come down to the fact that people weren't confident that they were going to get the outcome that they desired, and whether the outcome would actually satisfy them, or whether they were just thinking, 'What's the point, because nobody's going to listen?' That has been a big issue in the past. People don't have confidence that their issues are going to be dealt with, that their voices are going to be heard, and I think that's crucial, going forward, that that is addressed.

With that, then, is it because they never had the desired outcome that they wanted, or do you think they were just completely ignored then?

I think it's probably a mix of both—that people have felt that they've been ignored and that their voice isn't worth listening to. I think you'll find that that would be the case with a lot of people, sadly.

Thank you. I just want to pick up on the point Mr Wrack was making earlier about the need for a much more long-term vision of what the role of the fire and rescue service might look like, and closer working relations with medical colleagues in the ambulance service, for example. I wondered—. Ten years ago, there was a major review of all public services in Wales, headed by a man called Sir Paul Williams. He, or that report, was suggesting that there was a much closer role for fire and rescue to work with ambulance services, given that you're all responding to emergencies. I just wondered if that, in principle, might be a way forward in terms of governance arrangements, once we've established what is the role of firefighters in a broader emergency context. Do you want to come in first, Mr Griffiths, or Mr Wrack?

Okay. Look, I think it needs—. It's been a bizarre experience for 20 years, this debate. Our union was clobbered, actually, under the previous Labour Westminster Government for a policy we had of not engaging with that. We've changed our policy substantially. We've made it clear to the Westminster Government and to all Governments in the UK that we're willing to have that discussion. Equally, we're not interested in short-termism. When we talk to chief officers, and they say, often, if you talk to ambulance trusts, that they're only talking about the next winter crisis, I don't think that's a sensible way of conducting this discussion. If we want to change the structure of public services, we do need to be thinking in 10-year or 20-year terms. That discussion hasn't really taken place—certainly not with us; it may have taken place with others. So, we would appreciate greater clarity from the Welsh Government on what it wants. We would like to be part of such a discussion. We've got a lot of experience. We ran a whole series of national trials, commissioned through our national joint council, on the question of medical work for firefighters. It's the biggest trial of its nature. In fact, it's the only trial of its nature that's been conducted in UK circumstances, and it did show that firefighters responding to heart attacks, for example, could play an important role in saving lives. It's completely stalled since then, largely due to Westminster, but there is an obligation on the Welsh Government as well to make decisions on what it wants to see out of those sorts of discussions or not. If not, then fine; don't waste everyone's time. But I think the problem lies elsewhere than the Fire Brigades Union on this issue. We have attempted to discuss this with people for more than a decade, and, frankly, got little response.

Thank you very much for that clarification. Mr Griffiths, do you want to add anything?

12:00

Yes, just on that, there was a conversation that we were having within Wales with regard to a broader role for firefighters, but, as I say, there was this issue of changing start and finish times to try and accommodate that. Now, our view was, 'Let's make these changes, let's see what we can do within the parameters that we're working with now, and if we need to have a conversation about changing the shifts or start and finish times or whatever we need to do, to make it work better, then let's have that'. But it was done in such a way that, immediately, you weren't getting buy-in from the staff. You were looking to enforce changes on them that then made them feel, 'Well, why are we doing this, because they're attacking our terms and conditions and we are not going to partake in something that's going to do that'. So, I've always said that this was being done the wrong way round, and that has now—. There are some more positive talks with the Westminster Government, which is why that's been put on hold for the time being.

Okay. But you would agree that no change is not an option, given what we already know.

No. As I say, the Fire Brigades Union have been part of that drive to make those changes.

Thank you. Thank you very much indeed, both, for your evidence. We'll send you a transcript, just to make sure that we've captured your information correctly, and, obviously, please do correct it if we've got it wrong. And we want to thank you both for your excellent evidence today.

Thank you very much, Chair.

Diolch o'r galon.

Heartfelt thanks.

The committee will now take a break until 1 o'clock, when we'll resume with hearing from Unison. So, if Members could come back just at, say, 12.55 p.m.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:01 ac 13:00.

The meeting adjourned between 12:01 and 13:00.

13:00
3. Llywodraethu’r Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub: panel 2
3. Governance of Fire and Rescue Services: panel 2

Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee, and we're now going to have our third session on the governance of fire and rescue services, and I'm very pleased to welcome Peter Crews, branch secretary of Cwm Taf local government branch, which covers South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Welcome, Peter. Sarah Murphy is going to start off the questions. 

Thank you very much, and before I begin, Chair, I have to declare that I am a member of Unison. So, Peter, thank you very much for being with us this afternoon. I'm going to start off with some questions about the background and the culture review. So, just to get straight into it, why do you think it's taken a whistleblower coming forward to expose the cultural issues within South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and had Unison been aware of any such allegations prior to the ITV News report? 

There are two things. One is confidence in the system, the process and the procedures. That was an immediate thing for us. We've been aware or had concerns when we've been talking to staff over a while about their reluctance to raise issues—they felt that they wouldn't go anywhere. And specific concerns, or, certainly, in allegations, and certainly myself, we haven't been involved, but we've always had concerns that there seemed to be this atmosphere that staff felt there was no point making a complaint.

Thank you very much. And can you let us know what your members are telling you about the current situation in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service? 

If I talk you through a specific meeting we had to hold, which was on 13 February, it was an open meeting, facilitated by the human resources team. We related this then to what their views were at the time. Personal views from some of the members were that the former chief fire officer was personally very kind and supportive and, they felt, was somewhat of a scapegoat. There were a lot of comments around that. Unison has no remit for the CFOs and welcomes the opinions of all our members. So, we had some members saying they believed the situation had been blown out of proportion, because they hadn't been involved in things, but when we started exploring issues, then our members started coming up with the issues.

So, we had two differences of opinion, and some of that opinion was that it was about time, and that members felt burdened and blamed by the situation, because one of the first things management seemed to have done was to give them all a comment to say that everybody was responsible for the situation. And they felt that, shall we say, perpetrators of some of the issues were going to get away with things, because immediately an atmosphere was getting developed that, actually, it was everybody's problem in the service. While Unison accepts everybody has a responsibility to behave in a certain way and in a professional manner, we will not accept that there is a way out for perpetrators of certain behaviours in this organisation.

They were disappointed in the way they found out about the issue that commissioners were coming in for. We understand why Unison's position is that we're 100 per cent in support of the reason why the commissioners came in. We do not believe that the current management in the organisation were capable of taking these issues forward from the review, and we do support the Minister for making the decision about the commissioners. We believe it's that important.

We had issues then and differences of opinions—it's a large workforce—on just that issue around—. That's when it started coming out about, in the past, they would have reported incidents, but they had no confidence to be dealing with it. And if I give you—. And, please, evidence of this is one thing, but perception from staff also stops people from coming forward. One of the reasons that there is no point in making complaints is the family relationships at certain levels of management, and there is no point raising a concern about one member when you actually felt the one person who—. Certain people who might be investigating it might actually be part of the same family or they were very closely connected—i.e. friends.

Some comments that were getting made, which many members of staff were aware of—. It’s called the ski club, unfortunately, where levels of management are all friends and they all go away together and they just felt it was an uncomfortable situation. And Unison recognises, at the end of the day, that it didn’t mean that there was something seriously wrong; we’ve all got colleagues in work and things like that, never mind what role you hold. But I don’t think any work was done with staff at all different levels to encourage people to come forward and to reinforce that, actually, if they did raise concerns, they would be dealt with fairly. So, the perception was there was no point in raising concerns, and the other issue with that is they felt there would be payback, so if they did raise any concerns, their career would be affected by it. Whether that’s the reality is one issue, but the problem of it is it did seem ingrained.

13:05

And Unison is very clear that that is a very dangerous situation to have for any organisation.

Absolutely, and we really welcome you sharing that with us, Peter. That's very enlightening. 

Following that, then—it sounds like that meeting was around about mid February—Unison, along with the FBU, called for a Wales-wide review. So, why do you think this is necessary, and what do you think should be the aims and objectives of such a review?

My issue is there's nothing wrong with asking for that review. No organisation should ever be afraid of having a review that looks at process and procedures, equality in the workplace and are we seeing patterns of bullying, recruitment and retention—so, the issue of people leaving the authority and do we know why they are leaving. Is there an underlying—? And any organisation that’s afraid to do that, then they’ve already lost the confidence of their staff. We do have, across the country, different organisations that have got different problems, and from this I think it’s absolutely right, and right for the Welsh Government, to be looking at whether we do have a problem—yes or no. I’d love it if it all came back and, actually, 'No, we don’t have a problem in other organisations', but that’s definitely what we want—we want a review. Let’s not be afraid to have a look at that. We may get bad information we don’t want. The more important thing is that we’re not too afraid to change it and challenge it.

True. Thank you very much. And just finally, then, just to clarify, Unison is not necessarily, then, calling for a Wales-wide review because, as a trade union, you're aware that there are currently cultural issues, misogyny and discrimination present in north and mid Wales.

No, we haven't had those specific issues. The majority of our members are holding meetings at the moment. Our representatives are having those discussions, moving forward, and we can assure you, I suppose, if information is coming out that we've got concerns about specific areas, that information will be relayed to the appropriate officers, and I think it can be attached to this review as well.

Excellent. Thank you very much, Peter. Thank you, Chair. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd, a phrynhawn da, Peter. Fe wnaethoch chi siarad yn rymus iawn yn fanna ynglŷn â phwysigrwydd canfyddiad staff. Beth bynnag yw'r realiti, beth bynnag yw'r dystiolaeth, mae canfyddiad staff o ddiwylliant yn bwysig. O ddilyn o hynny, oeddech chi wedi synnu bod Stuart Millington wedi cael ei benodi fel y prif swyddog tân dros dro i dde Cymru?

Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon, Peter. You spoke very strongly, and powerfully, about the importance of staff perception. Whatever the reality is, whatever the evidence is, staff perception of culture is important. Following on from that, were you surprised that Stuart Millington had been appointed as the interim chief fire officer in south Wales?

13:10

In the sense of making no judgment about current investigations at all—I'm going to say it as it is—from discussions I have had, it was an absolute naive appointment and didn't help the situation at all. Because, in one sense, we're talking about equality, we're talking about confidence of staff that management—it's the higher level of management—are taking this seriously, and then that appointment was announced. And I think it raised a few concerns across the board about—. Well, you know, what can we say? And I think that's difficult, because nobody's made any judgment here yet about any allegations that might be under—. And I haven't even gone into that myself; that's not my position. I just think it reinforced staff's perception that its senior leadership are not thinking about the current situation, and not taking it seriously enough.

Yn gwmws, ie. Diolch am hynny. Rydych chi wedi sôn am eich barn chi a'ch cefnogaeth chi i rai o'r camau mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cymryd ers cyhoeddi'r adolygiad diwylliant o ran y comisiynwyr—rŷch chi'n dweud eich bod chi'n cefnogi'r cam yna. Felly, beth ŷch chi'n gobeithio ei weld o'r camau yma sydd wedi cael eu cymryd? Pa ganlyniad hoffech chi ei weld?

Exactly. Thank you for that. You have mentioned your views and your support for some of the steps that Welsh Government have taken since announcing the culture review in terms of the commissioners—you support that step. Therefore, what do you hope to see happening from the steps that have been taken? What outcomes would you like to see?

I'm sure you'll be aware that Unison is the largest trade union in the UK, and it's the largest public services trade union in Wales, with 90,000 members, plus we have members in every blue-light service in Wales, and membership in the three fire and rescue services as well. The commissioners are in. I believe the issue is too big for it just to have been dealt with by the current senior leadership, which is why we are supportive. And I'm sure—you might understand—any time when we hear that commissioners are coming in to one of our employers, the union is bound to have a concern, but we also realise, actually, sometimes you have got to bring in an outside body to take this forward.

So, first of all, what we want is for the commissioners to listen to the membership. One of the concerns being raised automatically, and we do not want the commissioners to fall into—. This is not—. They want to make sure—. Our members are non uniformed, if we use that colloquial thing of uniformed staff. This is not all about the uniformed trade unions or uniformed staff. These are our members, they have concerns, they want to be taken seriously. I don't think, and we certainly tell them—. When you have a culture that has to be called into question, this is not going to be resolved overnight. And we have actually had to say to them, 'This may take a few years to work its way through.' There's nothing more detrimental and a problem for solving when you have a culture that is negative and it affects the day-to-day work of members as well.

So, we want our members to be listened to. We want feedback. And I have to say already the commissioners have been in contact with the trade unions, and we have our first meetings already being diarised. We'll be meeting with the commissioners on a monthly basis, which is what we asked for, so that we can have feedback. I think staff need to see that it's working, can we see timescales to things, can they get it reported in—? The one last thing we must avoid for staff is that they're kept in the dark, even if, in the background, all the work is happening. But the issue is that they're very clear there is work happening and that they are being seen as well, and listened to.

Everybody wants a safe workplace to go into. Some people do unsafe jobs, and part of fire and rescue services is certainly around that, but our members, the non-uniformed staff, fire and rescue services cannot work without them, and they want to be listened to and they want to be taken seriously, and they want to see that, in the future, if they've got a concern, they've got confidence in the system to raise that concern. That's the one area that we need to see.

Unison London, or even if they're Unison members, God forbid, if a member of staff is not acting appropriately, they have got to be dealt with. The tolerance level in any organisation has to be set by the senior leadership, and, if their toleration level of inappropriate behaviour is too high, that affects every single individual within the organisation, because then you know there's no point in raising it, because it won't be dealt with. That's the current situation, and, certainly, that came out of the review, and we have further information that has come out about people's feelings and comments that were not reported to the review, because, still, there was that level of confidence about would they be singled out. We can certainly make sure all this information is passed on to the commissioners.

13:15

Diolch. Dyna beth oedd y cwestiwn nesaf yn mynd i fod, mewn gwirionedd. Rŷch chi'n sôn bod trefniadau nawr yn eu lle fel eich bod chi'n gallu cwrdd â'r comisiynwyr, er mwyn bod llais eich aelodau yn cael ei glywed ganddyn nhw, a'u bod nhw'n bwydo nôl ynglŷn â'r camau maen nhw'n eu cymryd. Ond, y ran y camau a gymerodd y Llywodraeth i sefydlu'r broses yma, faint o ymgynghori oedd yna gyda chi fel undeb ar hynny? Oedd gyda chi unrhyw lais ynglŷn â'r camau y cymerodd y Llywodraeth?

Thank you. That's what the next question was going to be, really. You mentioned the arrangements in place now that you can meet with the commissioners, so that the voice of your members is being heard by them, and that they feed back with regard to the steps that they're taking. But, in terms of the steps the Government took to establish this process, how much consultation was there with you as a union? Were your views with regards to your members and this taken into account?

I've been involved with this particular organisation for a while. I have officers that are allocated as leads. I've had individual cases. I've always had, I suppose, my own concerns that as an organisation they're slow to deal with issues for individuals, whether that be about working with people with a disability, mental health issues. We've raised—. Certainly, we've had a number of cases about staff who need homeworking for various reasons, and I always remember a comment being made to me that was about, 'Oh, we don't do that. We don't have a policy on it.' Well, all organisations change, and, again, that's whether there's that atmosphere, whether the senior management do not trust staff. So, it's always been one of those organisations that we've had to push and push to get more understanding of working with staff, that they have different problems, and just because there isn't a policy at the moment doesn't mean, as an organisation—. Actually, you need to develop a policy that can create equality in the workplace and help with equality in the workplace.

Ie, ac o ran—. Yn amlwg, wedyn, mae profiad hir gyda chi ac adnabyddiaeth dda o'r issues oedd o le yn y gwasanaeth, ond, o ran beth benderfynodd y Llywodraeth wneud, y camau wnaethon nhw eu cymryd yn sgil yr adolygiad, oedd gyda chi fel undeb unrhyw lais yn hynny? Gawsoch chi unrhyw fath o sgwrs gyda'r Llywodraeth cyn eu bod nhw'n cymryd y camau wnaethon nhw eu cymryd o ran penodi'r comisiynwyr ac yn y blaen?

Yes, and in terms of—. Clearly, you've got a long experience and a good recognition of the issues that were wrong in the service, but, in terms of what the Government decided to do, the steps they took as a result of the review, did you as a union have any voice in that? Did you have any sort of conversation with the Government before they took the steps that they have taken in terms of appointing the commissioners and so forth?

13:20

That wasn't taken in light of—you know, with the relevant trade unions then. There are a number of trade unions. Certainly some issues were getting raised, which is why it led to a review there, certainly about standards and everything else, but, again, I have to say, from a trade union point of view, I'm supportive of the Minister who took the decision; I will keep on repeating it, and I may have had to raise it in other areas. I had no confidence that the current management and governance, so, i.e. the board, were capable of dealing with this, because I do not believe staff would have had confidence that it was going to be taken seriously. Bringing the commissioners in and the work that needs to be done with staff will give staff the confidence that these issues are going to be looked at seriously. And I think that's of massive importance, and, like I said, some of it isn't about whether there is evidence of certain things going on; some of it is about what staff believed, their perception, and some of their perceptions needed to be dealt with very, very quietly, and I believe we have a golden opportunity here. It's one of those areas where we can't afford to lose that opportunity either.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch, Cadeirydd.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

Jane Dodds. Oh, sorry. Joel James, you wanted to come in on this specifically. 

Oh, yes, okay. Sorry, Chair. Thanks, Chair. And thanks ever so much for coming in this afternoon. I just wanted a quick question. You mentioned there that you had no confidence in the current setup to solve the situation. I just wanted to get some reasoning behind that, because as you mentioned earlier—unless I misheard you, and apologies if I did—earlier, you mentioned a lot of your members were saying, 'Well, this was something of nothing,' you know. But then for you to then say, 'Well, actually, I had no confidence in the system,' does that mean that some of your members were wrong then at the start to say that it was something of nothing? I just wanted to get some ideas from yourself there. Thank you.

I think there are a couple of things: (1) it's about perception for some. For some, they had, I suppose, experience, where they were saying that raising a concern had caused a problem for them. And when I say my confidence is not in the senior management, I'm not saying this in the sense of about the individual who is at the top, or the next line of management down; it's more about having someone from outside to come in and who is willing to look at the whole system in operation there can give confidence to staff. I think that was important. I think it was important that they even believed the Welsh Government were taking them seriously, and it needed to be looked at.

So, it's not a criticism; I'm not here to criticise individuals. I think it's about the organisation and, for whatever reason, the belief that it's lost its way or it wasn't fast enough to change, and that had an impact on staff across the board. Some individual behaviours that we know were reported; Unison is very clear, and that includes, and I've said it, that will include our membership as well: if an individual has got inappropriate behaviour, it needs to be dealt with and it needs to be dealt with fairly, and we will argue with our own members, that some of our members as well, if they were included, we would expect those members to be dealt with. But you do have a golden opportunity here, and we do not want to waste this opportunity.

Thank you, Chair. You mentioned there that you're supportive of the idea of the commissioners coming in and looking at the situation, from the outside coming in, and I just wanted to get a view then: is that reflective of the rest of your membership, then? Because from the e-mails I've been receiving, most don't express any support whatsoever about the commissioners coming in; most of it's about disillusionment with the process and how it's been handled. And I was just wondering, do you think it's restoring confidence to those people to bring these commissioners in? Thank you.

13:25

I'm under no illusion here that this is an easy process, or even easy building the confidence of some of our members. It will take time. People are not going to jump on board just because the commissioners have been appointed. Some work is going to need to be done to show that they can have confidence that, if they've got something to say, they can say it without feeling that they're going to be targeted, that their career prospects are going to be determined because they've raised something. You cannot undo some—and I say some—of the members' feelings that they did not have trust. Some of our members have come to us to say, 'Look, I didn't have an issue'. That's fair enough, some members don't, but some did, and lots of staff felt that there were things that needed to change. And again, I'm going to come in here and say, 'Here we have the opportunity, how do you bring members of public services forward to help you with that change that you'll be looking at?'

Diolch yn fawr iawn am ymuno â ni heddiw. I ddilyn efo cwestiwn ar ôl Joel, dwi eisiau jest cael eich barn chi yma, os gwelwch yn dda. Ydych chi'n derbyn, fel rhywun sy'n gweithio ar gyfer yr undeb, bod yna sefyllfa ddychrynllyd yma yn y gwasanaeth yn ne Cymru? Ydych chi'n derbyn hynny fel yr undeb?

Thank you very much for joining us today. To follow up on Joel's question there, I wanted to get your opinion. Do you accept, as someone who works for the union, that there's a horrendous situation here in the service? Do you accept that, as a union?

That it's a horrendous situation to be in? Well, it certainly is for my members. It's the whole process; I think you're at early stages yet in taking those steps forward. Again, I'll have to come back to the fact that it's going to take time. We are putting out the message, again, that this is not going to be solved overnight. This is going to take resources, this is going to take support for staff. And once that confidence is there, that's when I believe we will get some progressive steps forward and the things that need to be in place.

That isn't about whether every single member agrees with every step that is taken. I've worked in public services most of my life; I don't have to agree with every process and procedure. Even as a trade unionist, I don't have to agree with every decision an employer takes. I need to understand it and understand that it will be implemented fairly across the board, never mind what grade they are, and that if I raise a concern, it will be investigated appropriately. I'll come back to—and I'm sorry I'm repeating myself—if I haven't got confidence that I'm going to be taken seriously, you fall into, then, 'What is the point of me raising issues?' And that's what this review has been about. The review is detailed and it's raised some of the concerns at all different levels, but in terms of the work the commissioners have got, I don't pretend it's going to be easy by any imagination.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi jest eisiau canolbwyntio ar un peth, os gwelwch yn dda, a hynny yw beth ddigwyddodd ynglŷn â'r ymgynghoriad yn 2018. Roedd Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cynnal ymgynghoriad ac roedd eich undeb chi yn rhan o hynny. Yn eich barn chi, oedd hynny'n llwyddiannus? Oedd e'n help? Oedd hi'n glir beth oedd eisiau digwydd a beth oedd am ddigwydd?

Thank you very much. I just want to focus on one thing, please, and that is what happened with regard to the consultation in 2018. The Welsh Government carried out a consultation and your union was a part of that. In your opinion, was that successful? Was it helpful? Was it clear what needed to happen and what was going to happen?

I'm not able to make a comment on that at this stage. I'm more than happy to get you some information in regard to the 2018 consultation period.

Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch, Cadeirydd.

Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

13:30

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to ask some questions about the role of the fire and rescue authorities. Back in 2018, the Welsh Government consultation proposed that the responsibility for the service should vest in a statutory chief fire officer, with the FRAs fulfilling a scrutiny and oversight role. Do you agree that this would lead to better outcomes for your members and—[Inaudible.]

Apologies, Chair, I'm having problems—

I think we're all having problems with the sound. Ken, could you repeat yourself, please?

Apologies. Regarding the consultation in 2018 by the Welsh Government, which proposed that a chief fire officer should have responsibility for the service and that the FRAs should fulfil a scrutiny and oversight role, do you agree that that would lead to better outcomes for your members, and indeed for management?

Again, I'd have to come back to you with information about what was reported at the time. Certainly, some of the discussion we've been having locally is this whole issue of scrutiny and governance. It goes without saying that one of the questions we have had to raise, as far as this current report is concerned and the things that they investigated, is the current board, and the governance on that board of political members as well. I suppose that will be some of the discussion we will be holding about how governance is taken forward, by the board and as part of the yearly audit report: is there a better way of doing scrutiny and inspection of fire and rescue services?

Could you outline any ideas in terms of how we might strengthen the governance role of the fire and rescue authorities?

As you know, or you might know, Unison has set up a fire and rescue services forum internally, for all of Wales, where we're bringing our representatives forward. We obviously sit with the Minister on one of the committees now as well, and I think we will be having those discussions. Initially—and this is a personal thing; it's not a Unison position—some of my discussions will be about the board, looking at it with numbers of councillors who sit on the board, is there a better way of doing it. When we looked at the review in local government and we moved towards cabinet decisions and things like that, as far as looking at it, there's no ability for that under fire and rescue services, so I will be asking questions around is that feasible moving forward. It's already part of the review, but the governance of it is essential. It's about day-to-day work with members of staff and their jobs and their feelings on the issue of equality in the workplace, but overall, it's got to be about governance as well. I'm reading some of the yearly reports at the moment—the inspection reports—and we will be having discussions about future governance.

Thank you. Finally, does Unison have a position on alternative options that include, perhaps, a greater role for police and crime commissioners or a greater degree of co-operation between fire and ambulance services?

I understand that, as part of the forum, that's going onto the agenda soon, and if it's not going to be an agenda item, I will be placing it on the agenda, because I don't believe you can separate it out, moving forward. You can't deal with part of this review. Governance is the overall security for the service, for the organisation, and if we can get that right, that's where the questions can be asked as well.

13:35

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Peter, again, for coming in this afternoon. I can well remember all the e-mails I used to get from you when I was a Rhondda Cynon Taf councillor, so I know first-hand the good work that you're doing there. Can I just ask you a few questions about the inspection and audit regimes and your experiences of them? With the current inspection regime, do you think it's robust, and does it have the capacity to undertake regular and rigorous inspections? And how reasonable is it to expect an inspection regime to pick up on the issues relating to the culture of the service? 

If I've got this right—and I'll put my hands up in the air if I haven't got this right—it's a yearly inspection report. I suppose some of the questions I'll be having with my counterparts will be around whether once a year—. There's a full inspection report once a year, and I understand that. On the issue about should the inspectorate also take up other issues, not just finance, because the audit report is around finance, if you look at other organisations, the social services inspectorate, if they're going in to do any inspections, they look at finance, but they have a look at a whole range of issues about the day-to-day running, and some of that is around staffing concerns, quality of service as well. For me, it's about the governance and the inspections and the reports, where are they going, and if there are concerns, how they are being dealt with. So, they've got to go together, and I think it's absolutely right that they look at the whole range of issues for the organisation.

You highlighted audit there. I just wanted to know, based on that, how satisfied you are that the audits that are undertaken are sufficient. Do these need to be improved?

On a personal level, as the local representative—I cover all of the Cwm Taf area and the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service—we have a lot of questions coming in about audit, inspection, governance, and I suppose we're not ready at this stage to come up with a position regarding those steps. I'm sure, through commissioners or through the Minister, there will be feedback on where we see the possibility of improvements, going forward.

Thank you. Thank you very much for your remarks so far. I have a couple of things. Obviously, you're a very large trade union and you cover most of the public sector in Wales, so I'm keen to just follow up a little bit on the potential future relationship with the ambulance service, where I'm sure you've got quite a lot of members as well. Because it was recommended by the Williams commission, just over 10 years ago, that the fire and rescue service needed to work more closely with the ambulance service, given that they often cover for each other. I just wondered if you have any comments you'd like to make about that as a potential way forward in the governance arrangements.

I suppose that's that one step beyond, in that, if we're talking about bringing another part of the public service together or closer—. I understand that, at the end of the day, all public services in Wales are told they should be looking at working together and what opportunities are available, and we'd support that. My background is local government. I'm more than happy to look at improvements, and I've worked with senior management, certainly at RCT, in joint working. I suppose as part of this review that is going on, I think it's more important to deal with the governance inside the current organisation and the issues that are inside the organisation, before we move on to whether it will help if we bring another organisation closer, just on the basis of what I would expect—that they are working together anyway.

13:40

Having listened to the evidence from you and also from your counterparts in the FBU this afternoon, I would have thought simply rectifying, obviously, the very disturbing issues raised in the culture review and enabling staff to have confidence that if they have a complaint, it'll be taken seriously, I think it does go back to the fundamentals of the governance arrangements, whereby local authority councillors are being asked to provide the governance for the operational side of the business when, clearly, why should they know about how you most effectively manage a fire? But I think what the Williams commission said was that the governance arrangements should be focused on the performance management of the service, and that would, of course, include the culture, which clearly will impact on the performance of the organisation. So, I wondered, given that I heard from Joel James that you either are or have been a local councillor, if you— 

Okay, you are representing local authority members. Okay, sorry. I won't pursue that. I'll rephrase the question, then. We heard from the FBU that they've got a policy 'all different, all equal', which obviously is endeavouring to deal with the significant issues of misogyny and discrimination that take place across many, many organisations, and it's not exclusive to the fire service by any means, but clearly it's present in large parts of the fire service. I wondered if you have a similar overarching policy about zero tolerance and not having bystander attitudes towards things that shouldn't be happening in any workplace.

Chair, just to give a quick background, Unison has 1.3 million members across the UK, with 90,000 members in Wales across all public services of any description. The bottom line for us is over 75 per cent of our membership are women members, and we're very clear: we have very tight and very strict guidelines regarding appropriate behaviour when it comes to equality. All our members are governed by those policies if they want to remain as members. Certainly, representatives have to undertake formal training around all the equality issues as well. And I'll come back to my statement: when behaviour is inappropriate, then it's inappropriate, whether it's coming from another member of staff or a Unison member, and we accept that employers have got to deal with it. If anything, I will always encourage that it's dealt with, but dealt with in a fair manner, and that everybody is treated the same. So, yes, we do have the policies, and no problem with sharing those with the appropriate people as well, Chair. 

Clearly, very large organisations and a very important role to play in public services in Wales, but, in the fire and rescue services, you're probably a minority representation compared with, I would imagine, the FBU. So, how much collaboration is there between you and other union representatives on, if you like, combating some of the issues you explained to us about earlier on around people not feeling there was any point in complaining because it wouldn't be dealt with appropriately?

The three other, I suppose, main unions—sorry, with two others—for so-called non-uniformed staff are Unison, GMB and Unite. We hold joint meetings with HR and, going forward, and, as part of this review as well, the joint trade union group, which includes the FBU, has agreed to some statements ready for the commissioners. The joint unions will be meeting on a regular basis, going forward, and I think the proposal, if I’m correct, is now monthly, which is where we will also be then meeting with the commissioners, and the commissioners have e-mailed me to confirm now that the joint trade union group actually will be meeting with the commissioners on a monthly basis.

13:45

Thank you. The Deputy Minister has said the commissioners will remain until the work is finished in the south Wales fire and rescue area. What, in your view, does a finished job look like?

I suppose the main thing is staff feel that work has been done, and it has been done appropriately, and that they've been taken seriously—so, if policies are changing, it's that we can see consultation on those policies. We believe as a trade union that our members and the union itself have a place to play in that consultation and can bring something to the table. And the governance overall is one thing that needs to be looked at, and that's a further piece of work. I'm more bothered that, following the work that the commissioners do, staff have got the confidence, going forward, in that they're going to be listened to and they're going to be treated fairly. So, some of it is about standards and practice within fire and rescue services, and some of it is about day-to-day work, equality. When some staff say to you that they're not being listened to and they haven't got confidence, that is always my red flag that something is fundamentally wrong. As an employer, we always say if you encourage your members of staff to bring concerns to you, you won't go far wrong, as long as they're investigated fairly and staff believe they've been investigated fairly. It's the process that is followed. What we don't want to do is a load of work being done by commissioners and then who knows—in two years' time, all of a sudden a report comes out. We want to see the work in progress, and I think that's what our members have called for—that they can see some set timescales. We all know some timescales drift, but it's so they can see the progress and they can see the outcomes as well, and that they're consulted about some of those proposals as well.

Okay. So, I presume you have discussions with your opposite numbers in north Wales fire and rescue services, as well as mid and west Wales. So, I just wondered what further actions, if any, you'd like to see the Welsh Government take, either in relation to south Wales fire and rescue or in relation to the governance of the fire and rescue service as a whole.

That's a hard question, to be honest, Chair. Our meeting coming up from the forum is due, and I understand what we would be looking at is putting something in writing to you about our expectations in relation to the other service areas as well—so, north Wales fire and rescue and the mid and west Wales fire and rescue, as well. I don't cover those areas myself, Chair, so it would be wrong of me to make a statement on their behalf, but I understand the forum has the overview for all of Wales.

We'd be pleased to receive some written evidence from the forum, if you so wish. Could I also ask that you take back to your organisation a little bit of the history, which I appreciate you don't feel able to respond to, because presumably you weren't in post in this role, about what the response of Unison was to the reforms of the fire and rescue authorities that were proposed in 2018, because my understanding is that, at the time, Unison welcomed the proposed reforms, whereas others were not so happy? So, it would be extremely useful if we could have that little bit of history, if you could take that back to your organisation. 

13:50

Yes, Chair. Our representative on the group, the Minister's group, the forum, is Darron Dupre, who's our head of local government, and I will relay that—that we're looking for a response.

Thank you very much indeed, and thank you very much for your presence today and for your evidence. We'll send you a transcript, and please do make sure that we've captured your information correctly. Thank you very much for your time today.

The committee will now take a short break and we'll come back for our final session this afternoon at 2.15 p.m.—so, if you could just come back shortly before 2.15 p.m.

14:15

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 13:50 a 14:15.

The meeting adjourned between 13:50 and 14:15.

4. Llywodraethu’r Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub: panel 3
4. Governance of Fire and Rescue Services: panel 3

Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We're going to continue with our fourth session of our governance of fire and rescue services investigation. I'm very pleased to welcome Tristan Ashby, chief executive officer of the Fire and Rescue Services Association, and Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council. Welcome to both of you. If you don't mind, we're going to go straight into questions, and Sarah Murphy is going to ask the first questions.

Hello, both, and thank you for being with us this afternoon. I'm going to start off with some questions about the background and the culture review. To begin, why do you think it's taken a whistleblower coming forward to expose the issues and the culture within the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service? And had your organisations been aware of any such allegations prior to the ITV News report? Who would like to go first?

I'm happy to come in first on that, Sarah. Thanks for the question. I think, directly to your point about the ITN news reporting, as the National Fire Chiefs Council, no concerns had been raised directly with us, as the NFCC. And, like others have before me, I just want to recognise the courage and the bravery that people in fire and rescue services have had, not just in south Wales, but elsewhere as well, to speak about some of the experiences they've had in the fire and rescue service, to enable us to be better, frankly, in the future, than we are now and have been in the past.

Just touching on a couple of your wider question points, for me, really, this isn't something that is brand new to the fire and rescue service. The inspectorate in English fire and rescue services certainly have been carrying out reviews of fire services for a number of years now and commissioned a spotlight report on culture and values in fire and rescue services recently, and there have been other independent reports, particularly London, Dorset, Wiltshire and, obviously, south Wales as well, which have provided clear evidence about serious incidents that have been experienced by women and other people in minority groups in fire and rescue services in the past, and are certainly happening in places still now, unfortunately. We completely accept the findings of those reports, and we're working with fire services, both locally and nationally, to improve the culture and leadership in those fire and rescue services. I think that sets out where we are. We're absolutely committed to making sure that people who work in fire and rescue services have a positive experience in the future, and that's not always been the case in the past, and it isn't the case now. We need to do more, we need to do it better and we need to do it more quickly.

Thanks for the question, Sarah, which is a really, really important question. I think, for us, having direct communications with members not just in south Wales, but across the UK, the report from ITV and Paul Brand's team came as no surprise to us. We think that there is a lack of confidence within the workforce that, should they raise these concerns, they will be treated fairly and in confidence. They will have seen other people who have raised similar concerns and the implications that have been placed upon them, and the fact that their career progression and their career in the service could be halted through raising these complaints. 

The other thing is—I've been watching all morning the other questions that you've raised—that we're supportive of a wide set of investigations across not just Wales, the three Wales services, but all services, because we know that there will be similar outcomes in terms of the investigations, should they take place, and that the only difference will be the depth and the breadth.

Thank you very much. Mark, did you have any comments to make as well about the calls by FBU and Unison to do a Wales-wide review, or even wider? And, if so, what do you think the aims and objectives of such a review could be?

Thank you. I think it's an important question. I think I'd probably say that I'm not really in a position where there either should or shouldn't be a further extended review at this time. I think, clearly, from a Wales perspective, that's a matter for you, and I think the question will be, 'What is it that a wider review would tell you that you don't already know?' I think that will be a matter for the Assembly, for the inspectorate, for your adviser and for engagement with fire and rescue services across Wales, because I would say you'd have to be, or certainly I would advise that you were very clear as to why a further review was needed and the point you were making, what its terms of reference would be, how long it would take, and what is it that a new review would tell you that the review into South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and the other reviews that I've mentioned previously—. You can draw more broadly, as well, elsewhere, as the inspectorate has carried out reviews of the culture in fire and rescue services in England for some time. There's been the spotlight review, and we're expecting them to publish a misconduct thematic review in June, later on this year. So, I think I come back to the question, 'What is it that would be in a new review, which would inevitably take a period of time to commission, that wouldn't be available from a composite from all those other reviews?' Because what I'm seeing when I read those other reviews are some very common themes coming through already.

My thought would be that you'd want to speak closely, as I said, with colleagues in mid and west and north Wales to see what it is they've already done to engage staff about the culture, how have they sought views from those with lived experience, what plans have they already got in place, to what extent have they looked at the reviews that have already been carried out and put systems in place to enable them to improve the culture in their service, and then, really importantly, I think, what sort of scrutiny is in place around those plans and then delivery against those plans, either from within the governance arrangements or, potentially, independently, outside of those governance arrangements as well.

14:20

Thank you very much, and if I can just come back to you, Tristan, finally, then, just to ask: if there was a Wales-wide review, do you have any thoughts on what the aims and objectives should be? Or I suppose what, Mark, you've implied there is: do you think we have enough to go on and now it's more a time for action and starting to work through what needs to be done?

I think the wider review should encompass culture. The thing I would say is, 'Be careful of organisations marking their own homework.' The reason why you've got the level of detail and the truth within that 180-odd page report is because it was undertaken by people who were independent. If you've got services conducting their own surveys, I would suggest they're probably going to be manipulated in a positive way to reflect very well on the organisation.

Thank you, both, very much. Excellent points for us to consider. Thank you very much, Chair.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Prynhawn da i chi'ch dau. Cwestiwn yn gyntaf i Tristan Ashby: wrth ymateb i benodiad y Gweinidog o'r comisiynwyr ar 6 Chwefror, gwnaethoch chi ddweud bod y Gweinidog wedi cynnig cyfarfod â Chymdeithas y Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub. Ŷch chi wedi cael y cyfle i gwrdd â'r Gweinidog, ac, os felly, oes unrhyw gamau wedi eu cymryd o ganlyniad i'r cyfarfod?

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon to you both. I have a question, first of all, for Tristan Ashby: in response to the appointment by the Minister of the commissioners on 6 February, you said that the Minister had proposed a meeting with the Fire and Rescue Services Association. Have you had the opportunity to meet the Minister, and, if so, have any steps been taken as a result of that meeting?

Thank you very much. So, you're quite right, the Minister has written to the Fire and Rescue Services Association and offered to meet with us, and we are in the process of taking up that invitation. So, as yet, we haven't met, but we certainly welcome the opportunity to, and we will be giving the thoughts of the organisation and our members as to how to move forward. 

Diolch. Ac wedyn cwestiwn mwy cyffredinol. Yn amlwg, mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cymryd nifer o gamau gweithredu ers cyhoeddi'r adolygiad diwylliant. I ba raddau ydych chi'n cytuno mai dyma'r camau gweithredu cywir, a beth fyddech chi'n hoffi gweld, yn gobeithio gweld, o ganlyniad i'r camau sydd wedi cael eu cymryd? Yn amlwg, rŷn ni'n gwybod beth ŷn ni'n moyn yn y pen draw, ond o ran y broses, o ran y camau sy'n cael eu cymryd.

Thank you. And then a more general question. Clearly, the Welsh Government has taken a number of steps since the publication of the culture review. To what extent would you agree that these are the right actions, and what would you hope to see as a result of the actions taken? Clearly, we know what we want to see in the long term, but in terms of the process and the steps being taken.

Thank you. So, I would first answer the point about governance. I think the move to a different role in governance is completely appropriate. The current governance model, we don't believe is fit for purpose for two reasons: (1) it's very large. I think there are 25 members on that board, which is far too clunky, but we've seen over the years that fire authority models aren't necessarily particularly good in terms of scrutiny, in terms of being able to really understand the substance and challenge fire service leaders, so we would welcome an alternative governance model. What that would look like I think is open to further debate, but whatever the structure would be, the individual or individuals involved would need to have a real understanding of how the fire service worked, and there would need to be some level of key performance indicators, because at the moment, it's very difficult to understand how any fire service is functioning properly, certainly in Wales. At the moment, we've obviously got the inspectorate in England, which provides some level of understanding, but at the moment, in all three of the Welsh services, there isn't that.

And also, I think—and this was also asked earlier on—about the appointment of Stuart Millington, I think the surprise for us was that, bearing in mind the size of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, the situation it finds itself in and the task to turn the tanker around, we were surprised that somebody without any proven track record and somebody who wasn't a chief, but was an assistant chief, was chosen. I think you heard from other speakers today, and we're on the same viewpoint, in that we can't understand how that appointment was made, what due diligence was undertaken, and why it was believed that somebody in an assistant chief fire officer role was best placed to take over as interim chief. And we're also not against at all having somebody from outside the fire service to come in and do what needs to be done within South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

14:25

Diolch yn fawr. Mark, oes gyda chi sylwadau?

Thank you very much. Mark, do you have any comments to make?

Yes, I do. So, clearly, Welsh Government has taken swift action in response to the report's publication in the early part of this year. As the NFCC, we haven't been involved in the establishment of the commissioning board or the appointment of Stuart. So, I'm not really in a position to comment around that, other than to note that, clearly, the action has been taken and the board has now been established. The board has got a set of terms of reference and I think the important piece for me will be to understand, and gain clarity as quickly as possible, in terms of the commissioning board's role within those terms of reference, within the wider governance arrangements that extend all the way up into the Welsh Assembly and then down, of course, into the executive running the fire and rescue service.

Again, it's a matter for the board in terms of who they appoint into the interim chief fire officer role, and that's not a role that the NFCC was involved in. What I would say is that we do have some involvement as the National Fire Chiefs Council with south Wales—they're clearly one of our members—and our focus is on how we can best support South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and its interim chief fire officer on the improvement journey. I've had a number of conversations already with Stuart Millington about the position in south Wales, about the role, and what I've seen clearly from him is the level of his commitment towards the role, coming into south Wales. He's absolutely shown intent to support the improvement journey in the interim position until such time that a more permanent appointment is made, and we'll stand alongside him to support him to do that, from a National Fire Chiefs Council perspective.

Diolch. Ond o ran yr hyn roeddech chi’n ei ddweud ar ddechrau'r sylwadau ynglŷn â thalu teyrnged i ddewrder y rhai sydd wedi siarad allan ynglŷn â'u profiadau, wrth gwrs, mi wnaethon ni weld adroddiad ddiwedd wythnos diwethaf, adroddiad pellach oedd yn codi cwestiynau ynglŷn â beth sydd wedi bod yn digwydd yng ngwasanaeth tân ac achub y gogledd hefyd, o ran 35 o chwythwyr chwiban yn dod ymlaen gyda materion, ac, wrth gwrs, byddai Stuart Millington wedi bod yn rhan o'r gwasanaeth yn fanna—ddim i ddweud bod ganddo fe unrhyw beth i'w wneud â'r rheini.

Ond o ran y canfyddiad, o ran sut mae e'n teimlo i sicrhau newid, mi wnaethon ni glywed gan ein tystion yn gynharach fod angen mynd â'r gweithlu gyda chi i newid diwylliant. O ran y canfyddiad o'i benodiad e, beth yw eich teimladau chi ynglŷn â hynny? Ddim i ddweud o gwbl unrhyw beth am ei ymddygiad personol ei hunan, ond canfyddiad y gweithlu o ran y penodiad.

Thank you. But in terms of what you were saying at the beginning of your comments, in terms of paying tribute to the bravery of those who have spoken out about their experiences, of course, we saw the review at the end of last week, a further report that raised questions in terms of what has been happening in the fire and rescue service in north Wales as well, in terms of 35 whistleblowers coming forward highlighting issues, and, of course, Stuart Millington would have been part of the service there—not to say that he had anything to do with that.

But in terms of that, in terms of how it feels to ensure that things change, we heard you speaking earlier on about taking the workforce with you in terms of changing the perception. In terms of the findings and those appointments, what are your feelings about that? Not to say anything about how you feel personally, but how do you feel about the findings of the report?

[Translation should read: But in terms of the perception, in terms of how it feels to ensure that things change, we heard from earlier witnesses that you need to take the workforce with you to change culture. In terms of the perception of his appointment, what are your feelings about that? Not to say anything about his behaviour, but the perception of the workforce in terms of the appointment.]

14:30

So, can I just confirm, when you talk about the findings of the report, not the wider south Wales independent report, but some of the reporting that has happened more recently; is that what you're referring to?

Yes, it is. Okay. Thanks. I mean, I think, really, it's a matter for the commissioning board. A commissioning board has been established to oversee the running of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and they've made an appointment, and I think it's really now for the board and that appointment and the wider senior leadership team, and broader leadership team in south Wales, to gain the trust and confidence of people in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service to support the delivery of the cultural improvement journey. Some of that change can happen immediately and probably has already, and other changes will inevitably take longer to deliver in the service. I think the trust and confidence now has to come from delivery against that change programme and people's experience in the fire and rescue service improving as a consequence of the change that's being brought into the service. I think where they would also draw confidence is in the governance of that arrangement, and, as Tristan has touched on, having the appropriate scrutiny and oversight of delivery against the plan that's being put in place.

Diolch. Ac mae'r ddau ohonoch chi wedi sôn eich bod chi wedi cael cyfarfodydd, neu'n mynd i gael cyfarfodydd gyda'r Llywodraeth ynglŷn â hynny o ran y camau nesaf, pa mor hyderus ydych chi fod Llywodraeth Cymru yn gwneud popeth o fewn ei gallu i fynd i'r afael â'r materion sydd wedi cael eu hamlygu yn yr adroddiad, ac ydych chi'n ffyddiog bod barn eich aelodau chi yn cael ei glywed gan y Llywodraeth a gan eich comisiynwyr?

Thank you. And you've both mentioned how you've had meetings, or that you will be having meetings with the Government in terms of the next steps, how confident are you that the Welsh Government is doing everything within its ability to address the issues that have been highlighted in the report, and are you confident that the opinions and views of your members are heard by the Government and by the commissioners?

I think the Government has definitely taken swift action. It wasn't a small measure to remove the fire authority in terms of the governance and bring in a set of commissioners. So, we haven't got any complaints in terms of the actions that have been undertaken or the timings of the actions that ha