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National Fire Chiefs Council publishes Culture Action Plan

28 August 2023

FOLLOWING ON from the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) Culture and Inclusion Conference on 27-28 March and the spotlight report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services entitled ‘Values and Culture in Fire and Rescue Services’ issued on 30 March, the NFCC has developed a Culture Action Plan designed to address culture and inclusion within the fire and rescue sector.

Fire and Rescue Services protect the public and save lives. The individuals underpinning them are at the heart of this duty and the public trusts each and every one of them to do their jobs well. In order to create, maintain and build on this trust, Fire and Rescue Services must be inclusive and safe places in which to work. Places where people are valued and supported.

The NFCC has commented: “We believe that everyone deserves to work in safe environments that are free from bullying, harassment and discrimination, abuse and harm and where they feel supported, welcome and able to thrive. This, in turn, enables us to support Fire and Rescue Services to provide the best possible service to the public. Services that are inclusive, professional and inspire confidence and trust.”

However, national reports have shown that Fire and Rescue Services are not consistently displaying the standards and behaviours set out in the NFCC’s Code of Ethics. It’s a situation that needs to change.

The NFCC’s Culture Action Plan outlines its commitment to work with Fire and Rescue Services, Government and wider fire sector partners to deliver sustainable improvements and establish an inclusive and safe culture. The Culture Action Plan will do this by continuing to support Fire and Rescue Services in developing effective leadership and behaviours, embedding equality, diversity and inclusion, finding and nurturing diverse talent and supporting the health and well-being of those operating in the Fire and Rescue Services.

Informed by feedback

The NFCC consulted UK Fire and Rescue Services and wider national partners on the draft Culture Action Plan and received extensive feedback, both written and through focus group discussions, which has informed its development.   

In essence, the NFCC’s Culture Action Plan is a renewed call to action to improve culture and address all forms of discrimination, bullying and harassment across UK Fire and Rescue Services.  

Working with its partners, the NFCC will monitor and review progress, drawing on feedback and learning to continue to develop and implement the Culture Action Plan, which itself provides all leaders and staff across Fire and Rescue Services with details of how the NFCC will support them to develop and embed a positive organisational culture. 
Kathryn Billing, chief fire officer for the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and equality, diversity and inclusion lead for the NFCC, said: “The NFCC’s Culture Action Plan comes at a time when many have felt disillusioned by the slow pace of equality, diversity and inclusion progress across our sector. Serving for more than 20 years, I have seen initiatives and plans come and go, but this time it’s different. There’s a strength of leadership, togetherness and the collective commitment for change. The momentum for progress has shifted from the minority to the majority.”

Billing added: “I’m proud to be moving forward alongside colleagues from our Fire and Rescue Services, the NFCC and from so many affiliated organisations who are determined to drive culture transformation. The time for action is now to ensure that our sector is fit for the future.”

Important step forward

Mark Hardingham, chair of the NFCC, observed: “Culture and inclusion are my foremost priorities. The Culture Action Plan is an important step forward in working to build an inclusive culture across every UK Fire and Rescue Service. The NFCC has brought together and will further develop a suite of programmes, guidance, standards and frameworks to support Fire and Rescue Services as they work to embed the values of inclusion and equality.”

Hardingham added: “We can only deliver the Culture Action Plan by working together, across our Fire and Rescue Services and with the support of all of our partners, to ensure the step change that’s needed. We will continue to listen to the voices of those with lived experience to ensure that the Culture Action Plan delivers on its commitments. We know that change doesn’t happen overnight, but we will work quickly and invest the leadership, time and resource needed to realise our aims and objectives.”

Challenge and Support Panel

An independent Challenge and Support Panel has also been established to provide external scrutiny, challenge and advice to the NFCC in its work around culture and inclusion, including delivery against the Culture Action Plan.

The Challenge and Support Panel represents an important step forward in bringing external expertise and insights to bear in order to inform work around culture, diversity and inclusion.

Chair of the Challenge and Support Panel is Anthea Sully, CEO of White Ribbon UK, which is a charity working to end violence against women.

Other members of the Challenge and Support Panel are:   

*Sal Naseem (former regional director of the IOPC and strategic advisor on EDI) 

*Sue Fish OBE (former chief constable and a consultant focused on transformational change, leadership and equality) 

*Professor Katrin Hohl (an academic from the University of London)  

*Alex Johnson (former chief fire officer and vice-chair of Women in the Fire Service)

*Eimear Meredith-Jones (partner at Deloitte specialising in culture and transformation) 

*Baljit Ubhey (director of strategy and policy at the Crown Prosecution Service)

Members of the Challenge and Support Panel will meet regularly to provide independent challenge and advice to the NFCC’s senior leadership. The NFCC will work with its partners and members of the Challenge and Support Panel to monitor – and deliver regular updates on – progress.