The London Fire Brigade has a proud history of protecting and rescuing Londoners. It is full of heroes and as London’s Fire Commissioner Andy Roe has put it, “full of kind, brave people willing to risk their safety to help others”. During lockdown, the LFB has shown itself to be responsive and dependable, going above and beyond to work with other blue light services.
Yet it has also been refreshing to hear the Commissioner talk about the need for culture change within the Brigade. There is a lot that gets right, but there is room for improvement when it comes to its ensuring its workforce reflects the diversity of London’s population.
Let’s drill down into the numbers a bit.
On average, across its three staffing strands – Operations, Fire and Rescue Staff and Control – slightly less than half the Brigade’s workforce is made up of women, but less than a tenth of these are among frontline firefighting staff. People from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds make up only a very small fraction of staff across the LFB, with only a small percentage currently in the top earner bracket. Less than a tenth of staff have disabilities, of whom only only six per cent have had promotions in the last quarter. LGBT staff make up around six per cent of the work force, but two thirds of them feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality at work.
For many within the Brigade, there are glass ceilings and rungs on the career ladder which seem out of their reach. Addressing these disparities and bringing the strength that comes from diversity to all strands of staffing is not easy. It will involve consistent hard work by the LFB in order to make things better, but diverse representation is now on the agenda of the Brigade and I welcome this.
I recently asked Sadiq Khan about it at Mayor’s Question Time. He responded by saying there are myths about the role of firefighters which need to be changed in order to attract talented people from all backgrounds. Once recruited, they need to be managed and given the skills and support they need to progress within the LFB and take its vital work forward.
It is refreshing to see LFB owning and addressing challenges faced by some its staff, for instance, through setting up a culture change review earlier this year. It is important that this addresses where the Brigade is now and how it can foster and support diversity at all levels of management.
Previous targets for increasing the number of people from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds becoming top earners and and for boosting the intake of women and of firefighters from diverse backgrounds remain integral. The task now is to extend these targets so that the Brigade reflects the richness and strength of London’s mixed communities.
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