The London Fire Brigade must “root out” leadership that has contributed towards a culture of misogyny and racism, according to a former fire minister.
An independent review by Nazir Afzal was published last month and found that the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is “institutionally misogynistic and racist”.
The review, which features testimony from 2,000 members of staff, found “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women” and that people of colour are “frequently the target of racist abuse”.
Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh, who was fire minister until July this year, previously London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and a Hammersmith councillor, called for action.
He praised the London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe for commissioning the review and for accepting its recommendations but said there did need to be some “change in leadership”.
In a debate in the House of Lords, he said: “I want to support the comments that we must commend the leadership of Andy Roe because he had the courage with the support of the mayor to commission this review and he’s accepted all 23 recommendations.
“But he’s got to look at the leadership around him and say, ‘Who are these that are fostering a culture that’s so unacceptable in the workplace?’ and root them out.
“And start at the top and work all the way down because that is the only way that you will solve this problem.”
The culture review was triggered by the death of London firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit, who took his own life in August 2020.
The 21-year-old’s family raised concerns that he had been bullied at work due to his race.
The review noted that: “Unless a toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse to be normalised is tackled, I fear that, like Jaden, more firefighters will tragically take their lives.
“This review has to be a turning point not just a talking point.”
Lord Greenhalgh noted: “What struck me, as someone well into middle age, was the phrase in Nazir Afzal’s report that 20th century banter can lead to vile abuse and the racism and misogyny that can lead to loss of life…
“We’ve got to recognise that that kind of 20th century banter has no place in the 21st century.”
He urged the Government to deliver on a white paper published in May, which set out a blueprint for reform around improving access, professionalism and governance.
The former minister said: “The resources that the deputy mayor for fire and resilience has is woefully inadequate and governance to hold people to account must be strengthened at a London level – and the structure elsewhere is woefully inadequate.
“So, the governance is an important part, democratisation if you like, having an elected leader in the mayor overseeing an important service like this is important, with the requisite resources to challenge and support the Commissioner to deliver for London.”
Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth said that, while the findings of the review were “uncomfortable” and at times “positively shocking”, they were “not wholly unexpected”.
He said: “The culture review adds to an already compelling case for the reform.
“The review, along with the Grenfell Tower and Manchester Arena inquiries and findings from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) show that there are systemic issues at play, issues that can only be addressed through wide-ranging reform.”
He added that a new code of ethics had been developed, and that the HMICFRS has a new monitoring regime and would be responsible for overseeing improvements to the Fire Brigade.
What’s more, the Fire Standards Board would soon be publishing new standards on leadership.
Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti read out a statement from Commissioner Roe in the upper chamber, which said: “It is both unassailable and undeniable in hearing our staff so clearly and in such numbers we must, for their sake and the communities they serve, accept this report and its recommendations in totality.
“My commitment to the many thousands of courageous public servants we employ and the people of London we serve, is that we will take that courage so often demonstrated in response and turn inwards to face this problem, seizing it as an opportunity to make real change”
Lady Chakrabarti, former leader of civil liberties group Liberty, said: “The LFB and the Fire Brigade Union are to be respected for not doubling down and neither resorting to complacent comments about a few bad apples and so on, nor suggesting that to seek to reform the culture in a brave and essential uniformed service is in any way to undermine it – quite the contrary.
“They have persuaded me that they do not support this so-called ‘hero mythology’ and that is even in a heroic service where its members literally run towards burning buildings.”