The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has said it is making progress in rooting out sexism, almost a year after a scathing report found the organisation to be “institutionally misogynist”.
Deputy fire commissioner Jonathan Smith told City Hall that despite there still being “significant work to do”, the Brigade has made several important changes to support its female staff members.
The update on the LFB’s reform efforts, given to London Assembly members on Tuesday, comes almost exactly a year after the publication of an ‘independent culture review’ of the organisation.
Led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, the review included accounts ranging from women being groped to people having their helmets filled with urine.
Speaking at a meeting of the Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, Mr Smith said it was “a very difficult report for the LFB to receive”.
Baroness Fiona Twycross, London’s deputy mayor for fire and resilience, said: “I think it’s really important to note that Nazir Afzal’s report didn’t just say that there were ‘problems’ for women in the LFB. It said that there was systemic misogyny.
“It takes some considerable effort, as you can imagine, to root out systemic misogyny, but I do think progress is [being] made.”
Mr Afzal’s report also found the organisation to be “institutionally racist”, but Tuesday’s meeting was concerned primarily with the LFB’s treatment of women.
Mr Smith said that 130 senior officers in the LFB, including him, have now gone through “inclusive leadership” training - and that a new appraisal system has been created to formally monitor employees’ welfare, while ensuring “proper career progression” for staff.
He added that the organisation has taken “significant disciplinary action, [and] conducted a number of investigations over the course of the last year”.
Asked by Liberal Democrat member Hina Bokhari about misconduct complaints, Mr Smith said: “Since the culture review landed, we’ve had over 300 contacts into CMP - who we outsourced our complaints and disciplinary processes to, as a result of the findings of the culture review, where there wasn’t the trust in the organisation for people to come forward and make those complaints.
“Prior to that, we had a ‘Safe to Speak’ scheme, which in 18 months had only received 24 contacts, so that gives an indication of the difference in the scale.”
He said the increase was “actually a good thing, because it means people are coming forward” and are “confident of the system that we’ve got in place to make a complaint”.
Questioned by Ms Bokhari about data appearing to show that there have so far been zero staff dismissals as a result of complaints made under the new system, Mr Smith said: "Certainly in the last year, we have seen dismissals within the LFB, as a result of disciplinary action that has been taken."
He added: "I'm afraid due to GDPR regulations, I'm unable to go into the specifics, but I can give the panel [the committee] reassurance that there are those that have been dismissed as a result of some of the most extreme examples of misogyny and sexism, but also there's been other disciplinary sanctions levelled as well."
Baroness Twycross later said: “When the external complaints provider was set up, I don’t think anybody anticipated quite how many complaints were going to come forward.”
She said she had been “pushing” for investigations into staff members to be resolved rapidly, but that due process for accused individuals was also necessary to prevent legal action being taken against the LFB.