Key Challenges for the London Fire Brigade (Supplementary) [4]

Session date: 
February 8, 2018
Question By: 
Caroline Russell
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
Dany Cotton QFSM, Commissioner of LFB


Caroline Russell AM:  Commissioner, I wanted to say first of all how powerful it was to hear you speaking about the Firefighting Sexism campaign last week at the Young Women’s Trust event upstairs and how really shocking it was to hear about the very negative reaction from some people on Twitter to the suggestion that Fireman Sam might be renamed ‘Firefighter Sam’.  That awful Twitter reaction shows just how much we still have to push for gender equality, as you said in your opening when talking about the importance of gender-neutral language and why your Firefighting Sexism campaign is so very important.


However, beyond the shenanigans on Twitter, do you have any data on how the Firefighting Sexism campaign is going?


Answer for Key Challenges for the London Fire Brigade (Supplementary) [4]

Answer for Key Challenges for the London Fire Brigade (Supplementary) [4]

Answered By: 
Dany Cotton QFSM, Commissioner of LFB

Dany Cotton QFSM (Commissioner, London Fire Brigade):  No actual hard data yet.  What I was very interested in, following the presentation we did last week, was how much public support came out and how much people responded to the fact that I was talking openly about the negative impact.  I had a lot of letters written into my office personally from people saying that they were so pleased that their young children could look at the future and see that they could do any role and that they had thought for a long time it was outdated using the word ‘fireman’.  We have seen a lot of positive images and we have seen a lot of positive messages.


I am still quite dismayed by the fact that it caused so much negative impact and the fact that there were so many people who felt the need to take to all different forms of media, from telephone calls to handwritten letters to emails to the anonymity of social media, to express their concerns by it.  It does go to show that there is a long way to go in the world around gender equality.


However, the heartening thing I found is that it has stimulated the debate and it has put it into the mind.  Working this year with everything that is happening with 100 years of women having the right to vote, with the Mayor’s campaign #BehindEveryGreatCity and with all those things together, if we all work together in partnership and if we all continue to press the agenda, then it does become something that is in people’s minds, that people do talk about and that people do challenge.


We have seen some very positive response recently by a lot of the tabloid press using the word ‘firefighter’ routinely now and so clearly the message is getting through and we are having an impact.  We will continue to monitor it.  When we get what we term as hard evidence, we can supply that to you, but at the moment the signs are encouraging.


Caroline Russell AM:  That is fantastic.  Thank you.  What this leads into is how many of these children growing up now see that they can be a firefighter in the future.  It is a long game.  However, just looking at the number of women in the Brigade, last year you announced that over 300 women were already London firefighters.  That is just 7% of the operational workforce and you said that you wanted to get women being 18% so that the Brigade truly reflects, and I am quoting you:


“... the city that we serve and that means more women firefighters but also more applicants from London’s diverse communities and cultures.”


Are you now seeing more women applying to join the Brigade and are you moving towards that 18% target?


Dany Cotton QFSM (Commissioner, London Fire Brigade):  Sadly, it is not moving at the speed that I would like it to, but that is dependent on the recruitment rate at the moment.  We are about to launch a new recruitment campaign on 8 March [2018] to coincide with International Women’s Day and that is not a date of coincidence.  That is a deliberate date that we have chosen to continue that push and to continue with what is going on at the moment.


We have also been doing a lot of work in the background with social media and looking at the whole explanation of the role of a firefighter and talking about the skills that people bring to being a firefighter and explaining the fact that women make great firefighters and using the examples of what the job entails.  Those things, unfortunately, as with all the work we have done previously around diversity and attraction rates, take a while to embed.


I am very pleased to announce that my outreach team are now out in the communities.  We have been running attraction days - we had one last week at Paddington Fire Station - where we invite people to come in to understand a bit more about the role of firefighter, to meet firefighters, both men and women, to try equipment on and to break some of those myths about what the job entails, talking to real people and getting that feedback.  All those things definitely have a very positive effect.


One of the things that has attracted positive feedback is people seeing that the head of the LFB is a woman and that a woman firefighter came in as a firefighter and can achieve that.  The positive role-modelling is something that I want to continue with because all those things are key to all the parts that we make up to looking the future and to making sure that we are attracting those brilliant people from the community to come and join us.


Caroline Russell AM:  Thank you.  Back in September 2016, Ron Dobson [CBE QFSM, former Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB] told me at the Assembly Plenary that the LFB just had targets for workforce composition covering senior management and senior staff and there were no workforce composition targets for gender, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), sexual orientation or disability for the operational staff workforce.  He said:


“Targets are something that we need to look very seriously at over the life of the [equality strategy] plan ... we probably will have in the future ... targets were removed some years ago.”


My question is: how are you doing with bringing in targets for operational staff for under-represented groups?


Dany Cotton QFSM (Commissioner, London Fire Brigade):  One of the things that is really important to me is understanding why we have a target and what it can achieve, and also understanding what the national picture is around targets.  For me, it is about ensuring that I want to make sure London is a step ahead of that.  I want to make sure that we are being held up as the shining best practice for recruitment and for attraction and for our gender balance and our BAME balance.  At the moment about 13.14% of our workforce are from BAME communities.  That is nowhere near enough, either.  If you look at the population of London, you will see that that does not reflect that.  The work we are doing around outreach, around the attraction and around role-modelling our BAME firefighters in the community is very important for that.


However, I do want to make sure that we are not out of kilter with the rest of the country and we are looking at the moment at the whole piece around targets.  I sit on a national strategy campaign about how we attract and recognise diversity in the workforce.  I am one of the leads for that and I have worked with the Local Government Association on it.


Sadly, what gets measured gets done, that is one of these things that is true.  When we lost some of those targets, some of that stops happening.  The impetus and the drive are different now.  The requirement for there to be local targets has to be recognised because it would be very difficult for us to argue to have the same targets for recruitment of BAME people as, for instance, Norfolk might have because their community is different.  For me, it is not about a hard target, it is about recognising the difference in those communities.  If you just had a BAME target, then you would not necessarily be reaching out to all of your community because you could just achieve that by attracting one specific person as opposed to the wider range across the board.  It is something we look at and is something we talk about.


I also am very keen that we are very much more positive about our recruitment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people from our communities as well.  We are considered as quite an employer of choice by the LGBT community, which is fantastic news.  We are working with Stonewall again about how we can progress that.  I was quite heartened recently when we did a firefighter transfer-in campaign and we opened up the doors to firefighters from the rest of the UK.  We had quite a high percentage of LGBT firefighters apply to come into London.  The attraction rate from the rest of the country to be in London as a firefighter at the moment is very high, both as firefighters and as officers.


Caroline Russell AM:  Fantastic.  Thank you.  Just one more on shift patterns for people who have caring responsibilities for older people or for children.  Do you think that there is more that the fire service could do to make working shift patterns more family-friendly?


Dany Cotton QFSM (Commissioner, London Fire Brigade):  Absolutely, and it is something we are looking at as part of our Safer Together strategy.  We are looking at flexible working because one size does not fit all.  We need to recognise that.  We have firefighters now who work different shifts.  We have some that do just days and some that do just nights to fit in with that caring responsibility.  Not everyone wants to just work days during the week.  Some people want to work weekends because their partners work during the week and it fits in with their caring responsibilities.  It is about being as flexible as we can whilst maintaining the frontline service, which is important, and maintaining our firefighters’ operational capability.  We need to make sure that if somebody just chooses for a while to work nights, they are able to come in and do training days to make sure they are fit and registered do their job.  We are constantly looking at flexible working and different ways of facilitating people being able to live their lives and do a job.


Caroline Russell AM:  Fantastic.  I am out of time and so thank you very much.