Lost to history

Looking back at the way things used to be – whether through rose-tinted spectacles or reflecting on the ‘good old days’ – is often followed by accusations of sentimentality, regressive attitudes and a fear of change/progress. As history has shown us, that is reductionist piffle. Looking back can be highly informative and illuminating, not only in avoiding past mistakes but learning from what worked ‘back in the day’, which has been consigned to the dustbin of history by no more than political pilfering, misrepresentation and indifference.

In order to finally get a rise out of FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack in our interview, I accused the union of regressive thinking in the Firefighters Manifesto, which provoked nothing more than a genteel retreat to pastures greener. He reflected on the clarity of the journey from new recruit onward, including appointment and promotion regulations, the legislative framework (see 1947 Act), and standards. Annoyingly, he had a point. I had bemoaned the report for harking back to the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council and calling for the return to public ownership of the Building Research Establishment and the Fire Service College, as well as reintroducing standards of fire cover for response times. Whilst wholesale reformation may be impossible, he pointed to a “more rational and a better way of delivering a fire service” through greater public accountability and in many areas, public ownership.

In return it is a reproach I reflected back at the union: shellacking PFCCs is one thing, but judging by the recent performance of fire authorities – South Wales in particular – the democratically-elected and accountable fire board, is hardly knocking it out of the park. Although, it has to be said that the democratically-elected and accountable Welsh Government has come in and replaced the democratically-elected and accountable South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority with four undemocratically elected commissioners. Go figure.

The independent culture review did require comprehensive redress, but it strikes an odd tone that Hannah Blythyn MS, Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, sought to conflate that with operational issues and false alarms, somehow linking “demotivated, mismanaged” and “badly led” staff with “insular” management who have a “tolerance of bad practice”. This all appears something of a stretch. The commissioners will remain in place until South Wales Fire and Rescue Service “is demonstrably an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all.” She doesn’t mention anything about hitting targets for reducing false alarms – that must come as a side product of being a welcoming workplace.

Before the announcement, I asked civil servants what the selection process was for appointing the commissioners. Suffice to say, a rigorous and transparent selection and appointment process was not evidenced. This is where I get confused about democratic representation, accountability and oversight. I also think it sets a bad precedent. It makes me look forward to the LGA Fire Conference for the first time in recorded history.

Back to the past. Deciding that contrary to my intent to unnerve him and destabilise the very foundations of trade unionism, Matt may have had the kernel of a point.

What I do not agree with is the blame game. The gist of the initial thrust of our conversation is on the union’s record on sexual harassment. There is, to this reporter’s eye, a clear collective responsibility that the majority are conveniently overlooking, from governments to trade unionists, and it is about time we all put our hand up to help shape a future gleamed from a tumultuous and often richly rewarding past.

To listen to the conversation in full, visit: Firefighters Manifesto Podcast – Fire Magazine (fire-magazine.co.uk)

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More