Commissioner rejects criticism of fire service report

North Yorkshire’s police and fire commissioner has dismissed claims that she painted a far rosier picture of the state of a fire service than government inspectors found it to be in.

The North Yorkshire and York Police, Fire and Crime Panel heard commissioner Julia Mulligan defend the findings of her One Year On report detailing improvements since she took over governance of the county’s fire service in November 2018.

Panel member Councillor Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said while “perhaps understandably the One Year On report gives an unsurprisingly very positive picture”, the findings of the first inspection of the county’s fire service in 12 years contrasted with those of Mrs Mulligan.

He told the panel how the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report, which was published in December, found North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks, but required improvement at how efficiently it managed its resources and looked after its staff.

Cllr Aspden said inspectors asked the service to clearly outline savings, test continuity plans and monitor its resources, and had concluded collaboration with other organisations was limited.

He highlighted how 18 per cent of the service’s staff told inspectors they felt bullied or harassed and 17 per cent said they had felt discriminated against at work in the past 12 months.

Mrs Mulligan replied that her One Year On report had been specifically looking at the opportunities to improve the fire service identified in her business case to take over its oversight from the North Yorkshire Fire Authority.

She added the inspection was carried out just five months after the transfer of governance and due to elections the publication of the government inspectors’ report had been delayed, so much work to improve the service had been done since the inspection.

She added: “Having said that all the findings are absolutely what we expected to see. The chief fire officer knows there is an issue around resources and how it is matched to risk.”

Mrs Mulligan said: “In terms of the leadership of the service now, it is like a different place. It is fantastic. There is a lot to do, but we have made significant progress.

“We have a significant financial challenge, but we have made quite a lot of progress around balancing the books. When you go round and talk to firefighters you get a completely different narrative about how they feel about things.”

She said collaboration with the police had increased significantly, improving the services and introducing significant savings. Mrs Mulligan said: “We are recruiting for public safety officers, which are our version of the tri-service officers they have in Cornwall, which is a collaboration beyond the police, but with health as well.”

She said regarding diversity and culture issues, there were “some real challenges for the fire and rescue service, particularly in North Yorkshire.”

Mrs Mulligan said: “The fire service has not had this level of scrutiny for a very long time and HMICFRS has provided is very helpful in formally exposing some of the areas for development of the service. It is a work in progress.”

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