North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service scraps need for GCSEs to increase diversity

Firefighters pumping water in Brentwood, Leyburn, last July.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been told it has “quite a long way to go” before the diversity of its workforce is acceptable, after it emerged about one in 20 of its frontline staff are women and less than four per cent from non-white backgrounds.

Chief officer Andrew Brodie said numerous measures had recently been launched to reduce the proportion of white men as it was crucial that the service reflected the communities it served so it could best understand their needs.

Mr Brodie was responding to questions from the county’s police, fire and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan during an online public accountability session, in which she said she wanted “people to understand quite how undiverse the fire and rescue service is”.

She said: “This is not just a North Yorkshire issue. It is across fire and rescue services across the country. We’ve got quite a long way to go.”

The session heard the service had recruited in the same way since it was formed in 1947, and just 12 per cent of overall staff are female.

Mr Brodie said in response, the service had removed the requirement for GCSEs and driving licences at entry point as maths and English could be assessed in other ways and driving licences were not needed immediately.

He said: “If we put in a requirement for GCSEs then the people who are least likely be able to apply are most likely to be excluded.”

The chief fire officer said the service was “trying desperately to attract a greater diversity of people to apply” at senior levels and had used networks for work, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and race to market job opportunities.

He said: “We’ve had phenomenal success in attracting numbers of people over the last six to nine months. I’m not aware of any other fire service that has had 22 applications for group manager jobs, 12 applications for a deputy chief, 20 applications to be an area manager.”

Mr Brodie stressed that once applications are submitted “everybody is on an equal playing field and we choose the best candidates”.

The session heard the service had also started assessing working environments to ensure they are suitable for people other than white men.

Mr Brodie added: “We are moving away from a recruitment where somebody’s years service, the number of jobs that they have done and the type of work that they have done are necessarily the most important feature.

“We have moved to recruiting on the basis of people’s attitudes, behaviours and values as long as we have confidence that they will pick up the skills that they need to do the job once in post. We are looking much more at the person, rather than the skills that they bring at the point of entry.

“Despite doing all of this we still struggle because the pool of people for promotion from other backgrounds other than white men is very small.”