The Fire Service faces tough new recruitment targets in an attempt to boost low levels of equality and diversity.
Fire minister Parmjit Dhanda has published a 10-year National Equality and Diversity Strategy after figures revealed that just 3.2% of staff are from a minority ethnic background, just 3.1% of firefighters are women there is only one female chief fire officer, and none from minority ethnic communities.
The Fire Service lags behind other public services in diversity levels. Earlier this year, the Audit Commission criticised the service for its lack of diversity, claiming it hampered efforts to reach and educate different communities about fire risk.
All 46 local fire and rescue services will now have a target to ensure that at least 15% of new firefighter recruits are women and that the number of minority ethnic recruits overall reflects the local working population by 2013.
The initiative aims for parity in retention and career progression between men and women and between minority ethnic and white employees within five years.
Two million pounds of government funding will be available to services that choose a more challenging 18% target for women and a target that reflects the local minority ethnic working population plus 2-5%.
Dhanda said: “This is not about political correctness, but about providing opportunity for all and finding the best skilled and talented people across communities. The challenge now is for Fire and Rescue Services to get out there and find and recruit them.”
Charlie Hendry, vice-president of the Chief Fire Officers Association, said it was worrying that more progress had not been made. “The association has been frustrated by the relatively slow progress in achieving improvement and is committed to help bring about substantial success,” he said.
Each service will be required to set out an annual action plan detailing practical steps to improve recruitment.