Fire Service equality targets will have little effect

New equality targets in the Fire Service will do nothing to boost the number of women or ethnic minorities employed as there are no penalties in place for failing to reach them, experts have warned.

The Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) agreed to new targets last week that demanded that by 2013, 15% of all recruits to the operational sector are women – an increase from the 2008 recruitment figure of 9.2% – and that the proportion of ethnic minority staff is representative of the local community.

A report by the Department for Communities and Local Government revealed that just 5% of FRS employees were from an ethnic minority background, while just 3.3% of operational staff were female.

But Michael Nicholas, the Fire Brigade Union’s executive council member for ethnic minorities, was concerned fire brigades would not reach the targets and would simply waste the £2m set aside by the government.

He told Personnel Today: “Targets alone are never going to solve the problem. Some brigades in the most diverse parts of the country are consistently failing [to improve equality] because they have no clear strategy and no real commitment to having a diverse workforce.”

Des Pritchard, HR director at the Chief Fire Officers Association, insisted the targets were achievable, but only if HR functions got more information into the public domain about the wide range of careers available within the service.

He said: “We must position the fire service as a career of choice open to everyone. There’s a gap in the information available that we haven’t quite cracked yet. People don’t really know what we are about – we do so much more than people think.”

Sailesh Parmer, equality officer at Hampshire Fire Service, welcomed the targets. “[Women and ethnic minority groups] are under-represented in the organisation and we want to address that,” he said.

His force had beefed up advertising and recruitment fairs in minority communities, he added.

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