New opportunities light the way: in response to March's 'Missed Opportunities' article by Wayne McCollin and Jagtar Singh, CFOA Vice President Charlie Hendry offers his perspective on the Service's overall poor track record on diversity and equality. Whilst agreeing with some of the main thrusts of their argument Charlie expresses optimism for future endeavours.(Comment)

THE ARTICLE IN THE MARCH EDITION of FIRE, 'Missed Opportunities' by Wayne McCollin and Jagtar Singh, deserves a response. The authors presented a persuasive indictment of the patchy and lacklustre progress towards achieving a more representative Service, rooted in a history of missed opportunities, many of which have their origins in legislation and significant public inquiries.

I was struck in particular by the observation that this represented a failure to learn from history and experience and it is instructive to reflect on whether such a failure in other areas--for example operational response would be so apparently tolerated. I say 'apparently' because I want to look carefully at whether the failure is as systemic as Wayne and Jack would argue or whether there are some promising 'green shoots' of progress starting to appear.

What is undeniable is that the Service struggles to achieve the sort of representation across its staff groups that is increasingly taken for granted in many other sectors. It remains the 'Achilles heel' that undermines many of the arguments that we can make for a high-performing Service.

Successive national reports have recognised that the Service has made huge strides in transforming the scope of its activities whilst maintaining and even improving its front end performance. How many other public services can make the same claim? Transformational change in public service seems often to be accompanied by a period of turmoil which inevitably affects performance.

The Fire and Rescue Service should be justifiably proud of its achievements in reducing key national indicators for fire deaths and arson and for extending its role in prevention and youth work. We now have services achieving beacon status for roles in health promotion and youth work, and increasingly active in local area agreements to achieve community improvements previously only dreamt of. …

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