Belfast Telegraph

Poots calls for fire service change

Urgent fundamental change is needed at the top of Northern Ireland's fire service, the health minister said.

Managers need to embrace that process at all levels, Edwin Poots added.

Alleged fraud, unapproved bonuses and failure to deal adequately with staff grievances were highlighted by three investigations into the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).

Mr Poots said: "All existing grievances and complaints need to be drawn to a conclusion as soon as possible. It is not acceptable that these matters should remain unresolved after long periods of time."

The minister thanked whistleblowers for coming forward and called for a culture where it is safe and acceptable for staff to raise concerns.

He said working relations have been soured and must be renewed.

"The fire and rescue service needs strong visible leadership with clear direction from the top of the organisation," he added.

Mr Poots said he expected fire service management to take forward the recommendations contained in the three reports and added fundamental change should be taken forward as a matter of "absolute urgency" by management.

A Department of Health audit of alleged irregularities substantiated whistleblower claims of unapproved bonus payments worth £15,200 to four principal fire officers and largely substantiated unapproved sponsorship claims. It also identified serious weaknesses in how the whistleblower was treated.

Mr Poots told Assembly members a new interim chief executive was appointed in a series of measures to strengthen management of the fire service.

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