Woeful lack of diversity in fire services, says minister Brandon Lewis
A Government minister has criticised fire services over a "woeful" lack of diversity.
Brandon Lewis cited figures showing firefighters in England are 96% white and 95% male.
He said: "Any workforce should represent the community that it serves, but in fire this simply at the moment is not the case.
"I've been to fire stations where, I have to say, I noticed more diversity in the fire hoses used than I have in the workforce."
The minister for policing and the fire service said the proportion of black and minority ethnic and female firefighters must increase.
He dismissed any attempt to blame the lack of diversity on a reduction in recruitment, saying: "That isn't good enough."
Mr Lewis called for a "culture shift" and said there is a "golden opportunity" for services to make sure their workforces reflect the communities they serve as almost a third of personnel are due to retire in the next few years.
In a speech in central London, the Home Office minister set out his vision for a "year of change" for the fire and rescue sector.
He announced the creation of a new inspectorate to probe service's performances and outlined plans to introduce a professional standards body.
Mr Lewis also highlighted large differences in the amounts of money spent on the same pieces of equipment in different parts of the country.
Figures last year showed that some services were paying as much as five times more than others for similar items.
One spends £85 per fire helmet, compared with another which pays £252. Prices paid for breathing kit range from £328 to more than £1,500.
Mr Lewis called for services to work together and get a better deal from suppliers to save themselves and the taxpayer money.
He also said the practice of senior fire officers retiring from their posts then being re-employed in the same or similar roles "needs to stop".
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) expressed concern that cost savings will be at the heart of the Government's reform agenda.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "The FBU is not opposed to genuine reform, in fact it welcomes it if public safety is to be improved, but we are not at all certain from today's announcement that this is going to be at the heart of the new-look fire and rescue service.
"All we have seen since 2010 are job losses, equipment losses, station closures and slower response times.
"We are not reassured that we are going to see this unfortunate, worrying trend reversed."