An embattled fire authority found to tolerate sexual harassment and abuse will see government-appointed commissioners brought in to run the service.

In an unprecedented move, the Welsh government is bringing in commissioners to run the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority (SWFRA).

It comes following a damning report published by Fenella Morris KC, which exposed a culture of sexism, misogyny and wider failings in management and leadership in the service.

Hannah Blythyn, deputy minister for social partnership, said on Tuesday that she has no confidence in SWFRA being able to turn itself around, with management at all levels implicated in the failings highlighted by the review.

She said: “It is hard to see how South Wales Fire and Rescue Service would be able to make the changes needed, when those currently in post are part of the problem and cannot also be the solution.

“Unless action is taken now, there is also the risk these failures could affect service delivery and put lives at risk.

“I have little if any confidence about the likelihood of SWFRA restoring an acceptable standard of management, or of its addressing the wider risks to service delivery and firefighter and public safety.

“I believe that creates a compelling case for Welsh Government intervention, in the interests of securing a swift and sustainable recovery.”

While commissioners have previously stepped in to fix issues in councils, including at the Isle of Anglesey County Council in North Wales in 2011, this is the first time a fire service has been taken over in this way.

The chief fire officer at the service, Huw Jakeway, issued an apology in January and announced his intention to retire. As of today, he is still in post.

Hannah Blythyn, deputy minister for social partnership in the Welsh Government
Hannah Blythyn, deputy minister for social partnership in the Welsh Government, said she has no confidence in SWFRA being able to turn itself around (The Welsh Government/PA)

Ms Blythyn argued Mr Jakeway’s intention to retire was not sufficient to stimulate the “wholesale change in processes, values and culture” needed.

The four commissioners are:
– Baroness Wilcox, former leader of Newport City Council and Labour member of the House of Lords.
– Kirsty Williams, former Liberal Democrat Member of the Senedd for Brecon and Radnor.
– Vij Randeniya, former chief fire officer at the West Midlands Fire Service.
– Carl Foulkes, former chief constable, North Wales Police.

The commissioners will have powers to restructure and reform the management of the Service with a remit to instil a positive and non-discriminatory culture.

They will remain in post until the work is finished and will regularly update the deputy minister.

It is unclear how long this will take but Ms Morris’ report suggested it could take at least 18 months.

While the SWFRA had proposed setting up a culture review implementation committee, Ms Blythyn said she had no confidence that it would address the weaknesses in governance.

The deputy minister also said there was evidence of how management failures have directly and seriously affected core services.

This includes the fire service rejecting recommendations from the Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to improve service standards and firefighter safety.

The South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has failed to follow previous advice from the 2016 National Framework for Fire and Rescue Services to reduce their attendance at false alarms.

Its attendance at false alarms has actually risen consistently in recent years and is now close to the highest level on record.

The KC’s review identified: “The toleration of problematic behaviours, including sexual harassment; negative assumptions about women; domestic abuse and physical aggression outside of work; the expression of negative views in relation to the protected characteristics of sex, race and/or religion; bullying; harmful ‘banter’; drug and alcohol abuse; and improper interference with procedures.

“Misconduct, including criminal conduct, that has previously gone insufficiently addressed, to the detriment of the service’s culture.

“A lack of encouragement and support for people to speak up, and insufficient action when they do.”