West Yorkshire has become the first brigade to be awarded a coveted national accolade for its equality and diversity work.
The brigade was the first to pilot the highest level of the Fire and Rescue Services Equality Framework. This latest success comes hard on the heels of capturing central government's rigorous new Customer Service Excellence (CSE) award and of achieving long service recognition for a decade of Investors in People.
Chief Fire Officer Simon Pilling said: "Some organisations tend to pick up badges as part of some kind of corporate ego trip but West Yorkshire isn't like that. These achievements reflect something more fundamental about the way we do business through our relationship with the workforce and our understanding and respect of and for the communities we serve.
"You can't champion equality and diversity, develop staff skills or invest in your communities by publishing policies and procedures, ticking audit boxes or blowing your own trumpet in the media. Brigades which make a difference are those which recognise their own shortcomings, embrace challenge and make that cultural shift towards re-shaping internal communication channels and service delivery."
CFO Pilling said that although a Peer Review team from the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency interviewed managers from all directorates as part of the equality assessment they also, and far more importantly, interviewed staff from across the organisation and externally, including those on wholetime and retained stations, those working for partner agencies and members of the community.
"Unless a respect and appreciation for difference is shared it means nothing and will make little or no improvement to core operations, and especially to the way we can contribute to building community safety," he added.
"West Yorkshire has hard evidence of how a well-motivated, knowledgeable and committed workforce can drive up standards. In the past seven years we have seen a 43 per cent reduction in accidental fire deaths in the home, a 50 per cent reduction in accidental domestic fire injuries, and a 75 per cent reduction in deliberate primary fires."
The brigade also looks very different than it did a decade ago, having increased the number of female firefighters to 51 and the number of BME firefighters to 57 (West Yorkshire is the fourth highest FRS in terms of the number of women and BME operational staff). The 88-strong community fire safety team includes 18 BME staff - 20.45 per cent.
"Though the Peer Challenge team was particularly impressed with the way the organisation has embraced the equality and diversity agenda, and seized the opportunities presented by better community engagement to improve service delivery, it openly acknowledged that effective leadership is essential," said Maria Tonks.
West Yorkshire's Equality and Diversity Manager explained that the brigade had benefited from clear and consistent strategic direction from both senior fire authority councillors and principal officers - coupled with active support from the trades unions.
The team acknowledged: "Equality and diversity appears to be part of what we do here."
West Yorkshire's reputation for putting people at the heart of business was emphasised when it was encouraged to pursue the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) scheme, which replaced Charter Mark.
"We had enjoyed Charter Mark recognition since 1998 but we wanted to raise the bar and give the public assurance that we were doing everything possible to tailor services more sensitively to their needs," said CFO Simon Pilling.
CSE was also in line with the Government's ambition of 'localism' - real change driven by clients and customers.
West Yorkshire is one of only five fire and rescue services to hold the award, with a remarkable full compliance against all 57 criteria (including four exemplar compliance plus awards).
Plaudits were reserved for:
- an in-depth understanding of current and potential customer groups and good range of consultation mechanisms
- respect for customers' privacy and the transfer and storage of information
- partnership work, such as the Young Firefighters' Scheme
- support provided for the wider community and charities.
"Once again, members of staff were singled out for their enthusiasm, motivation and their willingness to 'go the extra mile' - and the assessor highlighted many examples of providing excellent customer service," said Alison Davey, Corporate Services Manager.
CFO Simon Pilling added: "Our people really are our best asset and investment in their training and development has paid rich dividends over the years.
"I'm only too aware that the financial pressures brought about the country's present economic state will bring about fundamental change in the way all public services operate over the next few years; indeed my own organisation will feel very different from now by 2015.
"What gives me confidence that we can weather the storm, however, is the way we've already re-aligned our services and modernised to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. The vast majority of people who work for West Yorkshire FRS have shared values and a sense of purpose, are prepared listen and respond to the people we're all here to serve, and know they'll be treated fairly and equitably.
"We have the hallmarks of a healthy and positive future."