Fire at Westbridge Road in Battersea, London
The gravity of the situation prompted the Chief Fire Officer, Huw Jakeway, to announce his intention to step down from his position. London Fire Brigade/Twitter

In response to a report uncovering a culture of misconduct within the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, the Welsh government has announced its decisive intervention.

The report, published last month, revealed a distressing pattern of male employees sending inappropriate messages to their female colleagues.

Consequently, Huw Jakeway, the service's chief fire officer, declared his intention to step down, acknowledging the gravity of the findings and expressing profound apologies to those who had endured negative experiences.

The comprehensive review, spearheaded by Fenella Morris KC, identified more than 80 areas for improvement, including the imperative for a robust campaign condemning sexual harassment.

The report's revelations prompted swift action from the Welsh government, which on Tuesday revoked all powers from the fire authority, replacing it with four government-appointed commissioners tasked with overseeing the implementation of necessary reforms.

Among the appointed commissioners are notable figures such as Kirsty Williams, former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and education minister, and Baroness Wilcox, former leader of Newport City Council. Joining them are Carl Foulkes, the former chief constable of North Wales Police, and Vij Randeniya, the former chief fire officer of the West Midlands Fire Service.

Their mandate extends until the completion of the reform process, though the government has refrained from specifying a precise timeline for its conclusion.

Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn, articulated the government's rationale behind this intervention during a session in the Senedd, citing grave concerns over the service's ability to effectuate its own recovery.

Blythyn highlighted the inherent risks posed by systemic failures, stressing the imperative of prompt and sustainable remedial measures to safeguard both service delivery and public safety.

"I have little if any confidence about the likelihood of South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority restoring an acceptable standard of management, or of its addressing the wider risks to service delivery and firefighter and public safety," she added. "I believe that creates a compelling case for Welsh government intervention, in the interests of securing a swift and sustainable recovery."

In alignment with the government's intervention, a spokesperson for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service affirmed their commitment to prioritising the safety of the public and staff. They acknowledged the scrutiny and guidance offered by the appointed commissioners and reassured stakeholders of the service's unwavering dedication to addressing the shortcomings highlighted in the report.

"The Service acknowledges the Welsh Government statement in Plenary today, and welcomes the scrutiny and direction that will be provided by the four appointed Commissioners - Baroness Debbie Wilcox, Kirsty Williams, Vijith Randeniya and Carl Foulkes.

"We would like to reassure the public and all staff that we would never compromise on their safety, and this was supported in the report.

"To date, the Service has continued to take forward the Draft Action Plan in response to the recommendations within the Independent Culture Review Report, to fulfil our promise of engaging with staff.

"Last week we held five sessions to consult on the plan, with another three sessions planned for this week.

"They will continue, in order to fulfil our promise of engaging with staff on how to take recommendations forward.

"Four working groups have been convened to deliver the Action Plan, and a governance structure was established, as detailed in the Draft Action Plan, published on our website on 16 January 2024."

The decision to intervene comes in the wake of mounting criticism directed at the service's leadership, culminating in Jakeway's resignation. Jakeway himself acknowledged the necessity for a change in leadership, signalling a recognition of the imperative to usher in a new era of accountability and integrity within the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

In addition to systemic issues of misogyny and discrimination, the report also shed light on instances of racism within the service, including incidents of racist abuse and refusal to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. Such behaviour not only perpetuates prejudice but also undermines the service's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

"It was said that posting such photos might compromise relationships with the chief fire officer, the service and the police given that the origins of the movement was associated with police brutality."

"Making casually racist 'jokes' or comments fuels prejudice and discrimination even if that is not the intention," the report said.