Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jane Dodds
Jenny Rathbone
Joel James Yn dirprwyo ar ran Altaf Hussain
Substitute for Altaf Hussain
Julie Morgan Yn dirprwyo ar ran Sarah Murphy
Substitute for Sarah Murphy
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dan Stephens Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser and Inspector for Wales
Prif Gynghorydd ac Arolygydd Tân ac Achub Cymru
Julie James Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Lywodraeth Leol, Tai a Chynllunio
Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning
Liz Lalley Cyfarwyddwr Risg, Cadernid a Diogelwch Cymunedol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Risk, Resilience and Community Safety, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Claire Thomas Ymchwilydd
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:31.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:31.

1. Cyflwyniadau, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Prynhawn da. Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. This meeting is being broadcast bilingually, and instantaneous translation from Welsh is available. It's also being broadcast on Senedd.tv, so you can catch up on it later, if you have to leave the meeting before we complete our investigation.

Sarah Murphy has had to send her apologies, and we're delighted to welcome Julie Morgan as her substitute. Are there any declarations of interest? I see none.

2. Llywodraethu Gwasanaethau Tân ac Achub: sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Lywodraeth Leol, Tai a Chynllunio, a'r Prif Gynghorydd Tân
2. Governance of Fire and Rescue Services: evidence session with the Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning, and the Chief Fire Adviser

Today, we are conducting our eighth and final scrutiny session on the governance of fire and rescue services, and we're taking evidence from Julie James, the new Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning, with responsibility for fire and rescue services; as well as Liz Lalley, director of risk, resilience and community safety, who we've heard from earlier; and online, Mr Dan Stephens, the fire and rescue adviser and inspector for Wales. Welcome, all of you. Thank you, Julie, for the very succinct and clear written evidence you gave us of the Welsh Government's position in response to our questions.

I'd just like to start off by asking why was a Wales-wide culture review only initiated in March this year, which is more than a year after reports first emerged of sexual harassment and bullying in the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services produced a really compelling report on England that this was a pretty widespread problem, not confined to Wales. So, why, in the last 12 months, has the Welsh Government, for example, not asked your chief fire and rescue services' advisor to conduct a thematic review, before the blaze of publicity we got from the Fenella Morris report?

Can I start as well by just saying that I've been in this post one working week, and a small part of recess, and so I've not yet had a chance to form many of the views that I would like to form on my own? This week, I have scheduled appointments with the commissioners, for example, and with the constituent local authorities for the affected fire service, and a number of others, but I haven't—. We're here on a Monday afternoon, and I haven't had the chance to independently meet with anyone yet. I've had briefings, myself, off Liz and her team, but I haven't yet been able to form my own independent view of these things, which is a shame. I heard you say that this was the last of your sessions, but I don't know, it might be better if you got me back in a couple of weeks' time, when I have had that view, because I don't have an independent view. I'm really very happy to share with the committee my understanding of what my briefings say, but I'm not yet in a position to say so.

So, my understanding at this point in time is that we were waiting for Fenella Morris KC's investigation to be complete, to see what she very specifically had to say about the fire and rescue service in question. I've read that report and it's pretty horrific—I'm sure the committee has seen it. My understanding is that we were waiting on the outcome of that, so that we could take action as a result of that review. Subsequent to that, of course, the decision of my predecessor Minister was that we needed to ask the other authorities to do a similar review, because it seemed likely that there was—or certainly a distinct possibility that there was—a wider cultural issue. And my understanding is that they’ve all engaged with that, and that’s ongoing. But, as I say, I’ve had no chance yet to form my own independent view of any of that. 


Okay. Mr Stephens, if I could come to you, you told the committee that, prior to the ITV programme that was broadcast in December 2022, you hadn't inspected the culture, and you were obviously focusing on the operational issues, including the outcome of the things that followed from the Grenfell fire. But obviously it's over a year, it's some 15 months now, since those initial allegations, and yet, is it that you hadn't had time to do a thematic review of the culture before Hannah Blythyn took the various actions that she took in the last couple of months?

So, two points, Chair. Firstly, the Cabinet Secretary has already alluded to the fact that, with south Wales having commissioned Fenella Morris to undertake her review, there would have been very little utility in me running a parallel review, which essentially would have been looking at the same things. So, the view was that it would be better that Fenella Morris concluded her review and a view was taken at that point, which appears sensible to me.

What I would say is that, whilst it is true to say that the three thematic reviews that I’ve undertaken since I’ve been in post have dealt predominantly with matters in the operation—

I'm afraid we seem to have lost Mr Stephens temporarily. I suggest—. Ah. Sorry, Mr Stephens, we can't hear you at the moment because you're muted. Can we unmute Mr Stephens? Okay. So, apologies. You froze. The technical messaging failed us. You were saying that obviously you didn't want to second-guess the south Wales inquiry undertaken by Fenella Morris. I understand that, but in the context of the inspector for England, who looked at a widespread inquiry and found that there were problems in many of the 40 fire and rescue authorities in England, which indicated it wasn't just a problem for south Wales, I just wondered why you've not done a more widespread issue around the culture of fire and rescue authorities generally.

What I did do, Chair, in March of 2023, I conducted an identical review to that which the inspectorate undertook in England of legacy discipline cases. What I would say is that I went back five years, whereas the inspectorate only went back, I believe, 12 months or, sorry, 18 months in England [correction: whereas the inspectorate only went back, I believe, 12 months in England]. So, I did undertake a review of five years of discipline cases across the three fire and rescue services in Wales, and I published—. Sorry, I didn't publish in the public domain, but I briefed the Minister, the Deputy Minister at the time, Hannah Blythyn, as to the findings of that review, which were that, in north and mid and west Wales, there was a more consistent approach taken to disciplinary matters, particularly those that involved the police, than there was when compared with south Wales.

Now, you'll appreciate that this briefing to the Deputy Minister was in April—apologies, it was in May of last year—and the Fenella Morris review was still on the way at that time [correction: this briefing to the Deputy Minister was in March]. So, again, the view was taken that it would not have been appropriate to make that public whilst the Fenella Morris review was still under way. But just to reassure the committee, I did undertake an analysis of five years of disciplinary cases across the three services, and I did report the outcomes of that to the Deputy Minister. 


[Inaudible.]—of Hannah Blythyn's letter to all the chief officers, was it, that we got copies of in our papers to note, which I've failed to—?

I believe that you do, Chair, but what I can do, under separate cover, I can send my briefing to the Minister. I can certainly send that to the committee, if that assists. 

That would be very useful. So, Minister, what steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that staff across all three fire and rescue authorities receive support for discrimination, bullying or abuse allegations, particularly in light of the independent reviews that are coming up in north and mid and west Wales? 

It's an internal matter for the fire authority in the first instance, of course, but one of the things I want to do when I speak with the constituent authorities and with the commissioners is understand what we're looking at here. Fire and rescue services are combined joint authorities of the local authorities that make up their constituent members, and one of the things I very much want to do is talk with the local authorities about what role the committees themselves take in the other fire services where there aren't commissioners, and how they interest themselves in staff welfare matters, how the committee is holding the fire and rescue service to account. It's not clear to me yet quite how that works. 

I think one of the issues has been—I was in this brief three years ago, so I've had a substantive gap to try and get to grips with—but I suspect one of the issues is just the way that the constituent combined authorities are made up. They're very large committees. It's very difficult to understand quite why they need to be quite so large, and they exhibit some of the same characteristics as the national parks do because of the way that councillors are drawn from the back benches once the other remunerated posts have been put in place by the committees. So, I would be very interested to speak with members of the committees in the other authorities, and with the commissioners, to understand from them how they hold the HR departments of the fire and rescue services to account, because I think that's their role.

So, in the first—. The answer to the question is in two parts, therefore. In the first instance, it's a matter for the fire and rescue service itself; the Welsh Government has no direct oversight of that. We hold the fire and rescue services to account, if you like, via our local authority partners and their constituent committees, and I suspect that where we're going is that this governance model is not really able to do what it's supposed to do for a range of matters. But I have not yet seen anything that leads to me to believe that this is an easy thing to do, to hold them to account, and I have not yet got to grips myself with the HR strategy or policy of any of the constituent authorities.

I understand that Dan has done this review—I'm still working through the papers myself—but I suspect strongly that what we're looking at here is a governance model of a set of committees that isn't really well equipped to hold a specialist service to account in the way that we would probably think it should be. 

You'll be interested in the correspondence we've received from the Welsh Local Government Association on what they think they have been able to do in terms of training. But just coming back to—

Just on that, Chair, then, it's worth I think reminding ourselves that the local government elections were in May 2022, so the committees here would only have been in post for a year and a bit by the time this was happening. Some of them will have been long-serving councillors who've been on those committees a long time, but many of them weren't; many of them were newly appointed. So, I'd be quite interested myself. I will be speaking to both older and newer members of those committees to see what was their experience of joining a fire and rescue service committee, and what did the training feel like from their point of view, as well as from the WLGA point of view. 

Okay. We'll come back to that later on in our questioning. I just wanted to pick up, though, on the independent reviews in north and mid and west Wales. Hannah Blythyn's statement basically asked these two fire and rescue authorities to institute jointly an independent review into the culture in their organisations. How do you know it's going to be independent as opposed to asking somebody to just report on what the chief fire officer for north Wales said in a paper last week to her board, namely that it's going to look at the ongoing progress of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service in improving the working environment of employees? That's fine, but there are some much harder questions to be asked as well.


Yes, I agree, and so what we'll be making sure happens is that the terms of reference for the various inquiries are fit for purpose. I don't believe that the other fire and rescue services think they're in a position to have a review that simply underlines what they're already doing. We quite clearly have a problem in one of the fire and rescue services, and they will want to, I'm sure, be certain that they don't have that problem themselves. But, again, I'm very sorry, Chair, I'm a week in; haven't had the chance to have this conversation with either of the chairs or the committee. I do, though, want to very much reassure the committee that I will absolutely be having those conversations, and I will be very keen to make sure that any such review has an element of independence and isn't just looking at some subset of what we think the issues might be.

Nevertheless, you've been giving this some thought, because in your written evidence you highlight the role of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, which has merely 15 members and covers an area similar to the size of Wales.

As I said earlier, this isn't the first time I've held this brief, and I think there is an issue with combined joint authorities in general, and not just fire and rescue services; the national parks have a very similar problem. On the national park, the Welsh Government appoints appointees onto the national park. Very recently, we've undertaken an exercise with those appointees, to make sure that they are properly briefed and they understand what the role of a Welsh Government appointee is, after we had an unfortunate set of affairs going on at what was then Brecon Beacons and is now Bannau Brycheiniog national park. I was very pleased to be able to appoint four new members onto the park authority as a result of that. So, I'm very familiar with all of these issues from my previous role in the Government, but I'm very aware it's been three years since I was last in this position, so I need to make sure that I'm up to speed.

I have, though, a very determined personal view that a combined joint committee that has 24 to 28 people on it is too large to be able to hold that authority to account in any realistic way—that is a big group of people. There are certainly some issues there with the governance. But I have not yet, in my new post, spoken to the constituent local authorities about their view of how those members are selected for the committee and what skills and training they need to have to be able to do that, and whether, in fact, my view that the committee is there to hold the service to account and to make sure it's correctly functioning is correct, or whether it's more on the management side. What is the committee trying to do as a fire and rescue committee? Is it trying to manage the service? I don't think so. It has a very professional and uniformed management structure inside it. Is it trying to hold that service to account? Is it trying to do a combination of those two things? What the committee is actually trying to do is one of the $64,000 questions—I'm showing my age—and that's a conversation I'm very anxious to have with local authorities about combined authorities in general, and not just about fire and rescue authorities.

These are very important questions to ask. Sioned Williams wants to come in.

Dwi jest eisiau dod nôl yn gyflym iawn i gylch gorchwyl yr adolygiadau yn y gogledd ac yn y gorllewin a'r canolbarth. Ydych chi wedi cael sicrwydd, neu a fyddwch chi yn ceisio sicrwydd, y bydd yr adolygiadau hynny yn cymryd tystiolaeth gan gyn-aelodau o staff, pobl sydd bellach wedi gadael y gwasanaethau hynny am ba bynnag rheswm, a hefyd yn edrych ar y prosesau cwyno ac achwyno a ddilynwyd mewn achosion hanesyddol? Achos un o'r pethau gwnaeth y person daeth o'ch blaen chi, sef Hannah Blythyn, ei ddweud yw ei bod hi'n bwysig iawn rhoi llais i bobl sydd wedi teimlo eu bod nhw wedi dioddef yn sgil y materion diwylliannol. Felly dwi jest eisiau cael eich barn chi ar hynny a gobeithio cael sicrwydd y bydd modd gwneud yn siŵr bod gan y bobl yna lais.

I just wanted to come back very quickly to the remit of the reports in north and mid and west Wales. Have you been reassured, or are you looking for assurance, that those reviews will take evidence from former members of staff, people who have now left the service for whatever reason, and will also look at the complaints processes that were followed in these historical cases? Because one of the things that your predecessor, Hannah Blythyn, said was that it's really important to give a voice to those people who feel that they've suffered as a result of these cultural issues. So, I just wanted to hear your opinion on that and get some reassurance that it will be possible to give those people a voice.

I completely and utterly agree with that. What we need to do is a number of things here. First of all, we need to make sure that the committees understand thoroughly their task and are able to carry it out in a manner that means that we can have reassurance of that. I’m not saying I have evidence one way or the other. I have no evidence one way or the other yet. I will have it. The second thing we need to do is to make sure that the staff inside the services have recourse to the committee where they think that’s an appropriate thing to do—so, you’d expect to have a personnel or HR-type subcommittee operating.

The commissioners—I know, because I’ve seen the remit for the commissioners—are very keen to speak to the staff about their experiences, given that we’ve now put commissioners in to do the job that the committee was doing. I will be very keen to make sure that I have that conversation when I meet with the services, which I’m about to do this week in the other areas. In the review, as I was just saying to the Chair, I want to make sure that the terms of reference encompass the lived experience, if you like, of people in the service so that we can pick that up as well. And I’m sure that Dan Stephens will be helping me to do that, because we definitely need to have that external view of it, as well as internally.


And those who have left, because obviously many people have left and had very bad experiences.

It will include everyone with lived experience of it who wants to share their story. Sorry, I should have made that clear. But that’s what I mean. I want to make sure that everyone who has a story to tell is able to tell it.

I’m aware that you’ve only just taken up the post, but what progress do you think the commissioners have made so far, and are you aware about how they have been monitored or will be monitored in order to see how they’re getting on?

Thank you, Julie. The commissioners have done quite a few things already. They’ve already replaced several senior managers who were implicated in the failings. They’ve appointed a director of transformation from outside the service. They’ve undertaken a series of staff engagements in person and virtually across the service. They’re having a good look at the policies right across the board, whether the policies exist, and where they exist, whether they’re fit for purpose, and whether they’re the most up-to-date and modern policies that we would expect to see. They’re already doing that.

I’m meeting the commissioners—Thursday, I think it is—this week, so I’ll be able to have an in-person conversation with them. So far I have only seen the briefings that they’ve provided. My understanding from Liz and her team is that they’re meeting with them every two weeks to make sure that they’re supported and can ask the right questions. So, I’ll have a personal view later this week, but my understanding is that that’s where we are at the moment.

In terms of confidence that they will be able to implement the recommendations, I don’t know whether you’ve got any comments on that, or whether Liz has.

I’m very familiar with two of the commissioners, as I think probably many of you on the committee are. I’m not familiar with the other two. I know one of them quite well and I don’t know one of them at all. So, I know two extremely well, one quite well, and one not at all. The two I know extremely well I’d be very surprised indeed if they weren’t capable of carrying out a review of this sort. I’ll be very interested to hear from them direct, of course, about the support they’re getting and what they’re encountering so far, but I haven’t had a chance to do that. But yes, given what I know about the commissioners I know, I’d be very surprised indeed if they weren’t able to do it.

In the scope of what you know, what confidence do you think the FRS staff have in the commissioners, and also what confidence the public have in them?

Again, I’ve yet to meet the Fire Brigades Union. I’m about to do that this week also. But I’ve had some briefings from previous meetings via my predecessor, Hannah Blythyn. I’ve had a conversation with Hannah herself, obviously, as part of the handover, and she tells me that the staff have confidence that it’s going in the right direction. I think everybody would like it to go faster; everybody always wants these things to go faster, but they take the time they take, it seems to me. But I’ve yet to meet them, so I don’t know first-hand, I’m afraid.

If the Minister will forgive me, the director of transformation came from outside south Wales, but is actually from the fire service, so brings a level of expertise, just to clarify—sorry, Minister.

They're from outside South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, not from outside the service. That was just a point of clarification.

Okay, so they're from outside south Wales, but not outside the fire service.

Sorry, I knew that perfectly well. I meant outside the south Wales fire service, not outside the fire service itself.


From your answers to Sioned, the involvement of people with lived experience is high on the agenda.

Yes, because if you think about what we're trying to do, we're trying to do two things, it seems to me. We're trying to find out how we got here, and then we're trying to put that right. We can't find out how we got here unless we speak to all of the people who have experience of how we got here, and we can't put it right unless we understand what went wrong so that we can put it right. So, we have to get as many people as we can to speak to the commissioner, and, indeed, I would argue, to the people doing the review in the other services, in order to be able to both understand the issue we're looking at and the route out of it.

Thank you. To move on to the appointment of the interim chief fire officer, we know that the Deputy Minister and officials were not involved in the recruitment process, but are you aware of any reservations about the appointment of Stuart Millington, and whether any officials had any knowledge about these concerns?

Again, this is from my briefing, I'm afraid, because I don't know Mr Millington at all, but I understand that the commissioners knew, prior to appointing Mr Millington, that a complaint had been made about him in 2023, and that that had been subject to a full external investigation and that had concluded there was no disciplinary case to answer. The person involved in that has brought proceedings in the employment tribunal, as is their right to do, but those proceedings are ongoing.

The view was taken, and I think it's correct in law as well, that if somebody's been accused of something and has been fully exonerated, they've been fully exonerated, so that should not be held against them in any career moment. The fact that there is an ongoing employment tribunal on that is one of those things, I'm afraid. There are ongoing employment tribunal things about a lot of people, and it doesn't necessarily mean—. So, we don't know how that's going to come out. If it comes out the other way, then it will have to be looked at, but, at the moment, as I understand it, the internal investigation found no case to answer, and the person's taken a complaint to the employment tribunal. I think they probably have acted entirely correctly within the law, so we'll have to see how the employment tribunal comes out.

Dwi jest eisiau pigo lan ar hwnna. Dwi ddim yn meddwl ei bod hi'n iawn i ddweud ei fod e wedi cael—. Hynny yw, roedd yna achos lle gwnaeth e ddweud bod angen iddo fe wneud gwaith dysgu, os dwi'n cofio'n iawn, o ran y cyhuddiadau oedd yn ei erbyn. Roedd e wedi cyfaddef bod angen gwella rhan o'r ffordd oedd e'n gweithredu. Felly dyw hi ddim yn iawn i ddweud, 'He was completely exonerated', dwi ddim yn meddwl. O ran hynny, yn amlwg, dŷn ni newydd fod yn sôn am ffydd pobl yng ngwaith y comisiynwyr. Ydych chi ddim yn teimlo, yn sgil yr holl sôn sydd wedi bod a'r holl bryderon sydd wedi cael eu mynegi gan y gweithlu a rhai o'u cynrychiolwyr nhw ynglŷn â phenodiad Stuart Millington, efallai doedd e ddim y peth mwyaf doeth i wneud, a sut oedd hynny'n cael ei weld gan y gweithlu, o ran sicrhau bod yr adolygiad yma a gwaith y comisiynwyr yn effeithiol?

I just wanted to pick up on that. I don't think it's right to say that—. There was a case in which he said that he needed to do some learning, if I remember correctly, in terms of the accusations against him. He had admitted he needed to improve some of the way in which he was operating. So, I don't think it's right to say, 'He was completely exonerated'. In terms of that, clearly, we've just been talking about people's trust in the commissioners' work. Do you not feel, therefore, as a result of all the discussions there have been and all the concerns that have been raised by the workforce and some of their representatives in terms of the appointment of Stuart Millington, that perhaps it wasn't really the wisest thing to do in terms of how that was seen by the workforce and in terms of ensuring that this review and the work of the commissioners is effective?

I honestly don't know the answer to that, Sioned, I'm afraid. I wasn't involved in it at the time, and I have long taken a view that I have to deal with what's presented to me and not what might have been. So, I can't say whether I would or wouldn't have done the same thing at the time. But where we are now, Mr Millington is in post, he doesn't have any outstanding disciplinary offences in his career path so far. He absolutely did say those things, and I think those are the right things to have said, but, nevertheless, no case was found against him. We will have to see how the employment tribunal comes out and how that goes. I don't think it would be very useful to put him out of the post that he's been put into at this point.

However, I will say that when I speak with the commissioners, I will be going right through the whole thing with them from their point of view. I don't have their point of view in front of me at the moment. I will want to understand how they felt about the advice they were given at the time and how that came through, and then we will have to see where we go from there. There are some things, I think, that we need to have a look at in the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

Obviously, we want to make appointments on merit, but I do think the fact that we keep appointing men is one of the issues there. I will say that outright to you. I'm going to insist that there's a female in that management structure whether they have to be co-opted or whether they're appointed through a recruitment process, because I think that all services that have single-sex teams like that end up in places where we don't want them to be. We all know that a diversity of voices at a decision-making point leads to better decisions. So, I think we will have to insist that there's some diversity in there, and whether we do it through this route or whether we do it through another route remains to be seen. But I've already had this conversation with officials and with Dan; I'm going to make sure that we have a diversity of voices in the decision-making process.

I've already spoken about the Welsh Government appointees into the national park; that was one of the ways we got some diversity into the decision making there. So, maybe there's a route there, but we will find a route to make some more diverse appointments to make sure that, in the future, any serious decisions that are being made bring a diversity of voices to that decision. So, I think that's a sort of sideways answer to your question. I don't yet know about the rest of it, and I will find out when I've spoken to the commissioners how they feel about the advice they were given at the time. I've spoken to my predecessor Minister and I think she was happy with the advice she'd been given at the time, but I wasn't there, obviously.


Okay. I'd just like to inform the Minister that Dawn Docx, the chief officer for north Wales, told us that the complaint against Mr Millington had been investigated and three were upheld and four were partially upheld and the latter were deemed to be learning points. But, obviously, there are three outstanding issues that are going to go to this industrial tribunal. Minister, you've been really clear on this. I suppose what I'm still puzzling about is what information the four commissioners were given about this situation before they made this appointment. And I just wondered, Mr Stephens, as we haven't seen you since we heard from Dawn Docx, what you knew about the outstanding complaints against Mr Millington, and whether you shared this with the four commissioners.

Okay, Chair. Just to be clear, I think we're conflating two issues here. The disciplinary investigation undertaken by an independent person found that no aspects of the allegations made against Mr Millington met the threshold for discipline. Now, my understanding is that the complaint initially was submitted as a grievance. Now, a grievance can have multiple aspects to it and my understanding is that the independent third party that undertook the investigation took the view that, on some aspects of the grievance, there were learning points for not just Mr Millington, but I believe that there were some additional learning points there for the complainant and for other people who were also mentioned within the grievance. So, I think that's possibly what's led to this view that there were some aspects of a disciplinary allegation that were upheld in some way. They were not. To be clear, the allegation did not meet the threshold for discipline.

Moving into a grievance space, it is possible for aspects of a grievance to be upheld, which I think is where, possibly, the confusion arises. But again, to be clear, my understanding, and bear in mind that I am advised by the chief officers of all complaints made against principal officers and the outcomes—. The way it was explained to me was that there was no disciplinary case to answer. However, there were some learning points raised, not just for Mr Millington, but also for other individuals involved within the grievance that was submitted that gave rise to the disciplinary investigation.

If I can turn to the tribunal, the tribunal is, as you will be aware, against North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority as an employer. And my understanding of that is that any aspects of that tribunal that relate to named individuals—


Can I just stop you, Dan? Look, I think what we're hearing here is a report to Dan by somebody else. This is all third hand—all third hand.

So, I think the committee should take evidence from the people who are—. We're just reporting back to you a conversation that's been—.

Okay. So, Dan Stephens, you were never given a copy of the independent report into the complaint against Mr Millington.

No, Chair, and nor would I be. It would not—. All I am advised of within the process that we have in place is—

—the details of the allegation, and then the outcomes of any investigation. 

Okay. Very good. Jane Dodds. Oh, sorry, Sioned, you wanted to come in on this, and then I'll come to Jane Dodds.

Ie, jest yn gyntaf, jest i fynd yn ôl ynglŷn â Stuart Millington, fe wnaethoch chi sôn wrthym ni yn gynharach, Mr Stephens, eich bod chi wedi gwneud rhyw fath o adolygiad o'r diwylliant yng ngwasanaeth tân ac achub y gogledd, er wnaethon ni ddim cael y wybodaeth yna gennych chi, dwi ddim yn meddwl. Y tro diwethaf wnaethoch chi roi tystiolaeth i ni, gwnaethoch chi ddweud dydych chi ddim yn edrych ar ddiwylliant fel rhan o'ch rôl, ond, yn amlwg, roedd yna ryw fath o adroddiad, ac mi oeddech chi wedi rhoi'r wybodaeth yna i'r Dirprwy Weinidog yn flaenorol. Gan fod Mr Millington yn swyddog, mi oedd e'n gyfrifol, os dwi'n iawn, am ddiogelu o fewn y gwasanaeth, ac rŷn ni'n gwybod nawr, yn sgil adroddiadau ITV, fod yna nifer o bobl wedi gwneud cwynion ynglŷn â'r diwylliant yng ngwasanaeth tân y gogledd. Dwi ddim yn gwybod a oedd eich adolygiad chi—yr un dŷn ni heb weld—wedi canfod hynny hefyd. Wnaeth e ddim croesi'ch meddwl chi, o ran—? Roeddech chi'n amlwg yn gwybod bod yr apwyntiad yma'n mynd i gael ei wneud gan y comisiynwyr. Doeddech chi ddim yn meddwl, gan fod Mr Millington yn gyfrifol am ddiogelu, a bod y cwynion yma yn yr awyr—? Roeddech chi'n dal i feddwl bod yr apwyntiad yn un doeth, o ystyried yr holl sefyllfa a'r holl wres o ran y wasg o gwmpas hyn.

Just very quickly, to go back to Stuart Millington, you mentioned earlier, Mr Stephens, that you had done some kind of review of the culture in the fire and rescue services in north Wales, although we didn't get that information from you, I don't think. The last time you came to give evidence, you said that you weren't looking at culture as part of your role, but, clearly, there was some kind of report, and you had given that information to the Deputy Minister previously. As Mr Millington was an officer, he was responsible, I think, for safety within the service, and we know now, as a result of the ITV reports, that a number of people had made complaints about the culture in the fire and rescue service in north Wales. I don't know whether your report—the one that we haven't seen—had the same findings. Did it not cross your mind, in terms of—? You clearly were aware that this appointment would be made by the commissioners. Did you not think, as Mr Millington is responsible for safeguarding, and that there are complaints up in the air—? You still thought that the appointment was a wise one, considering the whole picture, the whole situation, and the press around this.

I can't hear him. There we are.

So, there are a couple of aspects to that question that I will seek to address sequentially. Firstly, the thematic reviews that I've undertaken and that I've published have been in the operational space. The review, the backward-looking five-year review of discipline, I do not consider to be the same as a thematic review. That is a separate piece of work that I undertook on behalf of the Deputy Minister, and to reflect the work that HMICFRS were doing in England. I have, since I mentioned that earlier to the Chair, since then, forwarded on the summary to the clerk of the committee, so that should now be with you. But I do not consider that that is an inspection in the same way as the other inspections that I've done into the service. I appreciate that might be semantics, but I just do not believe it would be appropriate or right to consider that to have the same status as the previous inspections that I've undertaken. So, just to make that point clear.

Turning to the second aspect of your question, I go back to the earlier comment. In respect of any disciplinary allegations, there were no elements of allegations made against Stuart Millington that met the threshold for discipline. Therefore, there was no case to answer, and therefore I had no concerns to raise in the disciplinary space to the commissioners.


Chair, can I just say? I don't know if the committee has asked about that—I'm new in post—but I'm not sure I followed entirely the difference between those two sorts of reports. So, if we write to the committee and set out which investigations and which reviews Mr Stephens has carried out, I think that would help me, actually, and maybe it will help you as well. 

I think certainly Mr Stephens has said he has published three thematic reviews, and it would be very helpful to the committee if we were able to see those, because I assume they don't mention individuals by name, or—.

Chair, I have absolutely no idea, is the truth. So, if we write to you, I think it would be helpful to me as well, and I can explain what the status of them are, and what the difference in the two that we were just hearing about is, and that would be most helpful to me and, I think, probably most helpful to yourselves at the same time. 

Okay, all right. And I'm still trying to process the information that Mr Stephens had no prior knowledge of any investigation outstanding against Mr Millington before, presumably, he advised the commissioners—

As I understand it, we're making a distinction between issues—grievance issues—and disciplinary proceedings, which is a much higher hurdle, and we're saying there were no disciplinary issues, which is this very high hurdle, and therefore that any other issues were discounted. That's what is being said, I believe. If that's wrong, I'll clarify, but I believe that's what's being said. So, if you think about a disciplinary as a high hurdle, and there have been ongoing grievance procedures, which are a lesser. 

But, once things go to an industrial tribunal, they're presumably more than a grievance. 

Well, an employment tribunal is brought if you think you've suffered an unfair employment practice, so that can be a range of things, can't it? It doesn't have to be a disciplinary matter. 

Ie, diolch yn fawr iawn. Roeddwn i am ganolbwyntio ar rôl yr awdurdodau tân ac achub, ond rydych chi wedi siarad, rydych chi wedi cyffwrdd, ar y maes yma yn barod, yn enwedig eich barn chi ar beth sydd yna rŵan, a meddwl am y dyfodol, ond heb gael y profiad i ddweud yn union beth ydych chi'n meddwl. Felly, roeddwn i jest eisiau gofyn cwestiwn ynglŷn ag a ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna, efallai, dystiolaeth i edrych ar ddiwygio mwy radical yn yr holl—. Mae'n ddrwg gen i. Ydych chi'n clywed popeth? Ie, reit. Dwi'n meddwl bod Dan yn gorfod rhoi ar miwt. 

Yes, thank you very much. I wanted to focus on the role of the fire and rescue authorities, but you've touched on this area already, particularly your view on what's there now, and thinking of the future, but without having the experience of exactly what you think. So, I just wanted to ask a question about whether you think that there is evidence in terms of looking at more radical reform—. Sorry. Do you hear everything that I'm saying? Great. I think Dan has to be put on mute.

Can you put your thing on mute, Dan, because it's echoing? Can you go on mute? Thank you. Yes. Sorry, Chair—that's what was happening. It was feedback to me. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Ie, roeddwn i jest eisiau gofyn a oedd yna sefyllfa lle roeddech hi'n meddwl efallai fod yna angen bod yn fwy radical, yn enwedig efo awdurdod yr ambiwlans yma yng Nghymru. Oes gennych chi farn ar hynny o gwbl?

Yes, I just wanted to ask whether there was a situation where you were thinking that there was a need to be more radical, particularly with the ambulance authority here in Wales. Do you have a view on that at all?

Yes, thank you, Jane. So, yes, I have a view that the current model doesn't particularly work, for the reasons I've set out. But I don't have a view on its replacement, and I would very much want to consult with all of the interested parties before we came to any view on a replacement. So, as I said, I have a series of meetings with the constituent local authorities, with the FBU, with the commissioners, with a whole range of other people, and then we will be able to come to a view, based on their views and my own experience of other combined joint authorities like the national parks, whom I've had ministerial responsibility for for quite some time, and so I've had many discussions with them about the governance. We're obviously making a new national park, or we're in the process of consulting on whether we'll make a new national park, and part of that has been how the governance works, and how are local people's views taken into account and so on. So, I'm a long way off knowing what we should looking at, but I'm pretty clear that what we've got has not really been fit for purpose.

I would just like to add, though, that I'm not sure whether the current model not being fit for purpose has a whole range of issues associated with it. So, I don't wish that to be heard as a criticism against the councillors who served on those committees, but sometimes structure matters. You might not be able to engage in a way that is optimal because of the structure that you find yourself in. So, I know that some of those new councillors hadn't served on the fire and rescue authority here in south Wales for more than a year, and were dismayed to find themselves replaced by commissioners. I don't want that to be seen as a criticism of them. It could be that it's a structural problem; I don't yet know. So, we have a way to go before we come up with a model that we can recommend instead, but I think it's fairly certain that what we currently have, for a combination of reasons, hasn't been optimal, shall we say.


Diolch yn fawr iawn, a jest un cwestiwn ychwanegol, os gwelwch chi'n dda. A yw Llywodraeth Cymru wedi ystyried yr angen i gynnal gwaith ymchwil ar fodelau llywodraethu posib yn y gwasanaethau tân ac achub? Ydych chi wedi bod yn meddwl—? Dwi'n gwybod bod o'n gynnar yn eich rôl, ond ydych chi wedi bod yn meddwl am pa fath o fodelau fydd efallai yn bosib? 

Thank you, and just one additional question, if I may. Has the Welsh Government considered the need to undertake research on governance models that are possible within the fire and rescue services? Have you been thinking about that? I know that it's early in your tenure, but have you thought about what kinds of models might be possible?   

So, I certainly have personally, Jane, but I haven't yet had the chance to go through all of that with everyone. There will be international models as well as UK models that we can look at, so I'd be very keen to do that. I can't emphasise enough that I want to do this alongside the staff and the constituent local authorities, though, so we need to make sure that we have the views of everyone properly expressed. And also, we want to make sure that we pick up all the good things out of the model, as well as understand what the difficulties have—. It won't be all bad by a long way, so there will be good things to come out of this as well. So, we want to make sure—. We are a way off being able to say what we think it should look like.

Ac efallai cwestiwn amhosibl. A oes gennych chi ryw fath o amserlen yn eich pen chi i efallai symud pethau ymlaen a dod i fyny efo model fydd yn gweithio, yn eich barn chi? 

And perhaps an impossible question now. Do you have any kind of timescale in your mind to move these things forward and come up with a model that will work, in your opinion? 

Well, soon, because we have commissioners in, and what we always need if we have commissioners in is a route out of commissioners. So, when I discuss with the commissioners what they think their exit strategy is, part of the exit strategy is, 'What do we replace them with?' So, this isn't a long-grass scenario; this is a right now. What we may end up with for a short while is a model in south Wales fire and rescue that isn't duplicated in the other two, but that remains to be seen. I've already had a preliminary discussion with my director about what is the route out for the commissioners, because commissioners are never the answer. When I meet with them, I'll want to know what they think their exit strategy is as well.

Thank you, Chair. If I could, it was just two quick questions about the fire authorities. I know that the suitability of the fire authorities to be able to scrutinise the service has been an issue way back, for 10 years, maybe more. I was just wondering how come the Welsh Government haven't really looked at that prior to what's happened now. And this might be a difficult question, as you say, because you're new into the role, or it might be one for your officers to answer. What sort of interactions have you had with the fire authorities since all this came to light in 2022-23? Because some of the feedback I'm getting is that letters, e-mails have been ignored, letters have been going unanswered, and requests for meetings have not been scheduled. I just wanted to know there because, from what I gather, they're feeling very much isolated in this, in the sense that they're not being kept up to date by the Welsh Government. I just wanted to get your views on that.

Okay. On that second one, I have no idea; I'll ask Liz to come in and tell you from her understanding what it is. On why we haven't looked at reorganisation sooner, I actually had—. When I was last local government Minister, actually, Hannah Blythyn was my deputy then as well, and we had several conversations with the fire and rescue authorities and the chairs about whether the model was fit for purpose. I think there are mixed views, aren't there? Very few people welcome reorganisation because it makes organisations look very inward for a while, and if you're trying to deal with outward difficulties, then becoming very introspective while you rearrange your deck chairs can be something nobody looks forward to. But I think it's just becoming increasingly obvious that the current model doesn't really work, and there's a range of reasons for that.

So, in my previous time as local government Minister, for example, I had an interaction at least once, possibly twice—I'm doing this from memory, Joel, so forgive me—with the remuneration board, for example, because—. This is a very personal view, but my own view is that, often, what happens in a local authority is that people vie for the jobs that carry remuneration—so, cabinet posts and so on—and then, eventually, you get to the posts that the backbenchers get, and the backbenchers who didn't get those other posts get those posts. Now, that's really unfair because some people have chosen that, because they'd be really interested in the national park or the fire authority, but, you know, that's not a far-off characterisation.

So, I had a conversation, at that time, with the remuneration board, about whether there should be remuneration for people who take on combined joint authority work, for example—national parks and fire services. Actually, I got rotated out of that job before I finished that conversation, so it's a conversation I'll pick back up again. But I do think there are some issues there, you see, about how that—. So, I don't want to make that sound as if the people on there are not dedicated and able and doing their job well; that's not what I'm saying. But what I'm saying is, if you've got a series of competing interests in a local authority that you need to fill out, you can, inadvertently, make some look less, I don't know, positive than others, by the remuneration that's attached to them, and I think that's a mistake, so I think there are some issues there. But it won't be the only issue; there are other issues as well, about the structure, the training, the size, the interaction with the service, the ability to hold a uniformed chief officer to account in a committee that's very formal. There are a lot of other issues there, aren't there, that we need to take cognisance of.

I mean, actually, this committee would have a lot to say about its ability to scrutinise the Welsh Government that might be germane to it. You know, scrutiny is quite a hard thing to do in some circumstances. So, how we hold a professional uniformed service to account with lay people is an interesting—. You could write a PhD thesis on it, I expect; maybe there is one, hopefully, sitting on a shelf somewhere. So, I think it's a bit more complicated than why didn't we just reorganise it before. There's a lot of work to do, but I do think we're going to have to come up with a governance model that looks a bit more twenty-first century than the one we have.


I have a specific I want to pick up, but, Jane, did you have any further—?

Okay. The specific I want to challenge you on, Minister, is that you say that FRA business is unavoidably focused and technical in nature, and that makes it difficult for lay people to do it. I challenge that, because if I put my name forward to be a member of the fire and rescue authority, I will make it my business to understand which ladder is best value or other matters that—. We have people who are lay people who serve on health boards. Some of the clinical issues that they have to deal with are quite complicated, and I would suggest even more complicated than the matters dealt with by fire and rescue authorities. So, I was wondering why you thought it wasn't possible for people to educate themselves, when they get new employment.

Well, of course it is, but it can also be immensely difficult to do. I mean, I would say the same thing about some members of the health boards as well, if I'm honest. If you're presented with a large agenda, this big, and it has a very large number of papers in it that are quite difficult to read and have a large number of technical terms, you've a limited amount of time, and the structure is very formalised, it can be very difficult to work your way through that and find the bits that are most germane to your task. So, that's why I want to look at what training is given. How would that lay member know whether the information being presented to them was complete or not? How would they know whether there wasn't an audit report in the drawer that nobody had seen fit to put on the table, or how do they—? As that lay member who's very interested and wants to know, how do you know what you don't know? I mean, that's quite hard if you haven't got a technical background, and I think that goes across all of the organisations you've spoken about, and, actually, I would say it goes to our committees here as well: how do you know what I know? It's a hard thing to do; it shouldn't be underestimated how difficult that is.

Okay. So, it goes back to the corporate cohesion of the body to ensure that people specialise.

Well, and to be honest, the body's dedication itself to having proper scrutiny. So, if you're a body that wants to be open to scrutiny, then you're going to be much more forthcoming about your information than if you're a body that's defensive and closed in about the scrutiny, and you're reluctantly giving over pieces of paper when asked. Now, I don't have a view about the fire and rescue service on that front, because I haven't got enough information in front of me, but those two attitudes can make a huge difference to the ability of a committee to hold them to account.


Okay. Let's move on to the inspection and audit regime, because these people are supposed to know about—

Chair, I know with the second question, I think the Minister mentioned that Liz was going to come in with a response—

Don't worry. Thank you. The Deputy Minister set up the social partnership, I want to say 15 months or so ago, which was a forum for chairs to come, with other interested parties, to talk about the fire and rescue service. Also, I do know that she met with chiefs and chairs, particularly north and mid and west, after the cultural review came out, so I think there has been an opportunity to engage. I'm certainly not aware of any unanswered requests for meetings. I will take that away and check, but I am not aware of any at this point.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Jest i fynd nôl yn gyflym iawn, mae e'n gwestiwn, mewn gwirionedd, i'r cynghorydd ac arolygydd tân—y cwestiwn yma eto o'ch rôl chi o fewn y drefn arolygu ac archwilio. Fe wnaeth Undeb y Brigadau Tân ddweud wrthym ni eu bod nhw'n teimlo eu bod nhw wedi eu synnu o glywed nad oedd materion diwylliannol yn rhan o'ch rôl chi a'i bod hi'n syndod eich bod chi wedi dweud hyn. Yn amlwg, rydych chi wedi rhoi tystiolaeth i ni y prynhawn yma sy'n awgrymu i ni—. Er eich bod chi wedi sôn bod yna wahaniaeth rhwng yr hyn gwnaethoch chi ei wneud o ran edrych ar faterion disgyblu ac adolygiad mwy thematig, sut ydych chi'n ymateb i hynny? Ydych chi'n teimlo y dylai diwylliant, o ran y gwasanaeth a hefyd o ran yr awdurdodau tân ac achub, fod yn rhan o'ch rôl arolygu chi a'ch rôl cynghori chi?

Thank you, Chair. Just to go back very briefly then, it's a question for the fire and rescue adviser and inspector. It's this question again with regards your role within that audit and inspection regime. The Fire Brigades Union said to us that they were surprised to hear that cultural issues were not a part of your role, and that it was therefore surprising that you had said this. You've clearly provided evidence to us this afternoon that suggests that—. You've mentioned the difference between what you do in terms of looking at disciplinary matters and a more thematic review, but how do you respond to that? Do you feel that culture, in terms of the service but also in terms of the fire and rescue authorities, should be part of your inspection and audit regime?

So, just to qualify what I said the last time out, which I think is the basis of what the FBU made the comment on, what I said is that, up to this point, the focus of my inspections and indeed those of my predecessors, as I've explained previously, has been in the operational space. It is not to say that there would not be utility in me undertaking reviews in the cultural space, but I think events had overtaken us, in so much as the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority had commissioned—or rather the service, sorry—had commissioned Fenella Morris to undertake her review, so there would have been very little point in me running something parallel at that point, because I would only have been duplicating what Fenella Morris was herself doing.

Yes, I did undertake the backward look of discipline. That's probably one aspect of—. I guess it's a manifestation of some of the outcomes of culture, possibly, the disciplinary issues within services, but it's not—. To do a full cultural audit, I would need to undertake staff surveys, focus groups and so forth. So, it may well be that, in the future, the Cabinet Secretary may take the view that that is an area that she would like me to focus on, and that's certainly something that I could do, but I think we would take into account the fact that south Wales, and now mid and west and north, have commissioned their own independent reviews. I think it would be sensible at this juncture to take a view on what the outcomes of those reviews are before then deciding where the next focus of inspection should be for me.

Diolch. Ac efallai cwestiwn i'r Gweinidog, ond hefyd i chi: pa rôl ŷch chi'n teimlo gwnaeth diffyg arolygiadau cyfnodol a rheolaidd ei chwarae yn y methiannau a nodwyd yng ngwasanaeth tân ac achub y de, a pha opsiynau sy'n cael eu hystyried ar hyn o bryd o ran cryfhau'r drefn arolygu?

Thank you. And perhaps a question for the Minister, but also for you: what role did a lack of periodic and routine inspections play in the failings identified in the fire and rescue service in the south, and what options are currently under consideration in terms of strengthening the inspections regime?

That's a very interesting question. I don't know the answer to that. I'm not sure any of us would, Sioned, know the answer to that. I've been furnished and I've been doing some reading with reports from the inspectorates in England and Scotland to see how they worked, but actually they missed quite a lot of things as well. Nazir Afzal did a report that exposed quite a lot of issues in one of those afterwards, so I'm not sure their model has particularly worked well. I know Nazir very well as a result of some of the work he's done with the Welsh Government, so I might find an opportunity to speak with him about what he thought. It would be very interesting to get people's views about whether there is an inspection model that could reliably pick up this kind of thing. I've been in public services of various sorts for years, and, oftentimes, you can have all kinds of regimes and an issue arises because a whistleblower comes forward.

So, I think the honest answer to your question is I have absolutely no idea. I don't know how anyone would know the answer to that. But what we need to do is find what is considered to be the best sweet spot, if you like—not overauditing and inspecting people to death so they can't get on with their job, but also not underinspecting and underauditing them so that, actually, something is happening in plain view and nobody can see it. I think that's the honest answer. We haven't come to a conclusion yet. It'll be something I hope the committee's report will help us come to a conclusion on. I think the committee's report will be very important to us in helping us along the path of where to go from here.


Diolch. O ran Archwilio Cymru, fe wnaethon nhw ddweud eu bod nhw'n ymwybodol bod Llywodraeth Cymru yn bwriadu disodli'r drefn wella a osodwyd ym Mesur Llywodraeth Leol (Cymru) 2009 ar gyfer awdurdodau tân ac achub. Allwch chi, Weinidog, roi manylion y cynlluniau hyn, a beth fyddai'r effaith ddymunol yn sgil y newidiadau hyn?

Thank you. In terms of Audit Wales, they said that they are aware the Welsh Government plans to replace the improvement regime set out in the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009 for fire and rescue authorities. Could you, Minister, provide some details of these plans and what the desired impact of these changes would be?

Again, I'm afraid I'm going to say I don't know the answer to that. I've had these conversations before. I was the Minister who took the new regime through the Senedd for local authorities. It would be too big for a fire and rescue authority; it's intended for a multipurpose authority. But I think there are aspects of it that we could definitely look at.

I don't think the current scheme is fit for purpose, but we will have to negotiate this through the social partnership arrangements that Liz has just set out for you, because I think one of the things I found from negotiating the bigger scheme with local authorities is that it was very important indeed to have a view from the local authorities themselves from a political point of view, from the leadership point of view. But, actually, I met with a very large range of professional groupings of local government officers in taking that Bill through—so, I met everyone from the building control inspectorate to the social care workforce about what did they think, for their service, would see the best peer review system improvement and so on. So, I will want very much to take to the social partnership meeting—which is soonish, isn't it; sorry, I don't have my own diary, but it's certainly in my diary—a set of proposals for how can we come to a conclusion about what might an improved governance regime look like. 

Then, the other thing is—I'm sorry to be practical about it—the Government's legislative programme for the next two years is absolutely crammed, so I would be looking for things that could be done without a heavy legislative burden. It might be that the next Senedd might want to look at that, but I think we'd be looking at things that could be done inside the current legislative structure. It might be possible to put some secondary stuff through about tweaking, but I don't think the committee should be under any illusion that a large Bill reforming anything of this sort is going to happen in the next two years, because there's no way.

O ran hynny, a ydy'r Llywodraeth yn meddwl o gwbl ynglŷn ag ehangu rôl ac adnoddau prif arolygydd tân ac achub Cymru? Neu beth am rôl gryfach i'r archwilydd cyffredinol? Oes unrhyw syniadau gyda chi o ran hynny fyddai ddim angen deddfwriaeth?

In terms of that, is the Government thinking at all about expanding the role and resources of the chief fire and rescue inspector for Wales? Would there be a stronger role for the auditor general? Do you have any ideas about that that you wouldn't need legislation for?

Again, no, but I'm very happy to have all of those things on the table, and that's very much work we'll be doing. I obviously will be taking Dan's own view of his own role and the resources available to him, and Liz and the civil service's view of that, but I'll also want to speak to the FBU about it, the committee chairs themselves, and the constituent authorities, about their views of all of that, and the fire service itself as a whole, rather than the union and management kind of split out. Because I need to understand the viewpoint of a large number of people to be able to come to that conclusion. I will be asking for advice—I've already asked, actually—on what can be achieved without a legislative route and what can't. Because I'm afraid we've got to be practical about it as well.


Thank you, Chair. I just want to chat a bit more about Welsh Government actions. I know that, a couple of years ago now—I think it might have been in 2015, 2016—there was a national framework that was published, and I know your predecessor, Hannah, mentioned that an updated version would be done in 2022-23. That hasn't happened yet, and I just wanted to know where we are with that and what the latest is. 

Again, Joel, I'm reporting to you what I'm being briefed, rather than personal knowledge, but I understand that the developing of the new framework was paused during COVID and hasn't been started up again because of resourcing issues. I don't want it started up again right now, if I'm honest; I want to form my own view of where we are before I start giving people instructions on pieces of work to do. I think there's a piece of work for me and my officials around me to do in doing all of the work that I've just outlined to the committee. And, actually, a piece of that will be the committee's report on this. So, I'd be very interested to know what conclusion the committee itself comes to. You've been taking a lot of evidence on this, so it will be good to know what your conclusions are before I decide whether we need to put resource into developing a new framework or whether we want to take a different path.

I haven't yet reviewed the work that was done up to 2020 on the 2016 framework. I actually do remember that from the last time I was in this seat, but I don't remember it well enough to be able to say. And then Liz and myself and a number of others will be discussing the best use of resources in developing that framework, or indeed we might take the view that we take a different path at that point. But I don't yet know the answer to that, I'm afraid. I did say right at the beginning, Chair, and I do apologise again, that you were a little bit previous in talking with me. I could do with another couple of weeks, really, to get to grips with some of this. 

We'll reflect on the kind offer you have made, and we can speak outside this meeting. 

Perfect, Chair. Thank you. I suppose I've only got a couple more questions, and one of them is this: you may recall, a couple of years back—actually, it was last year—the Welsh Government wrote to the chief fire officers, highlighting His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and they made several recommendations for the fire service to adopt, and the Welsh Government said, 'We really want you to adopt all recommendations'—I think it was about 35. But I know that, in those recommendations, there were things for the Welsh Govenrment to adopt, and I just wanted to get some idea there—I appreciate you might not be able to answer that—of what the Welsh Government have been doing to meet those recommendations. 

I've absolutely no idea is the truth of it, I'm sorry. Liz, do you know?

Can I take an action to come back to the committee on that?

And then the last one. It was interesting that you mentioned diversity then, in a previous response, and I know that the Fire Brigades Union have highlighted a concern in terms of the recording of diversity compared to what happens in Westminster. I just wanted to get your views on that, really, because I'm conscious you mentioned there a lack of female officers at the top, but obviously that's not across the whole board. If we look at north Wales, for the top officers there, there's a 50:50 split, and I know that probably the only senior officer that's left in south Wales at the moment is female. I just wanted to get your views there in terms of that recording of diversity data.

We obviously do need to have better systems to record that, but it's not just about recording it, is it? It's about attracting it. Why don't more women join the fire and rescue service? Is there something we could do to make that happen? Why is it so white a service? Is there something we could do to make it more attractive to a more diverse range of candidates? And then, having made it more attractive to a more diverse range of candidates, the more it reflects the population they serve, what does the promotion platform look like? Are there as many at the bottom as there are at the top? And all the rest of it. There is quite a lot of work to be done there. I don't know the answer to that yet. We will have some stats on it, but I don't know the real answer to that. We need to find out.

But it's not just about recording it, it is about doing the things that make it more attractive to a diverse range of candidates. This is a generalisation, I just want to make that really plain, but in virtually every walk of life, women who have children drop out of their professional careers. So, is that happening in the fire service? I don't know. I'd be very surprised if it isn't; it happens nearly everywhere else. And if it is the case, then what can we do to reverse that trend? Are there sufficiently flexible working practices? What can be done about it? I mean, that's a universal for nearly every profession you can think of, to be honest. So, I'd be very interested. But given we're sitting having this conversation because of a finding of misogyny, I'm particularly interested to know what's being done to attract more women and keep more women in the service, because that's the nature of the thing we're currently looking at.


With that, then—I hope you don't mind, Chair—I asked your predecessor this, Hannah: one of the things that strikes me with the fire services is almost a reluctance to go out to recruit, and a lot of the chief officers, senior positions, they've gone through the ranks. I just wanted your opinion on that. Is it something where the fire services might be too closed to outside influences?

My own particular view, and I've expressed this already to everybody who's advised me, is they absolutely need to have outside people in their decision-making capacity. From an operational decision-making capacity, I want people who have been trained to fight fires deciding how to fight a fire, but in all of the other areas, then we need people with a more diverse outlook, and that goes for every single decision-making body I've ever had anything to do with, not just the fire service. So, I will certainly be looking at that.

If you come up through a professional rank—I'm a lawyer, I can say this about law firms—if you come up through a particular professional thing, you all end up thinking exactly the same way. You need somebody else to come in and go, 'Really?' in order to make you think, 'Oh, actually, we've all got tram-lined into this particular way of thinking.' That's just human nature, it seems to me. So, actually, you need some disruptive element in there to make sure that people do come and look up above and think, 'Really?'

I just want to be really clear: if my house is on fire, I want somebody who's been trained to fight a fire deciding how to fight that fire. But in terms of the recruitment and retention of female firefighters, there might be people with more expertise than just how to fight a fire needing to have a look at it. And the same for cultural issues and other issues.

Okay. I just want to focus—. I appreciate what you're saying about how you don't want to rush into decision making, and I completely understand that. I just want to explore what you said in your written paper—which I found very useful—first, as to why you didn't go ahead with the White Paper proposals back in 2018—well, the end of 2018, the White Paper. First, the strength of fire and rescue authorities and FBU opposition meant it would have been very politically expensive to go through with that, but secondly, I'm very interested that there was significant potential for the service to take on a broader role, in particular support the NHS, and that doing so would improve health outcomes and realise significant savings. I just wanted to explore with you: that sounds very exciting, and also helps to—.

I think some of the problems that have arisen here are perhaps because people don't quite have enough to do in their working day, and also, they're victims of their own success, are they not, the fire service, in that they've reduced the number of fires that we have to attend, and that's obviously to be celebrated. So, I wondered if you could say a little bit more about how you might envisage the fire service taking a greater role in our emergency services—discounting the police, given that they're not devolved at the moment. Obviously, we heard good evidence from the ambulance service.

What are the challenges around this? For example, we know from the Fenella Morris report that there was resistance to changing of shifts because it got in the way of people being able to sleep for seven hours on the night shift so that they could take up their second jobs. That was something that I fell off my chair about; it didn't feel to me the right objective. So, could you just say a little bit more about what are the—. Given that no change is not an option now, what are the difficult things that you're going to have to discuss in the social partnership forum and elsewhere?

My understanding is—and this was certainly the case when I was last the Minister as well—we've had a whole series of discussions with the Welsh ambulance service about how the fire service can better support them, or, actually, they can better support each other, so it's mutual. We already have good collaboration. Around 20 fire stations in mid and west Wales respond to medical emergencies alongside ambulance services, and lots of fire stations around Wales accommodate ambulances and paramedics, for example. It's just not uniform, and it's been an ongoing conversation for ages about how we can make it uniform. So, all fire and rescue services respond to road traffic accidents, for example, and are an integral part of the blue-light responder service, but it's not integrated, so how can we integrate them? They all have paramedics, they all have trained public service personnel, so how can we integrate them better?

We have some structural issues in Wales. You've alluded to one of them already—the police are not devolved to Wales, so we can't have a combined service. If we did have the police devolved, then there would be a better answer, it seems to me, but we can't have two devolved services being controlled by a non-devolved service, or any other combination of that, so that doesn't work. That's very frustrating, and it's one of the reasons I think we should have the police devolved to us. So, it's an ongoing conversation.

It may be that one size doesn't fit every part of Wales, you know. It may be that, in Cardiff and the south-east, we need one solution, and in mid and west Wales we need another solution, and that's kind of organically happening as mid and west Wales have adopted this model more readily. So, I need to get to the bottom of some of that as well, and it will be that staff are concerned about pay, terms and conditions and retained firefighter service terms and all the rest of it, so there'll be complications there, and I need to have much more in-depth discussions with the FBU around where we are now, because, again, apologies, Chair, but I'm doing this largely from memory from before. I have had briefings off Liz—I just want to repeat, it's my fault not yours, I've just been presented, as all new Ministers are, with a file this big and I'm working my way through it.

So, there are things we can do, but there are obvious synergies, or the public will think there is an obvious synergy between a fire and rescue service and an ambulance service in many respects. You're not going to want to be escorted to hospital, having had a heart attack, in a fire engine, but a paramedic in a fire engine can just as well give you assistance as a paramedic on any other form of transport, so there are lots of synergies for that. So, we will be working on that, and, as I say, it's happening already in an organic way, but we probably need a better structured conversation. Well, there is a structured conversation going on about it, but it hasn't perhaps gone as fast as we would like. So, I need to get to the bottom of that personally. Liz will be assisting me to do that and so will other members of the service. In the meantime, we've had what is clearly a crisis in one of the services, and sometimes a crisis can act as a springboard for further action, so let's hope we can get to that better outcome as a result of the crisis.


We have a singular Wales ambulance service. What are the reasons against having a single fire and rescue service?

It's one of the things we can have a look at, isn't it, but I will say—forgive me, my local authority colleagues, for saying this—I think if I could snap my fingers and have a different configuration of local authorities in Wales, I probably would, and many people would too. But the process of it is ruinous. It makes services inward looking and expensive while they go through reorganisation. It takes their eye off the actual delivery of the services, it makes staff insecure and miserable. The actual process itself is awful, so you do have to weigh up the outcome with the process. I think, probably, if we could go 'click', that might be the outcome, but the actual process might just not be worth it. So, we need to make sure that we have a process that's fit for purpose. All services being reorganised still have to run efficiently while people worry about whether they've got a job, where they sit, how they're going to get to work and so on. They're all human beings too, so I do want to understand what we're looking at. Please just be really clear, I'm not proposing any particular reorganisation model, but you always have to look at what the process might look like, as well as the outcome, and, quite often, the process isn't worth the outcome.

Would it be appropriate to summarise that you're saying that nothing's on the table, but nothing's off the table either?

Thank you. Unless there are any further questions from Members, I'd like to thank the Minister, the adviser and inspector, and Liz Lalley, the senior civil servant, for your attendance. Obviously, there are a few things that you've offered us by way of publications, and that's extremely helpful. We'll reflect on whether our timetable enables us to take up your kind offer to come back when you've had time to talk to stakeholders and you may have a clearer view on what the outcome should be.


That would be very kind, Chair. If the clerk could just remind us of what we've promised you, that's always very helpful. And, it may well be, Chair, that there isn't time for me to come back to the committee before you report, but, obviously, I will be responding to your report, so I'm very happy to have a sort of dialogue with the committee in that way, as well. I am very much looking forward to the report; it will be very helpful.

Allaf i jest gofyn yn gyflym iawn—? Yn amlwg, rŷch chi'n newydd yn y rôl ac rŷch chi wedi amlinellu nad ydych chi ar frys a'ch bod chi eisiau gwneud hyn yn iawn. Rŷch chi hefyd wedi dweud yn glir iawn yn y papur fod angen peidio oedi rhagor. Mae gormod o oedi a ddim wynebu'r heriau iawn o ran y prosesau wedi arwain at argyfwng, fel gwnaethoch chi sôn. A'r rheswm dros yr ymchwiliad yma yw ein bod ni eisiau osgoi'r dioddefaint yna sydd wedi digwydd i'r gweithlu yn y dyfodol a sicrhau bod y gwasanaeth hollbwysig yma'n cael ei graffu'n iawn. Ond, oes gyda chi unrhyw fath o syniad o amserlen—nid dyddiad, ond fe wnaethoch chi sôn eich bod chi angen cael exit strategy i'r comisiynwyr? Yn fras, ydyn ni'n sôn am ddiwedd y flwyddyn, ydyn ni'n sôn am flwyddyn i nawr? Beth yn fras yw eich meddwl chi am hyn?

Can I just ask very quickly—? Clearly, you're very new to the role and you've outlined that you're not in a rush and that you want to do this properly. You've also said very clearly in your paper that we can't delay any more. Too much delay and not facing the right challenges in terms of the processes has led to an emergency, as you mentioned. And the reason for this inquiry is to try to avoid more suffering from happening to the workforce in the future and to ensure that this very important service is properly scrutinised. But, do you have any kind of idea of a timeline—not a date, but you mentioned that you need an exit strategy for the commissioners? Broadly, are we talking about the end of the year, are we talking about a year to now? What is your broad idea?

I'm sorry, you're trying to tempt me into saying a time and I'm not going to, Sioned, though it's a brave attempt, I must say. I don't know and, until I speak to the commissioners, I have no real view. Once I have spoken to the commissioners, I might have a better view. But we only have two years left of the Senedd term, so there's a very dead stop there, and I will certainly want to have got there a long time before that. But whether it's the end of the calendar year or the end of the financial year, or whatever, I really can't say yet.

Fe wnes i ofyn hefyd am yr amserlen. Ydy o'n ormod i ofyn, pan fyddwch chi wedi cael eich cyfarfod efo'r comisiynwyr, ichi ysgrifennu'n ôl at y pwyllgor i ddweud pa fath o amserlen sydd gennych chi yn eich pen?

I also asked about the timeline. Is it too much to ask, when you've had your meeting with the commissioners, if you could write to the committee to say what kind of timeline you have in mind?

Well, I'm very happy to write to the committee and tell them how my meeting with the commissioners went, but I'm afraid I don't know whether the commissioners themselves have a timeline to report back to you yet, because I don't know what they're going to say to me, Jane. So, I'm very happy to—. There'll be a formal minute of the meeting with the commissioners and we can share that with the committee—I'm very happy to do that. But I'm afraid I don't know how that meeting is going to go, so I don't know what the answer to that question is. If the commissioners have a specific timeline in mind, then, obviously, it will be in the minutes and I'm happy to share it with you.

Thank you very much. We'll obviously send you a transcript for you to correct.

3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Papers to note

Can I ask Members to—? There are three papers to note. Is there anybody who wishes to raise any issues before we note them formally so that they can go on the public record? I see no questions or dissent. Therefore, those papers are noted.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i wahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Could I now ask you, under Standing Order 17.42, to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:53.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:53.