Woeful lack of diversity in fire services, says minister Brandon Lewis

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A Government minister has criticised fire services over a "woeful" lack of diversity.

Brandon Lewis cited figures showing firefighters in England are 96% white and 95% male.

He said: "Any workforce should represent the community that it serves, but in fire this simply at the moment is not the case.

"I've been to fire stations where, I have to say, I noticed more diversity in the fire hoses used than I have in the workforce."

The minister for policing and the fire service said the proportion of black and minority ethnic and female firefighters must increase.

He dismissed any attempt to blame the lack of diversity on a reduction in recruitment, saying: "That isn't good enough."

Mr Lewis called for a "culture shift" and said there is a "golden opportunity" for services to make sure their workforces reflect the communities they serve as almost a third of personnel are due to retire in the next few years.

In a speech in central London, the Home Office minister set out his vision for a "year of change" for the fire and rescue sector.

He announced the creation of a new inspectorate to probe service's performances and outlined plans to introduce a professional standards body.

Mr Lewis also highlighted large differences in the amounts of money spent on the same pieces of equipment in different parts of the country.

Figures last year showed that some services were paying as much as five times more than others for similar items. 

One spends £85 per fire helmet, compared with another which pays £252. Prices paid for breathing kit range from £328 to more than £1,500. 

Mr Lewis called for services to work together and get a better deal from suppliers to save themselves and the taxpayer money.

He also said the practice of senior fire officers retiring from their posts then being re-employed in the same or similar roles "needs to stop".