Public compliments about the county’s fire service have outnumbered complaints three to two over the last four years, but the real number could be even higher, a report says.
Writing for Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority members, chiefs say 138 pieces of positive feedback were officially logged between 2017 and 2021, but add that thank-yous addressed to individual stations, watches or departments may not be included.
Ninety-two complaints were received in the same period, of which 27 were partially and 24 full substantiated.
Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton and Assistant CFO Simon Hardiman add that five complaints received in 2020-21 concerned “virus control restriction” breaches. One of these was substantiated fully and another partially.
The fire authority’s Standards, Audit and Performance Committee will receive the report when it meets on Thursday, July 29.
A diagram in Officer Hammerton’s and Officer Hardiman’s report says the compliments-to-complaints ratio was 24-23 in 2017-18 and 30-22, 43-22 and 41-24 in subsequent years.
“The number of compliments received may be greater than shown, as this only captures those formally addressed to the CFO or passed on to executive support,” they write, adding that remarks received this way are published, in redacted form, in Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s internal newsletter and online.
“Work has been ongoing to raise awareness amongst staff to pass compliments to executive support and this may be a factor in the increased number of compliments recorded in the last two years.”
Officer Hammerton and Officer Hardiman note there are no standard categories for fire services to use when receiving complaints, but say Shropshire uses “conduct prejudicial to the reputation of the service”, “damage to property”, “environmental”, “failure to deal correctly with an incident, inspection or procedure”, “poor driving behaviour” and “other”.
Fifteen of the 2020-21 complaints fell into the first category, and five of these “were related to virus control restrictions”, they write, adding that “one was substantiated and another partially substantiated”.
“In 2020-21 the service received a significant number of complaints as a result of its ‘Taster Day’ positive action initiative targeted at black, Asian, minority ethnicities and women, held as a precursor to its whole time recruitment campaign,” the report says.
“A number of individuals contacted the service because they consider this discriminatory.
“Senior management decided these complaints would be treated separately, outside of the standard complaints process.
“Each complainant’s concerns were acknowledged and each received an explanation concerning the service’s rationale, emphasising that this initiative was not part of the recruitment process and was lawful under the 2010 Equality Act, sections 158 and 159.”
A statement by Officer Hammerton in July 2020 said the taster days were “an opportunity for under-represented groups in the fire service to find out more about working as a firefighter”.
“When we have vacancies we employ the best that apply and only those that meet the standards,” he added.
He said the sessions were a form of positive action, not positive discrimination. The latter, which would mean actively favouring applications from nominated groups and communities, is illegal.
“We would not act unlawfully,” he stressed.