Recruiting black and women-only firefighters ‘wrong’ – minister

Fire Minister Sadiq Khan has ruled out a ban on white men at brigade recruitment days despite new local diversity targets being drawn up.

On a visit to Bristol he insisted that while it was vital to boost the number of female and ethnic minorities firefighters he fears the tactic employed last year by the Avon service could fuel resentment.

Officials barred white men from four of the five recruitment days held locally sparking outrage.

But Mr Khan told the Bristol Post: “The best people for the jobs should get the jobs. I don’t want a situation where people are resentful.

“I don’t want to see anybody excluded from recruitment days.”

Mr Khan was in the city on Tuesday for the Local Government Association’s annual fire conference, which is attended by fire chiefs, councillors and officials. He announced the new diversity targets fire and rescue services have signed up to.

There are two tiers of targets and brigades that have opted for the toughest, which includes Avon, will share extra funding from a national £2 million pot.

Latest government figures showed the brigade had only 28 women and 13 non-white firefighters.

By 2013 it has agreed to recruit 13.7 per cent of its new firefighters from ethnic minorities – two per cent above the population rate locally – and 18 per cent should be women.

Mr Khan insists that encouraging recruits from a wider background is vital in the service’s fire prevention role and can be achieved through encouragement rather than positive discrimination, which is illegal. That means targeting advertising and working in schools.

“Dragging people out of house fires is not the only job for firefighters. Fire prevention is a major part of the job,” he added.

“The recruitment process remains the same, recruits will still have to go though the same tests. There will be no dumbing down.”

Mr Khan also admitted that a change in the European working time directive would mean many of the 224 retained firefighters locally would be forced to quit, as revealed in the Bristol Post earlier this year.

He said: “I’m concerned about the impact of the working time directive. We are in regulations with our European colleagues to make them aware of the seriousness of this.

“I’m confident there will be a positive outcome. We rely upon retained firefighters and are pushing for an opt out.”

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