Mixed views after fire service missed out of LGBT top 100 best employers list

Failure to be named among the UK’s best LGBT employers has split Tyne and Wear’s fire chiefs.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 3:51 pm
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) has been named among Stonewall’s top 100 organisations to work for six times in the last 10 years.

But the latest edition of the annual ranking, which was released in January 2019, saw the brigade tumble down the table to 151st.

“I’m very disappointed in the placing,” said Sunderland councillor Tony Taylor, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, “I would have expected [previous] feedback to have been acted upon over the years.

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“Clearly our placings are still declining and it gives the impression we’re not acting on any feedback.”

Coun Taylor was speaking at a meeting of the fire authority’s Human Resources Committee, which heard 503 submissions had been completed for inclusion in Stonewall’s rankings, meaning the brigade still made it into the top third of employers.

John Rawling, the brigade’s strategic HR manager, added it was up to fire chiefs to decide whether to develop their own policies or try and match the LGBT rights charity’s criteria, which some on the authority placed less emphasis on.

“I’m not too hung up on this,” said Gateshead councillor Gary Haley, chairman of the committee, “it’s just one rating from one organisation.

“Others throw resources at this, where we do this is on limited resources and things will move around.

“Seeing what the actual points awarded were will be revealing, but until then I’m more interested in things like the [police and fire inspectorate assessments], which do not give you a ranking which will change as other organisations come in.”

TWFRS first entered itself for inclusion in the Stonewall rankings in 2011, when it was placed 101st.

BY 2014 it had climbed to eighth, before falling to 37th a year later. A two-year hiatus followed, but the brigade returned to 59th place in 2018 and 84th last year (2019).

The 2020 leaderboard was topped by Newcastle City Council, closely followed by Sunderland-based housing association Gentoo in second.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer John Baines said in a later statement: "We remain focused and committed to encouraging an inclusive culture that is right for our communities and staff.

"The specific criteria for marking with Stonewall changes over time, requiring specific elements of policy.

"Our approach to develop fully inclusive policy to support all protected characteristics does not always fit with such specific marking schemes.

"Our recent inspection judged the service as ‘Good’ for people, stating that we promote a positive culture and positive approach to equality and diversity”.

Stonewall backround

By Sarah Storer

Stonewall was founded in 1989 in response to laws banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

The charity, which takes its name from 1960s riots in New York City, campaigns for wider acceptance of LGBT people in society.

This has included backing civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, as well as demands to overturn restrictions on military service.

Every year Stonewall ranks the UK’s top 100 LGBT-inclusive companies on the basis of working conditions, equality policies, leadership and role models.

2020 North East successes included Sunderland-based housing association Gentoo, which scooped second place, and Newcastle City Council, which pipped it to first.