It was no surprise, but it was with sadness that I heard Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) refer to Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service as one of the very worst they had inspected. I retain tremendous respect for our firefighters and can empathise with the distress those words must cause but in the lyrics of Elton John’s song, as far as the management and those charged with overseeing the service ‘Sorry still seems to be the hardest word’.

Where is the apology to the 41% of the workforce that are reported to have suffered harassment or bullying or the 32% who say they have been discriminated against? Where is the apology by those who oversee the service for the failures reported? Where is the apology to the public?

I ask the question because by 2017 my office had already identified many of the issues raised by HMICFRS. We had been approached by firefighters and asked to intervene. Most distressing of all was a letter from a firefighter graphically setting the impact that behaviour was having on his mental health.

It was against this background that I opened up lines of communication with the Home Office and decided to accept its support and finance to explore if a change of governance from the County Council to a Fire Commissioner would be in the public interest.

The response of the Gloucestershire County Council to the report prepared for the Home Secretary is a matter of record; the attacks upon me and my office were relentless and personal – and they continue. It was in complete denial. Assurances were given in June 2017 and May 2018 by County Councillors that our fire service was one, if not the best in the county. The County Council stated univocally that it gave scrutiny at every level. That wasn’t just the position of the controlling political party, it was across all political groups. Both they and the inspectorate can’t be right?

I don’t buy the suggestion that the problems described are all down to just one man.

I can empathise with the firefighters and staff and even the County Council because the organisation I oversee has itself on occasions received unfavourable inspections. I wish them all well for 2020 and in the fullness of time am sure Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service will again be able to boast with confidence that it is one of the best – if not the best – in the country.

Martin Surl

Police & Crime Commissioner.