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Norfolk chief fire officer faces questions over watchdog's bullying concerns

PUBLISHED: 11:57 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:09 17 July 2019

Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Picture: Norfolk County Council.

Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Picture: Norfolk County Council.

Norfolk County Council

Norfolk's chief fire officer has faced questions about a watchdog's concerns over bullying within the fire service.

Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for communities. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYMargaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for communities. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Stuart Ruff told councillors he had given a clear commitment that bullying and harassment would not be tolerated.

But he said, despite watchdog Her Majesty's Inspectorate highlighting bullying when they rated the service as requiring improvement, the service had not been given specific examples of what that alleged bullying had entailed.

The inspectors said they had found, via a staff survey which garnered 195 responses, that 17pc of staff reported feeling bullied or harassed and 15pc felt they had been discriminated against at work over the past 12 months.

Staff also said they would not feel confident to raise these as a formal grievance.

At a meeting of Norfolk County Council's Infrastructure and development select committee, Liberal Democrat Brian Watkins said he hoped a full and proper investigation into the bullying allegations had been carried out.

But Margaret Dewsbury, cabinet member for communities and partnerships, said: "The bullying thing was part of a theme across the country. It wasn't something just found in Norfolk. It was something they were looking for.

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"They didn't give us any examples, so we have no idea what it really was that they were trying to get at."

Mr Ruff stressed the service was committed to supporting people who felt bullied, but said: "In terms of the evidence, that derived from a staff survey.

"It was a closed piece of evidence which we were not able to delve into."

He said the service was looking widely at the issue as part of its improvement plan.

He said he had written to all staff to make clear the values of the service and about expected behaviour.

He added: "We are absolutely clear that anyone needs to raise concerns, we have a range of options for that."

Inspectors had also raised concerns over a backlog of home fire risk checks, but the committee heard that had already been reduced by 53pc.

The watchdog had rated the service good for responding to fires.

The meeting also heard about collaboration between the fire and police services.

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