Efforts to boost the diversity of London’s fire brigade have led to an overall decrease in the number of applicants, with the unexpected fall likely to see the brigade end the financial year 93 firefighters below strength.
In 2015 the London Fire and Emergency Fire Authority – which oversees the brigade – introduced new recruitment criteria including new minimum numeracy and literacy standards and a requirement that applicants be able to demonstrate they’ve lived in London for at least three years.
The residency rule was intended to boost the number of women, BME, disabled and LGBT applicants to help bring the brigade’s diversity closer to that of London’s population.
However a report to be discussed by authority members on Friday warns that while the rule has boosted the number of applicants from these groups, it has coincided with a sharp reduction in overall applications.
According to the report, “the average number of applications in 2008-11 was 6833; the average number in 2015-16 has been only 17% of this figure, 1166,” and adds that although some decrease was expected “the numbers of applications in 2015/16 were nevertheless below what was anticipated.”
A maximum of 118 recruits are expected to successfully complete training this financial year, a level which is projected to leave the brigade “93 firefighters below establishment level” once staff turnover is taken into account.
Authority members are being asked to reduce the residency period from three years to two to help attract more applicants.
They’re also recommended to approve replacing the current education requirements “with online aptitude tests of a similar standard which would be administered and scored electronically” after officials warned that older applicants and those arriving in the UK from abroad often struggle to demonstrate the required level of educational attainment.
The report also warns that the new recruitment processes have failed to deliver the hope-for levels of greater diversity.
Recruitment drives in the 2015-16 financial year saw the level of BME applicants reach as high as 28.3%, however the report notes that this high level of representation “is not maintained throughout the process with BME males in particular under performing at the assessment centre stage.”
Further work is now underway to understand and address the attrition of BME applicants during the various stages.
The report has also branded the 2015 campaign a “disappointment” after it failed to boost the number of women firefighters.
According to official statistics, the campaign delivered 9.3% of applications from women and 9.8% women recruits which compare poorly wth an average 17% recruits in the three 2008-11 campaigns.
LFB is now using Facebook to target adverts at “women aged 18-40 in London who were interested in fitness and sports which require a good level of upper body strength” and the report says this initiative “appears to have yielded results, as the February 2016 campaign showed the highest percentage of women applicants over this period, at 13.3%, with potentially the percentage of women recruits being back to around 15.8%.”
The percentage of LGBT applicants remained “relatively constant” at around 10% during the 2015-16 campaigns.
The report notes that the 2015 campaign attracted 14.7% of applications from this group, versus around 10.5% for the February 2016 campaign, although numbers grew to 14.3% for the July 2016 campaign.
The percentage of applicants who declared a disability was around 5% in the 2015-16 campaigns. In the 2015 campaign disabled recruits accounted for 8.8% of the total and “potentially 10.5% for the February 2016 campaign” but numbers fell to 3.6% for the July 2016 campaign.