Mark Jones’ appointment as the county’s new fire chief has ignited concern among firefighters
By Sarah Ward
Northamptonshire firefighters and union officials have spoken out against the appointment of Mark Jones, who was appointed into post last week.
His former interactions with officers and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) while chief fire officer in Buckinghamshire, plus his re-emergence from retirement to take on the Northamptonshire role are now causing waves among the county’s fire service staff.
Jones was appointed last week, after being put forward as the preferred candidate by Conservative Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold. His selection was then formally approved by the democratically elected police and crime panel who held a vote in private.
Jones will take over from current chief officer Darren Dovey in October.
Northants firefighters fear there could be changes afoot and are concerned about how Jones may move forward with managing the service.
We spoke to a long-serving Northants firefighter yesterday who explained how many are feeling.
“The mood is very pessimistic, largely because of Jones’ track record in Buckinghamshire. We heard rumblings that he was going to be appointed and we have a lot of firefighters in Northamptonshire who come from Buckinghamshire.
“For many it is just the not knowing. He [Jones] retired seven years ago. His appointment has stopped another person developing. The concern is that he will have some sort of agenda and we don’t know what that is.”
During his time in Buckinghamshire Jones became unpopular in 2014 in the handling of industrial action after the FBU was in dispute with the government over pensions. However strike action was deemed ‘illegal’ due to an administrative error by the union and one Buckinghamshire firefighter was sacked after taking part in unofficial action. His dismissal caused hundreds to march in Aylesbury. The firefighter then went on to work for the fire service in another area.
FBU regional secretary for East Midlands region Adam Taylor, said:
“We are astounded by the decision taken by Northamptonshire’s Police Fire and Crime Commissioner to employ a new chief fire officer with a track record as Mark Jones has, leaving our members far and wide angered with this decision. Furthermore we are incredibly frustrated with this appointment, by appointing an already retired chief fire officer, this stifles the development and career progression of our members in Northamptonshire fire and rescue service and more broadly in the UK fire and rescue service.
“I am certain there will be an agenda, and our members will be united and alive to it.
“The scrutiny panel that confirmed the appointment did not see a unanimous decision taken on the hiring of Mark Jones, a clear indication that some councillors have already got the reckoning of Mark Jones.”
Besides the new fire chief’s appointment, pay and the white paper about the future of the fire service are causing concern among firefighters.
Nationally firefighters have been offered a two per cent pay rise. The FBU including firefighters from the county will be attending Westminster next week to lobby MPs about a higher pay offer and voice their concerns about the white paper.
Northamptonshire is one of only four fire services in the county that have an elected fire commissioner. Mold is a politician and has oversight of both the police and fire service in Northants. On Jones’ appointment he called him a ‘strong leader’ with a ‘clear approach’.
We asked Commissioner Mold some questions yesterday about the appointment and he said:
“My role is to recruit a new Chief Fire Officer. The two-day interview process included a stakeholder panel, with participants including the chief executives of the two local authorities and the deputy chief constable. The three shortlisted candidates – two men and one woman - were then subjected to a formal interview. Three of the interviewers were women and one was a man. One was also an independent HR professional from outside the sector. None of us had ever met or worked with Mark Jones before.
“The role of the Police, Fire and Crime Panel is reviewing the proposed appointment and then make recommendations as to whether the preferred candidate should be appointed. They recommended appointing my preferred candidate, Mark Jones.”
Asked why a serving Northamptonshire firefighter had not become the preferred candidate he said:
“Any senior appointment in the public sector is not through nomination, but through an open, transparent and conventional recruitment process.
“I made it clear from the outset that I was determined to recruit someone who would help Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service to continue its journey of improvement and to become a great and inclusive place to work. I wanted to have as wide a pool of talent to draw from as possible and used an agency to reach out far and wide, internally and externally, and help us find the right person. Anyone who met the required skills and experience was able to apply.
“Ten people applied – more than many other fire services have recently received for similar roles -and we shortlisted three. My preferred candidate was then put forward to the panel.”
Asked whether Jones’ was the right person to shape a harmonious service, Mold said:
“The greatest asset that Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service has is its people – firefighters and staff who have worked so hard to transform the service since they transferred to my governance.
“I hope we will see the positive results of all their efforts reflected in the HMICFRS report soon and my belief is that the service has significantly improved the way it keeps the people of Northamptonshire safe.
“ The current Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey is retiring soon so it was important to recruit a new CFO who will be able to continue this positive improvement in the service while also steering cultural change.
“We need to ensure NFRS is an organisation that not only keeps the county safe, but where everyone who works there can be comfortable and successful and be respected for who they are.
“Following an open recruitment process, Mark Jones was selected as the candidate who will take forward further improvements in both service and culture.”
Asked whether giving the £100,000 plus role to a person already in receipt of a fire service pension, the commissioner said:
“Across the public sector and beyond, people who retire at a relatively young age can and often do, apply for and receive new roles for the same organisation or sector. If Mark is currently the recipient of any other pensions, complying with the terms of them will be a matter for him.
Jones became a joined the fire service in Scotland in the mid 1980s and worked his way up, becoming chief fire officer in Essex and Buckingham. After leaving Buckinghamshire in 2015, Jones moved to Australia and served as the ACT Emergency Services Agency’s “Director of Strategic Reform” for two years. He then worked as London Ambulance Service’s Head of Resilience and Specialist Assets in 2019 before returning to Australia, taking on the role of Chief Officer of the South Australian Country Fire Service. He led the response to the largest ever series of bushfires in South Australia’s history.
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