Departure of chief fire officer Martin Blunden another example of 'unhealthy culture of secrecy', Tory MSP claims

The departure of Scotland’s chief fire officer is mired in secrecy, critics have claimed, after the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) refused to answer questions surrounding allegations of bullying made against the ex-official.

Martin Blunden stepped down from his role as Scotland’s most senior fire officer at the start of September.

He was initially suspended from the service in March following allegations of bullying made against him, with the service announcing an investigation into his behaviour.

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However, the fire service has refused to answer questions around his departure, including whether the investigation into Mr Blunden had finished prior to his departure.

Officials also refused to answer questions around whether Mr Blunden received a pay-out or payment in lieu of a notice period, and whether complainers signed non-disclosure agreements to stop them from discussing the case following his departure.

Scottish Conservative community safety spokesperson Russell Findlay said the “unhealthy culture of secrecy is detrimental to the public interest”.

Mr Findlay had brought up the issues at the fire service’s Annual Performance Review meeting, held in Glasgow on Tuesday, but was frustrated by the lack of answers to key questions.

He said: “I find it extraordinary that a meeting with the supposed purpose of applying scrutiny to Scotland’s national fire service should be so lacking in substance.

SFRS Chief Officer Martin Blunden stepped down earlier this month

“The former chief officer exited a few weeks ago after six months’ suspension following allegations of bullying, but we know next to nothing about what took place.

“It is reasonable to expect that firefighters, and the general public, are told what happened with this complaint and investigation process and how it concluded.

“As we saw with a series of Police Scotland scandals, there must be confidence that the process is fair and transparent.

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“This aversion to scrutiny can be seen across many public bodies under the direction of SNP ministers. This unhealthy culture of secrecy is detrimental to the public interest.”

Dr Kirsty Darwent, chair of the SFRS, said due to confidentiality she could not comment on Mr Blunden’s departure.

She said: “We expect the highest standards of our staff and take any allegation regarding their conduct extremely seriously.

“We have robust procedures in place to ensure complaints are investigated in line with our clear policies and procedures.”

Mr Blunden earned around £200,000 a year from his role and had been in post since early 2019, after he replaced Alasdair Hay, who had held the role from its establishment in 2013.

No details on the nature of the bullying, to whom it was directed, nor information around the investigation of the allegations was shared by the SFRS when asked to comment on Mr Blunden’s suspension while he was an employee.

It is also not known whether community safety minister Ash Regan, who has responsibility for the SFRS, was aware of the suspension.

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The chief officer role is the most senior professional position at the SFRS and is intended to “provide strategic leadership direction” to the service.

Mr Blunden joined the SFRS following a period of work in South Yorkshire where he was deputy chief officer and had more than 26 years of experience in firefighting across the UK.

He has also served in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

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