Fire services must do “much more” to recruit black and minority ethnic (BME) firefighters, new fire minister Mike Penning has said.
His comments came as official figures showed just 4.4% of full-time firefighters in England and Wales are from non-white communities.
In Greater Manchester the figure is just 2.8% – even though 16.2% of the population is from an ethnic minority.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the figures were “totally unacceptable”.
Mr Penning, who took over the fire and rescue portfolio in January, said diversity was “not an optional extra”.
“Firefighters, like police officers and other local emergency services personnel, should reflect the communities they serve and we expect fire and rescue authorities to do much more to improve BME… representation,” he said.
In West Yorkshire, which includes the cities of Leeds and Bradford, ethnic minority firefighters make up 3.8% of full-time firefighters, compared with 18.2% of the population, the figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed.
In the West Midlands – where the BME community makes up 29.9% of the population – only 8.1% of full-time firefighters are from ethnic minorities.
Mick Nicholas, the most senior black member of the FBU, told BC Radio 5 live the fire service had been “inconsistent” at recruiting from non-white communities.
Fire Service statistics
Percentage of BME firefighters compared to proportion of local population
Greater Manchester – 2.8% (compared to 16.2% local population)
Merseyside – 3.6% (compared to 5.5% local population)
South Yorkshire – 2.6% (compared to 9.4% local population)
West Midlands – 8.1% (compared to 29.9% local population)
West Yorkshire – 3.8% (compared to 18.2% local population)
Greater London – 12.2% (compared to 40.2% local population)
Source: Department for Communities and Local Government
“I think BME people don’t go for fire jobs because they don’t know about them. It’s still quite nepotistic. There’s a dearth of information about the fire service in BME communities,” he said.
“The figures for places like West Yorkshire and Manchester are totally unacceptable. Manchester has just recruited a load of fire officers but not one is BME.”
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service confirmed to 5 live Breakfast that, out of 22 new recruits, none was non-white.
Last year Home Secretary Theresa May criticised police forces for not recruiting enough officers from ethnic minorities.
She said four forces did not have a single black officer – though two of the forces disputed her claim.
Mr Penning also said more must be done to improve female representation in fire services.
Figures show there are 1,262 full-time female firefighters in England, about 5% of the total 25,251.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service boss Peter O’Reilly said it was improving its recruitment of women.
“We recruited four female firefighters in the latest round, which is a really positive step in the right direction but we appreciate there’s further work to be done,” he said.