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Cleveland 2018/19

People

How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 17/12/2019
Good

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at looking after its people.

Cleveland Fire Brigade offers good wellbeing support for its staff, including after traumatic incidents. Health and safety is taken seriously. All staff have the training they need, and all accidents are investigated. The brigade has a clear set of values and behaviours, which staff at all levels of the organisation understood and could talk about.

The brigade has a clear approach to workforce planning to make sure there are enough staff to cover important roles. Staff told us they were well trained, although the brigade doesn’t always make sure staff are up to date with their risk-critical training.

The brigade requires improvement in ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. It has developed an action plan to make its workforce more diverse, but this work is at an early stage. It also has an inconsistent approach to engaging with and obtaining feedback from staff.

It has good arrangements in place to assess and develop individual staff performance and linking this to the organisational values. There is no process to identify and develop staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Workforce wellbeing

The brigade takes the wellbeing of its workforce seriously. It has a comprehensive wellbeing strategy overseen by a health and wellbeing board. It offers staff a wide range of services to support their wellbeing, including counselling, physiotherapy, health and wellbeing advice, health screening and an accelerated medical support service. It also provides support for non-work-related problems that can affect performance in the workplace. Prominent intranet pages give staff further information.

Most staff spoke positively about the brigade’s wellbeing provision. We did receive some negative comments from staff such as the occupational health services are only available at the brigade’s headquarters, which makes some people reluctant to use the services. The brigade acknowledged its process for monitoring the performance of its Employee Assistance Programme is limited.

The brigade offers support after traumatic incidents through its trauma risk management system. These arrangements are well supported by staff, but supervisory managers hadn’t always been trained to recognise the signs of trauma in their staff and support this process.

The chief fire officer has chaired the NFCC’s Occupational Health Committee for over ten years. The brigade also leads on sickness absence benchmarking for the fire sector. We found the brigade effectively monitors staff sickness absence and told us it has an improved record for the average number of days lost to sickness.

Health and safety

The brigade has a comprehensive health and safety policy. It aims to improve performance as well as meet all legislative duties and frameworks. It clearly defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels to promote health and safety. Staff are suitably trained, with the brigade providing extra health and safety training for specialist roles.

The health and safety committee reviews relevant performance across the organisation. There is close working with representative bodies and staff are encouraged to report health and safety issues. Of the 189 respondents to our staff survey, 97.9 percent agreed that they knew how to report all accidents, near misses or dangerous occurrences. The brigade investigates, analyses and reports on all accidents and near-misses so that it learns from them. 

The brigade has recently upgraded gym facilities at stations. It has employed a full-time qualified health and fitness advisor and has trained volunteer health and fitness champions on stations. Firefighters are subject to an annual fitness test. The brigade has signed the Mind Blue Light pledge and staff have had mental health training.

Culture and values

The brigade has a clear set of values and behaviours. The brigade told us its values framework has been in place for over ten years and is expressed through the acronym ‘PRIDE’. Staff recently decided to keep the acronym but adjust the overarching headings. The new framework was launched in November 2018 with ‘PRIDE’ standing for protect, respect, innovating, doing the right thing – being professional, and engaging with others. We found staff at all levels of the organisation understood and demonstrated these.

Of the 189 respondents to our staff survey, 78.3 percent stated they were treated with dignity and respect. But 27.5 percent had experienced some form of bullying or harassment at work in the last 12 months. And 25.4 percent of respondents felt they had been discriminated against at work. In both these categories, most people felt that the source was someone senior to them.

These survey findings show that at least a quarter of respondents feel they have experienced behaviour inconsistent with the values and behaviours of the brigade. But the staff we spoke to told us that most managers act as role models and are committed to the brigade values through their behaviours.

The chief fire officer has an annual programme of visits to all locations, which staff were positive about. Staff at stations told us there was a lack of visibility from other senior leaders.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at getting the right people with the right skills. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it has an accurate system to record and monitor operational staff competence, and that staff and managers use it effectively.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Workforce planning

The brigade’s workforce plan describes how it is going to ensure that it has the right number of operational staff with the right skills to deliver the CIRMP. A workforce planning group meets regularly to map out the skills of its workforce. This group considers the needs of the CIRMP, the internal operating plan and succession planning to identify future staffing and skill requirements.

The brigade has a robust planning process to identify future training requirements. Future training needs are identified from the workforce plan, heads of service and the appraisal process. The process allows the brigade to identify training requirements for operational, leadership and management skills.

We found strong supporting structures in place to enable new or promoted staff to acquire and develop the skills they need for their roles. The brigade is an approved centre for providing vocational qualifications and is subject to a twice-yearly external audit of their development processes.

We found the brigade’s use of annualised hours improved the availability of fire engines. This makes sure the minimum number promised to the public is available. The brigade has recognised that its on-call availability is falling. In December 2018, the availability of on-call stations in Cleveland varied from 29.5 percent to 87.4 percent. The overall availability (both wholetime and on-call stations) in December 2018 was 80.8 percent. The brigade told us that, similar to many other fire and rescue services, it has less availability during weekday daytime hours. But it is in the final stages of a review and aims to increase availability.

Learning and improvement

The brigade has identified various skills as essential for operational staff to carry out their role, such as breathing apparatus, water safety, working at height, road traffic collisions and fire behaviour. It has aligned this risk-critical response training to national standards. Staff receive an initial course then refresher courses at set periods. It provides this training at a central training centre with the staff being assessed against the national standards.

The brigade has several systems for keeping records about training. We were told of plans to centralise this record keeping. Currently, the learning and development team hold some records, while some departments hold their own. During our inspection, we carried out a skills review. The brigade was unable to answer all our questions as the information is held on different systems. It couldn’t provide a current picture of all areas of competence. And when we did receive records from the brigade, some staff weren’t up to date with their risk-critical training, (for example, a small number of drivers weren’t trained as per the brigade’s policy).

The brigade revised its on-station training programme and competence monitoring system in January 2019. Positively, its supervisory managers are trained to provide and assess training. However, during our station visits the supervisory managers couldn’t show our inspectors that their staff were up to date with all required training. The brigade should identify whether this is a system issue or whether further staff training is needed.

Both on-call and wholetime staff told us their training was good and had prepared them for their roles. Wholetime and on-call firefighters have the same training. Our staff survey shows that 78.8 percent of the 189 respondents agree that they have received enough training to enable them to do what is asked of them. We observed firefighters confidently and effectively testing equipment, including breathing apparatus.

The brigade has a second database for online learning tools. We found staff were up to date with the required training on this system. It is positive that this is accessible from home computers. On-call staff are given extra payments to do this training outside their normal weekly training sessions.

The brigade has a central exercise calendar. Although regular exercising is planned, we found there hadn’t been any exercises involving more than two fire engines since 2018. Staff agreed that involvement in larger exercises was extremely limited.

Corporate staff are appropriately trained. The brigade ensures that they get the right skills and training through role-specific development. Corporate-based eLearning is also available to staff, some of which is mandatory.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it has appropriate mechanisms to engage with and seek feedback from all staff, including those from under-represented groups.
  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the brigade should ensure its recruitment activities are open and accessible to all of Cleveland’s communities.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Seeking and acting on staff feedback

The brigade has staff communication channels, such as the Fire Wire magazine, and the intranet. While it is good that many of the communication channels are accessible outside work, there is no way to tell whether staff use them. We found the brigade didn’t have a co-ordinated approach to internal engagement and communication.

The brigade has an inconsistent approach to getting feedback from its staff. It doesn’t survey its staff but is taking steps to address this. We also welcome that it is commissioning a cultural survey. This should help the brigade to focus on those areas where staff have the greatest concerns.

Most staff told us they would be happy to give feedback to managers, including senior leaders. However, most staff indicated they felt actions in response to feedback would be unlikely.

The views expressed in our staff survey support these comments. Of the 189 respondents, 62.4 percent agreed that there were opportunities to feed their views upwards in the brigade. Only 47.1 percent were confident that their views would be listened to, and only 48.1 percent felt able to challenge ideas without being treated differently as a result.

The brigade is taking some steps to improve the situation. At the time of the inspection it had just started a staff suggestion scheme and has recently introduced an operational assurance ‘you said, we did’ newsletter. Staff were aware of the recent introduction of smoke hoods, featured in the edition circulated before our inspection. Smoke hoods allow the safe rescue of casualties from smoke-filled buildings. This newsletter focuses on operational issues and the brigade should consider whether to widen its coverage to other areas.

We found the brigade has a good relationship with trade unions. It consults trade unions about changes that might affect their members. The Fire Brigades Union and Unison are integral members of many of the brigade’s formal meetings.

The brigade has had few formal grievances in the five years to March 2018, but those it does receive are handled appropriately and in line with policy. Most of the staff we spoke to felt confident about raising a concern or grievance, but some staff expressed that they were not worth submitting since very few grievances are upheld.

Managers are encouraged to resolve low-level grievances locally and informally,but there is no oversight of informal outcomes. The brigade is therefore unable to assure the fairness and consistency of informal resolutions or learn from any trends. Staff can access a confidential reporting line, although there have been no reports on it since 2014. The brigade should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures and aim to understand its staff’s views.

Diversity

The brigade has an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy. It is overseen by the EDI forum established in January 2018 and chaired by the chair of the fire authority. There are five sub groups: political and professional leadership, inclusive culture, delivering services to diverse communities, positive purchasing power, and recruitment, progression and retention. Each has an action plan for improving EDI across the brigade. Representative bodies and staff volunteers are members of these groups. This type of staff engagement is positive, but we talked to staff who weren’t aware of the opportunity to be involved.

The brigade doesn’t currently reflect the community it serves. As at 31 March 2018, 4.7 percent of firefighters were women and 1.5 percent of firefighters were from a BAME background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 5.5 percent. We noted that for 37.9 percent of its staff (223) the ethnicity was classified as ‘ethnicity not stated’. The brigade told us this is because of an outdated human resources software system with limitations on the quantity of data it can hold. The brigade needs to address this so it can fully understand its staff profile and meet its public-sector duty.

The brigade has taken very little action to improve the diversity of its workforce. Its first wholetime recruitment campaign for nine years ended during our inspection. We were told there was very little positive action for this campaign. It has developed an action plan to increase workforce diversity, but this work is at an early stage. The brigade should give this its full attention.

The brigade has completed equality impact assessments for all its policies. It has taken some action to support staff retention of under-represented groups. However, it has done little to improve progression of these under-represented groups.

It is good that all staff have had e-learning equality and diversity training. The brigade has also invested in a day’s face-to-face EDI training from an external provider. At the time of our inspection, the brigade told us, 78 percent of all staff have completed this training with remaining staff scheduled to complete in the next few months.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Good

Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at managing performance and developing leaders. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Managing performance

The brigade has good arrangements in place to assess and develop the individual performance of all its staff and completion rates are high compared with other services. Every member of staff has an annual performance appraisal with their manager. The appraisal reviews the previous year’s performance and sets targets and objectives for the coming year. It is also linked to the brigade’s values to make sure they are being followed.

The number of staff who have completed their performance appraisal is monitored by the executive leadership team. As at 31 March 2018, the brigade had 541 full-time equivalent staff. Through the appraisal process, staff can take courses that focus on personal and professional development. Staff we spoke to were positive about the appraisal process, but on-call staff were less likely than wholetime staff to have had an appraisal by their manager.

Developing leaders

Managers complete leadership and management training aligned to nationally recognised qualifications at certificate and diploma levels, approved by the Chartered Management Institute. The brigade has recently developed a mentor training programme with Cleveland Police to give staff the opportunity to be mentored across both organisations.

The appraisal process is used to identify staff that are interested in and suitable for promotion. We found that the promotion process is well documented and open. Staff we spoke to trust the promotion process that is in place and believe it is fair.

The brigade doesn’t have a process to identify and develop staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future.