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Derbyshire 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, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The way the service looks after its staff and their health and wellbeing, including of those who have attended traumatic incidents, is outstanding.

It is also outstanding in the way it communicates its values. The staff are proud of the service, its work and their own contribution.

The service has a good understanding of the skills and capabilities of its workforce, although it should develop a workforce plan that enables it to maintain this understanding in the future.

The development of the Joint Training Centre (JTC) with the police has enabled firefighters to train alongside their police colleagues. Recording of safety-critical training is well managed. However, the service could improve the way it records non-safety-critical training for all staff.

The grievance policy is well understood by staff. Line managers are encouraged to resolve grievances informally, if possible, and have been provided with appropriate training to allow them to do this.

Derbyshire FRS has a range of staff support networks that are regularly consulted when changes to policy are considered. The service has a diversity and inclusion strategy that is well supported by all staff. The workforce doesn’t yet reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, but recent changes to the recruitment process have increased the number of successful female applicants.

The service has recently begun an executive leadership programme to support staff who demonstrate high potential. However, this isn’t yet fully embedded.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Outstanding

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

Workforce wellbeing

Derbyshire FRS has made a clear commitment to the wellbeing of its workforce and this is evident in the wide range of support offered to staff. Senior managers have successfully developed a supportive culture.

Of the 203 respondents who completed our staff survey, 85.7 percent agreed that they were treated with dignity and respect at work.

The service’s employee assistance programme provides a wealth of information on the staff intranet, including access to a 24-hour helpline and support for work and home-related concerns. The service has recently appointed ‘blue light champions’ – staff who are supported by the mental health charity Mind to give advice on mental health issues in the workplace. This has been well received. Staff who have engaged with wellbeing provision spoke highly of the treatment they had received. A wellbeing steering group, chaired by a senior manager, meets quarterly to monitor this provision.

All new line managers complete a programme of training, ‘Managing in the Emergency Services’. This is welcomed by the workforce – some managers told us they wouldn’t otherwise know how to engage with a team member who might be struggling with their personal wellbeing.

For six weeks in 2018, the service held 76 mental health roadshows across the organisation. This has clearly developed a supportive culture. Welfare managers are routinely deployed after a traumatic incident to support firefighters and make sure they can find the services they need.

Health and safety

Derbyshire FRS places great importance on the management of health and safety. It has developed its own ICT system, the Safety Incident Reporting System, to monitor accidents and near misses within the organisation. The data this system collects allows the safety and risk management team to provide assurance to senior managers.

The service has appropriate policies and procedures to make sure that all incidents are correctly reported and investigated. Quarterly reports are submitted to a health and safety committee chaired by the deputy chief fire officer. The service also shares information with other regional fire and rescue services to make sure they are following best practice.

Of the 203 respondents to our staff survey, 89.2 percent agreed that their personal safety and welfare at work was taken seriously. And 91.6 percent agreed they were encouraged to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences.

When risks are identified, changes to processes or equipment are made. Examples of this include changes in the water rescue training and decontamination procedures after some firefighters became ill, and the provision of extra gloves at the training centre to reduce the risk of firefighters experiencing burns while wearing wet gloves.

Culture and values

Derbyshire FRS has a clear set of values and expected behaviours. Staff are aware of these and strongly support them.

The service’s people strategy 2018–21 lays out its intention to create a positive culture and what it needs to do to achieve this. The service has set itself several key performance indicators based on its values to enable it to measure its success. The strategy is regularly reviewed by the inclusion performance board, which is chaired by the chief fire officer.

Senior leaders are described by staff as being highly visible, highly approachable and interested in the views of the wider workforce. The senior leadership team visits each station once a year to directly engage with the firefighters and have an open conversation.

Every on-call station has a dedicated liaison officer who forms a link between the station and the central teams at service headquarters. The liaison officer also provides on-call watch managers with support and guidance. Staff spoke highly of these officers and told us they were always visible and available to them.

The service has worked well with its police colleagues to foster closer working and an understanding of roles within their shared headquarters. Coffee hubs have recently begun in which staff from the fire and rescue service and the police enter themselves into a draw. Pairs of staff are selected at random and have a 30-minute conversation over coffee.

Derbyshire FRS has arranged two cultural surveys of its staff in recent years, which were carried out by an independent third party. The most recent was completed in January 2018. In total, 503 staff responded to the survey, which is 61 percent of the workforce. As a result of the survey, the service developed its people strategy, made changes to its policy on bullying and harassment, improved staff communications, and introduced an ‘idea drop’ (an online system for staff to make suggestions), among other things.

As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of the FRS’s staff to get their views of their service. Of the 203 respondents to our staff survey, 16.7 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 14.3 percent feeling discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should make sure that there is a consistent method of recording and monitoring all non-safety critical training.

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

Workforce planning

Derbyshire FRS’s service development team is responsible for identifying future gaps in skills or supervision levels across the organisation. The service also has a workforce planning group that meets once a week. This group reviews the service structure and considers retirement profiles, resignations and recruitment, among other things.

The service has a good understanding of the skills and capabilities of its operational workforce. Safety-critical training is provided at the JTC and firefighters maintain their skills with training at their local stations.

While the service has suitable succession plans in place for operational staff, it recognises that it is lacking in areas where staff have specialist skills, such as protection and certain support roles. The replacement of staff with specialist skills can have a greater impact on the service due to the length of time it can take to train a new employee. And specialist staff tend to be fewer in number, so workloads can’t be so easily shared out among team members while new staff are being recruited.

The service uses performance dashboards as well as local and area performance action groups to measure its success against the aims set out in the station plans and IRMP. Through this process, the service can identify where targets aren’t going to be met and assign additional resources as necessary.

Learning and improvement

The service uses a single database to record training and skills. Staff at the JTC keep records of safety-critical training, while local watch managers are responsible for updating the system for station-based training.

It was evident that all the supervisory managers we interviewed knew how to update the training database and were maintaining it on a regular basis. Revalidating safety-critical skills was also well managed and accurately recorded on the training database.

Training in other skills, such as safeguarding, and equality and diversity, wasn’t as comprehensive. This training isn’t recorded on the central database, and it wasn’t clear who is responsible for recording it. This makes it difficult for the service to be sure that all staff have recently received it. More accurate recording would enable the service to identify gaps in staff knowledge.

The service works well with its police partner at the JTC. It continually explores closer collaboration and what benefits can be realised. Although there are similarities in primary skills between the two organisations, there are also differences in how these skills are applied. For example, both organisations train certain staff to work at height, but the service provides this training to complete rescues, whereas the police are trained to remove protestors. In this instance, a shared training package wouldn’t be suitable. Where the skills needed overlap, the service and the police work together. An example of this is trauma management: both organisations have similar needs, so share an identical governance document and train together.

Derbyshire FRS has recognised that it is difficult to train its on-call firefighters due to time limitations – a problem faced by every fire and rescue service. It has tried to overcome this by providing more flexible training programmes over a longer period at the JTC, and by JTC staff going out to stations to train firefighters. However, the service is limited by the resources it has available within the training department. The service says that it is continually reviewing how it can be more flexible in this area.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Good

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

Staff in the senior leadership team engage well with the workforce and seek their feedback on how to improve their performance. The chief fire officer and other senior leaders host regular service planning days. A wide mix of people from across the organisation attend these events. Staff don’t wear uniform or rank markings, to encourage everyone to participate as equals. Staff felt that they can openly and honestly challenge the senior leadership team during these events, and consider them worthwhile. 

Staff can submit ideas and feedback through an online system called ‘idea drop’. These submissions can be made anonymously and go straight to the department concerned. Staff told us that they always receive an answer when they use this system.

The trial of hand-held computers with multilingual options was started as a direct result of feedback from the workforce. Staff had told the senior leadership team that they struggled to communicate with all sections of the community. It is hoped that the hand-held computers will improve engagement with the public.

Derbyshire FRS has a clear grievance procedure that is used for both operational and non-operational staff. Suitable information is provided to the complainant about the right to appeal and about welfare provisions.

The service’s policy is to encourage line managers to try to resolve grievances informally, if possible. Most line managers have received training in resolving informal grievances called ‘Let’s Talk People’, although staff who have been promoted recently or are on a temporary promotion haven’t received this training.

Derbyshire FRS has no oversight of grievances that are resolved informally, so can’t be sure that situations are resolved fairly and consistently, or to learn from trends.

Diversity

Derbyshire FRS produces an annual diversity and inclusion strategy, which is used to develop a series of action plans. There are currently four action plans in place which focus on: positive action, Stonewall, the British Sign Language charter, and diversity and inclusion.

The senior leadership team and the fire authority provide good oversight and governance through regular meetings. The minutes of these meetings are publicly available through the service’s website.

The service shares and consults with several internal staff networks. It has recently introduced a new maternity policy and a menopause policy, supported and informed by these staff network groups. Members of the groups told us that they had confidence that the senior leadership team supported them.

Derbyshire FRS has a well-established diversity and inclusion team, which is supported by more than 40 positive action champions. The service has secured £420,000 to improve the changing facilities at 17 on-call fire stations. This is a two-year scheme that seeks to make the stations more suitable for a diverse workforce.

There has been considerable review of the service’s recruitment and selection processes to understand what obstacles are preventing potential applicants from under-represented groups from applying or being successful. As a result, changes have been made to the online and physical tests to make them more inclusive. In the most recent recruitment carried out for wholetime firefighters, five out of the ten successful applicants were female.

As at 31 March 2018, 1.6 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 6.7 percent. Over the same timeframe, 4.2 percent of firefighters were female.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should improve transparency in its promotion process to promote trust and confidence.
  • The service 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

Derbyshire FRS conducts a performance appraisal and development review (PADR) every year with each staff member. The aim of the PADR is to make sure that staff performance is in line with the service’s objectives, to identify learning and development opportunities, and to recognise good performance or address underperformance. PADRs should be supported by a programme of one-to-one meetings between line managers and their team members throughout the year.

Not all staff have received a performance appraisal in the past 12 months as per service policy, while some staff who have received one were critical of the process and questioned its value. Staff described it as being a tick-box exercise with no meaningful assessment of their performance or potential career development. There is no requirement for applicants to submit a current performance appraisal when applying for promotion, and PADRs aren’t considered during that process.

In January 2019, Derbyshire FRS renewed its service policy in this area. The new policy states that group PADRs can be used for firefighters and crew managers. This means that a watch has a collective performance review with the line manager, rather than it being completed individually. A personal meeting can be requested if the individual chooses to. Staff told us they are concerned that group appraisals could allow poorly performing individuals to avoid being held accountable.

Senior leaders couldn’t confidently tell us that individual PADRs had been completed when requested by firefighters. 

Developing leaders

As part of its people strategy 2018–21, the service has committed to an executive leadership programme. Coaching support is offered to newly promoted senior managers to enable them to realise their potential and become future strategic leaders of the service. The service also provides development to supervisory and middle management through the Institute of Leadership and Management.

We found that the promotions process is fair, based on the samples we reviewed. However, some staff described the promotions process as being inconsistent and continually changing. Staff would welcome greater involvement from the HR team, to reassure them that promotions are awarded to the best-performing individuals.