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East Sussex 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 17/12/2019
Requires improvement

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, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement in promoting the right values and culture.

The service could do more to promote its core values, so that staff understand them and make them common practice. We were disappointed to come across examples of behaviour that doesn’t reflect the service’s core values.

The service should manage individual performance in a robust and consistent way, so that every staff member has meaningful workplace conversations about performance and career aspirations.

Most staff we spoke to were positive about the wellbeing support that the service offers, although some mentioned delays in accessing occupational health support.

Staff are confident about the service’s health and safety arrangements, although the service needs to promptly address some gaps in its health and safety compliance.

A considerable number of East Sussex’s firefighters have secondary contracts or secondary employment outside the service. The service should assure itself that they are well rested and safe to work.

The service has a workforce planning group, but no workforce plan. It needs to develop one so that it is clear about its long-term workforce needs.

The service should also make sure that its training is consistent in areas such as home safety visits and grievance management.

The service requires improvement in ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. It needs to act on staff feedback promptly, and address concerns that staff have about giving feedback in the workplace. The service should also make sure that all staff know how to report confidential issues.

The service has yet to assure itself of the fairness and consistency of grievance outcomes, and that it learns from any informal grievance-related trends.

The service needs to ensure activities aimed at diversifying the workforce are effective. The service has a fair promotion and selection process, and is developing a talent management programme.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated by all staff.
  • The service should have effective means to monitor the working hours of its staff.

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 service offers a range of wellbeing support. This includes trauma risk management, which helps prevent secondary post-traumatic stress disorder following traumatic incidents. Most staff we spoke to were positive about the wellbeing services that are available. Our staff survey showed that out of 154 respondents, 83.1 percent felt that their personal safety and welfare were taken seriously.

The service offers occupational health services through a collaborative arrangement with Surrey and Sussex police forces, and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service. This arrangement offers medical support, fitness advice, physiotherapy and psychological support.

Some staff we spoke to told us of delays in accessing occupational health support. The service is monitoring these new arrangements as they become common practice within the organisation.

Health and safety

The service has identified gaps in its health and safety compliance. This includes such things as not having noise assessments for the cumulative running of equipment and fire engines. The service should make sure it promptly carries out its plans to address identified health and safety gaps.

The service has an overtime and working allowances policy in place. But a review of this policy was overdue. Some staff we spoke to were not clear on how overtime was monitored. As at March 2018, 83 wholetime firefighters (23.2 percent) had secondary contracts within the service. This means they were on-call and wholetime firefighters. Fifty-three wholetime firefighters (14.8 percent) had registered secondary employment outside the service. More recent data available since inspection shows a slight increase. As at 31 March 2019, 87 wholetime firefighters had a secondary contract within the service, and 72 had registered secondary employment outside the service. The service has some locally agreed arrangements to monitor the hours worked by operational staff.

The service encourages staff to report health and safety issues. Of the 154 respondents to our staff survey, 87.0 percent agreed that they were encouraged to report near misses/accidents/dangerous occurrences.

Culture and values

The service has refreshed its set of core values, which are ‘Proud, Accountable, Integrity, Respect’.

These values set out the behaviour the service expects of staff when carrying out their work. Senior leaders look to promote values through visits to stations and offices. Some staff told us that they would like to see the senior leaders visiting stations more often.

The service doesn’t consistently promote or display its core values. We were told that there has been little activity to make sure that values are understood and become common practice. We were also disappointed to find the use of some gender stereotypical language and attitudes that do not reflect service core values.

Of the 154 respondents to our staff survey, 18.2 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 20.1 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

However, we also found clear examples of senior managers taking appropriate action when behaviour hasn’t met expected standards. 

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should develop a workforce plan that takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities it needs to carry out its integrated risk management plan.

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 service’s IRMP, covering the period 2017–2020, identifies human resource planning as a priority. But even though the service undertakes pockets of workforce planning activity, there is no strategic workforce plan in place. This means that the service can’t assure itself of its long-term workforce needs. The service acknowledged that it still has work to do in identifying critical roles and succession planning.

Some operational managers told us they were still spending time covering shortfalls in crewing. Recently, the service introduced support managers with the aim of improving on-call availability. The service should make sure it evaluates the effectiveness of these managers, so that it can benefit accordingly.

The service has committed to developing a five-year strategic workforce plan through its organisational development business plan for 2019/20. It has established a workforce planning group to identify gaps and improve its response to changes in personnel. For example, the group is planning wholetime recruitment for the latter part of 2020.

The service’s training department is linked to the workforce planning group. The training department has a two-year training plan in place to make sure that staff have access to the training they need to be competent in their roles. But we were told that staff training in the use of new IT systems, for example, isn’t considered part of future training needs.

Learning and improvement

The service has a corporate training and development prospectus for 2019/20. This outlines the training available to operational staff. The prospectus lists career and development pathways for operational staff, but not support staff. Of the 154 respondents to our staff survey, 61.7 percent were satisfied with their current level of learning and development (from both operational and support roles). Only 47.4 percent felt that they were given the same opportunities to develop as other staff.

The service has a training department with a dedicated learning and development team. This team offers training in critical competencies, such as breathing apparatus and incident command. Some courses are externally accredited through Skills for Justice, which gives assurance of the training being offered. The service collaborates with Surrey and West Sussex fire and rescue services in training new recruits, which reduces costs.

The service has an electronic system for recording essential firefighter skills (such as using breathing apparatus and responding to road traffic collisions). Managers understood the system and were competent in using it, although some users said it was slow and time consuming.

When we visited stations, we were pleased to find that training and competency records were up to date. Operational staff are well trained and showed good knowledge of incident command, breathing apparatus and use of MDTs. But training in areas such as home safety visits and grievance management isn’t consistent.

Stations work to a two-year station-based training and assessment programme. Station managers complete end-of-month performance returns to show how the station is performing against targets in areas such as the number of home safety visits completed. These are linked to the station inspection programme. In this way, the service can identify trends and put remedial action in place.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it takes timely action in response to feedback or concerns from its staff.

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 service doesn’t act on feedback from staff in a timely manner. In June 2018, the service carried out a staff survey. It published the results of the survey and formed staff focus groups to look at emerging themes, but the staff we spoke to couldn’t identify any action or changes that had been implemented. At the time of our inspection, the service had yet to publish an action plan.

We spoke to staff who lacked confidence in feedback processes as they felt their views wouldn’t be listened to. Of the 154 respondents to our staff survey, only 48.1 percent felt they could challenge ideas without detriment to how they would be treated. Only 39.0 percent were confident that their ideas or suggestions would be listened to.

The service uses other methods to seek staff feedback. These include station visits by the management. Senior leaders talk to several staff groups and representative bodies. An example is the involvement of staff in focus groups to gather feedback about uniforms and new fire engines.

The service has several methods for reporting confidential issues. Most (but not all) staff we spoke to are aware of the procedures that are in place to report issues. The service should make sure that all staff know how to report confidential issues.

In the year ending 31 March 2018, the service received only a small number of formal grievances. We reviewed these case files and found that some weren’t progressed within set timescales. The service has no oversight of grievances that it resolves informally, and managers aren’t trained in managing grievances. As a result, the service can’t assure itself of the fairness and consistency of outcomes, or learn from any trends that occur.

Diversity

We found that the service doesn’t fully reflect the community it serves. As at 31 March 2018, 3.3 percent of firefighters were from black, Asian and minority ethnic(BAME) backgrounds, compared with a resident population of 6.4 percent. Over the same timeframe, 5.6 percent of firefighters were female.

The service actively supports community events such as Brighton and Hove Pride. It uses positive action and positively promotes female role models in recruitment campaigns. The service should assure itself that its activities are effective in creating a more diverse workforce.

Within the service, internal groups (such as equalities and gender inclusion groups) support diversity and inclusion. But we found little evidence of equality and inclusion training among the staff we spoke to.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has mechanisms in place to manage and develop talent within the organisation.

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 service sets clear targets for stations, such as the number of home fire safety checks to be completed. Senior managers monitor key performance indicators for the service, such as workforce sickness levels.

The service doesn’t manage individual performance in a robust or consistent way. The service states that as part of its performance appraisal system staff should complete a performance appraisal review (PAR) annually. These reviews set out agreed individual objectives that link to service objectives. The service couldn’t supply figures for the number of PARs completed. As the PARs take place locally, the service can’t assure itself that every member of staff has a meaningful conversation about performance.

Staff told us that the PARs held little value. We were disappointed to be told by operational staff that PARs are merely seen as a way of getting additional continuing professional development payments.

The PARs that we sampled lacked clear objectives or feedback for staff, and they aren’t reviewed or revisited. As a result, managers are missing chances to have meaningful conversations about performance, welfare and career aspirations. The service should make sure that every staff member has a meaningful PAR, with objectives that clearly link to service objectives and targets.

The service acknowledges that its PAR process needs to improve. It is taking positive steps to redesign this process.

Developing leaders

The service has no process to develop high-potential staff within the organisation. The service acknowledges this and is developing a talent management framework.

The service has a fair promotion and selection process, based on an appropriate test of individual potential. An appointments panel assesses successful candidates’ suitability for vacancies, based on the skills that are needed for the job. The service uses a weekly core brief to communicate development opportunities to all staff. However, some non-operational staff still felt promotion opportunities were limited.

The service uses direct entry to bring expertise in from outside the fire sector. Direct entry is also used for internal staff. This allows individuals with the right skills and potential to apply for senior positions.