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

The service isn’t good enough at promoting the right values and culture. It has allowed a culture of bullying and harassment to develop. It needs to introduce its new values and service structure as a matter of priority. And it needs to make sure that all managers demonstrate these values through their behaviour.

Occupational health support is generally good, though not all staff and managers are aware of how to access it. The service needs to improve its process for testing equipment, to make sure staff have access to equipment that they know is safe to use.

The service needs to develop its workforce planning to create stability and reduce the need for temporary promotions. It needs to improve the support it gives its newly promoted managers. It should review its decision to reduce the length of its training course for new firefighters. The service needs to make sure specialist staff have enough time to maintain their required skills to the right standard. It should also make sure it properly trains firefighters who have additional medical response duties.

The service is trying to become more open to challenge, but it will take time to re-establish the trust necessary for staff to feel confident in the procedures. It needs to make sure it has an effective grievance procedure that staff feel confident using.

The service has had considerable success in raising its number of female firefighters and it now has the highest proportion nationally. It should assess its approach and share the learning with the wider fire and rescue community.

The service should develop a promotions policy to underpin its ‘recruit for values and train for skills’ approach. This will help staff understand how they can develop and progress. It should bring in an open and fair process for developing people with talent.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Inadequate

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its programme for testing and maintaining equipment has suitable managerial oversight.

Cause of concern

Gloucestershire FRS values are tarnished and are not credible with staff. The service needs to introduce its new values and service structure to allow staff and managers to understand the priorities for the future.

Recommendations

  • The service should publish its new values and vision for the service to
    all staff.
  • The pathway for change the service chooses should be clearly documented for the organisation to follow.
  • Managers need to be seen to demonstrate the new values through their behaviours to rebuild trust.

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

Workforce wellbeing

Staff generally see the provision of welfare support from occupational health (OH) as positive. They gave us examples of receiving support from OH over issues such as bereavement and mental health. However, managers and staff have a varied knowledge of how to access wellbeing services. Some were well informed, and others said they have never received training and didn’t know how to access services. The service’s intranet has minimal information for staff on how to access wellbeing support.

The service is introducing diffusing as a process for post-traumatic incident support. It is training some of its staff and managers. However, staff are unclear as to how this should work in practice.

Health and safety

The service has a health and safety policy in place and has an electronic system for accident reporting. The service told us that capacity problems make it difficult for it to monitor and report on trends. The quality of risk assessments at stations was varied. The process for tracking accident reports through to actions and improvements isn’t always effective or clear.

The service has recently audited its programme of equipment testing after it realised that some equipment was past its due date for testing. Staff told us that the service doesn’t centrally monitor the testing of specialist rope and water rescue equipment. This has caused problems between the central equipment team and local specialist crews. The service should ensure that managers properly oversee its programme for testing and maintaining equipment.

Culture and values

The service has undergone a period of change over the last 11 months with the difficult resignation of the former CFO and the appointment of a replacement. It is important to highlight that we heard from staff across the organisation who had differing experiences around the two management structures.

The service introduced a values policy following a cultural review in 2016, under the former CFO. Staff told us these values were tarnished and not fit for purpose now, because of the difficult circumstances surrounding the CFO’s resignation. Staff described disappointing and sometimes distressing examples of previous bullying and harassment by senior leaders. This included leaders humiliating staff in front of peers and threatening demotion for temporary promoted managers if they didn’t carry out certain leaders’ wishes.

Our staff survey reflected these concerns. Of the 139 respondents to our staff survey, 41 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 32 percent feeling discriminated against at work in the last 12 months. This had resulted in staff not trusting managers and there being a culture of ‘them and us’. While most staff are positive that the service is making a fresh start, they are still cautious due to concerns that the management team doesn’t have the capacity to lead cultural change. The service will be aligning with the county council’s values in future.

The new CFO faces the challenge of making sure staff understand his vision and plans for the service, and making sure the whole organisation embraces the values and culture. In doing so, there need to be visible plans to show how these changes will be brought about and these need to be communicated throughout the service.

The service is still responding to cardiac emergencies using wholetime stations following a national trial. This has been a contentious issue for those carrying out the role, and staff told us that this had brought them into conflict with colleagues. The service should make sure it manages any division between staff who carry out this role and those who don’t.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has oversight and assurance that local specialist training is recorded and managed.
  • The service should ensure it has development support for all newly promoted managers.

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 is poor at workforce planning and hasn’t taken account of the skills and capabilities required to meet its IRMP. We saw this in the protection team with its low level of staffing, and several areas where the service relies on one member of staff. While the service has monthly workforce planning meetings, these need to be a main part of future planning for the service. We recognise these meetings are a relatively new function. The reliance on temporary promotions, often for several years, indicates a lack of previous planning. As at 31 December 2018, the longest-serving temporary promotion is around three and half years. A variety of staff informed us that due to the number and frequency of changes of their uniformed line managers, making progress in a department can be difficult as each new manager must understand and learn new information.

The service has a policy of ‘recruit for values and train for skills’. This means that the service will look primarily at what values a person has for a role. If successful, the service will train the person in the skills they need to carry out the role. We saw some positive examples of the service developing staff and newly promoted managers and moving them from different conditions of service. But we also found that some managers had received little support or training to meet the required skills after they had been promoted.

The service recently reduced the length of its training course for new firefighters. Some staff told us this reduction has made them feel less confident going on to fire stations as they didn’t feel as prepared as they thought they would. The service hasn’t carried out effective evaluation of the change. It should consider this.

The service relies on its on-call staff to crew several specialist vehicles or functions, such as rope rescue. While the service gives these crews additional training hours, it doesn’t record competencies for specialist roles. The use of on-call staff in a variety of roles allows the service to send them to a wider range of incidents, which can help with staff retention. The service needs to assure itself that, given the limited time available to on-call staff, they can maintain core competencies as well as their additional specialist competencies to a required standard.

The service manages its staffing effectively on a day-to-day basis via an electronic management system. Fire control makes sure enough cover is always available to staff the five wholetime/mixed stations and the three main identified on-call stations. It does this by deploying staff from other stations or calling staff in on overtime.

Learning and improvement

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has a training recording system and an e-learning management system to provide online training. While the majority of training records for core competencies are complete, assurance of those records varies due to some staff recording their own evidence, particularly from incidents. The service doesn’t currently include control staff and support staff on these systems, but has told them that work is underway to change this.

The service has introduced the Safer Firefighter programme to ensure that all operational staff receive the same training in core competencies. Staff are positive about this programme, which ensures they maintain their essential skills.

Staff informed us that they have received limited training for the additional medical emergency response with the ambulance service; in some cases only limited training for cardiac incidents. While the continuation of this duty is positive, the service should make sure staff are appropriately trained and confident to carry out the role.

The service moves new wholetime staff around stations in pairs during their early careers to gain experience. Staff feel that this created difficulty in some areas, as they had to go back over areas of their development with new managers.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service introduced its People First strategy to focus on appraisals, personal development and mentoring. The policy is comprehensive and supportive. Unfortunately, after launching it, the service didn’t have the capacity and capability to follow it up. The policy has since lost credibility with staff.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to understand and address the impact positive action is having on staff.
  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.

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

Many staff told us that the service hadn’t previously been open to challenge. Staff across all levels gave examples of concerns they have raised that the service hasn’t dealt with. They also gave examples of the service reprimanding them for raising concerns, particularly from individuals from underrepresented groups. Of the 139 respondents to our staff survey, 55.4 percent disagreed that they felt able to challenge ideas without any detriment as to how the service would treat them afterwards. This has left the service with a legacy that will take time to change. Recently the service has re-introduced its staff suggestion scheme. While it is too soon for us to review the process, it appears well thought out.

The service receives very few formal grievances. Staff told us that they aren’t confident about using the grievance procedure due to fears of a lack of confidentiality and possible negative consequences. While the service offers welfare support and uses county council managers to provide impartiality for grievances, the way the service records grievances is disjointed. The service could manage processes more efficiently.

Diversity

The service has made considerable progress in recruiting female firefighters into both on-call and wholetime positions. As of 31 March 2018, 15.4 percent offirefighters were female (10.6 percent of retained, 21.6 percent of wholetime). This is, by quite a margin, the biggest proportion of female firefi ghters in England. The service has tried to remove potential barriers while maintaining the necessary standards. For example, it allows female candidates to carry out further upper-body strengthening if they fail this requirement on a selection day; it then retests them prior to starting training. In addition, the service uses existing female staff as role models on selection days.

In the last round of recruitment, the service recruited 53 percent female firefighters. Some staff questioned the processes used to achieve this success, as they felt that the service had lowered the physical fitness standards for female applicants. The service has reassured staff that the tests are suitable and fair. However, it needs to communicate this more openly to existing staff to provide transparency and challenge suspicions.

The service hadn’t evaluated its most recent recruitment processes at the time of inspection. We would encourage the service to assess its success and share the learning across the sector.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service recognises that it hasn’t been as successful at attracting black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff. As at 31 March 2018, 2.8 percent of firefighters were BAME; this compares with 4.6 percent of the population. The service should use its new equality and diversity forum to better understand how it can engage with these communities to achieve the same success with recruitment and retention of BAME staff.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has an effective system in place to manage staff development, performance and productivity.
  • 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

The service replaced appraisals with an individual performance plan (IPP) as part of the introduction of its People First strategy. This received a mixed response from staff we spoke to, with some preferring the new approach and others feeling it was only for people who wanted promotion. While some staff had been set goals that link to the service plan, others were unclear how this would work and were unaware of any performance objectives. Without oversight and management of the IPP process, the service won’t be able to use the information to inform effective workforce planning. As at 31 March 2018, the service had low levels of IPP completion. The service should review the approach to People First for any future amendments.

The service will need to ensure that it makes appropriate plans for developing new managers in the future. Support staff feel that opportunities for progression are infrequent. They told us that the frequent management changes have made things much less clear, with managers not always understanding the roles and individual capabilities of staff within their teams.

The service has changed its promotion process in the past 12 months and has broadened the involvement of staff. It uses county council staff to provide independent scrutiny. Staff feel that the process had improved, and that these changes send out a positive message about fairness and inclusion.

The service has a ‘recruit for values and train for skills’ policy. The service doesn’t have a promotions policy. When we asked how staff would know the areas they would need to prepare for, the service wasn’t clear on how staff could understand the process and development pathways. It needs to address this. 

Developing leaders

The service doesn’t currently have a process for identifying and selecting staff with high potential to be senior leaders. It acknowledges that it still needs to improve development pathways. With several senior positions being filled on a temporary basis, the service should ensure it plans these development pathways and can support them when required.

Management development courses are available, and some managers are undertaking training through modern apprenticeships. However, the service hasn’t offered this opportunity to all the staff we spoke to. The service is using leadership training from the police and county council to develop staff.