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Greater Manchester 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 19/06/2019
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, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service has good systems for monitoring health and safety, and works with unions on this. It has improved support it provides for the wellbeing of its staff. Staff understand how to access support, and are positive about the support that is available. A new programme has been introduced to support staff after traumatic incidents.

The service’s professional trainers are very busy training the high number of new firefighters, so they don’t have capacity to provide other types of training. To address this, firefighters are receiving training within their teams, although this isn’t being done consistently. Records of training are kept on two different systems, and managers aren’t using these to make sure their teams have the right skills.

Frontline staff have little understanding of the service’s values. Some staff reported feeling bullied or discriminated against. Frontline staff believe senior and middle managers are out of touch with them. The service is aware that it needs to improve on this front.

The service doesn’t do enough to engage its staff. The personal performance review (PPR) system isn’t working consistently and staff don’t see it as useful. A new process is being piloted. Formal grievances are dealt with by senior managers, who sometimes lack experience with the process. Records of informal grievances aren’t kept, so the service doesn’t know if they are being handled appropriately.

Since 2016, the service has had success in recruiting staff from under-represented groups. In 2018, it temporarily suspended activity in its recruitment strategy due to the demands of increased recruitment.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that managers visibly act as role models and staff at all levels demonstrate commitment to service values through their behaviours.

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

Workforce wellbeing

We found evidence that the service has made positive changes to the wellbeing support it provides its staff over the last few years. Most staff understood how to access support through the service, or through confidential support lines. Staff described an organisation that was taking positive steps to change views on mental health.

The service has implemented trauma risk management (TRiM). This is used after traumatic incidents, and involves creating ‘wellness action plans’. The service has 34 people who are trained to provide support and debrief crews following traumatic incidents. The service plans to increase this number, and is developing targets and time frames for this.

During our inspection, staff told us that they had positive experiences of the current wellbeing support. This includes access to physiotherapy, and to counselling to support their mental health.

Health and safety

The service has effective systems in place to monitor health and safety. It has good relationships with staff representative bodies. A health and safety representative from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) works in the health and safety office one day a week. There is a joint health and safety committee with staff from the service and the FBU, and the service meets with officials from Unison and Unite regularly. 

New staff receive health and safety training as part of their induction. After that, they receive regular training via e-learning. However, there is a gap in formal training for managers. Most middle managers receive training in managing health and safety, but few supervisory managers do. The service relies on professional advice from the health and safety manager.

The wellbeing needs of staff are considered when allocating overtime. Making sure that staff have had enough rest between shifts is managed by the emergency response hub.

Culture and values

The service has a set of behavioural values which are used in recruitment and promotion. However, we found very little understanding of them by frontline firefighters.

As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of FRS staff to get their views of their service. Of the 197 respondents to our staff survey, 30 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 25 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the previous 12 months. There are limitations to the staff survey which should be considered alongside the findings. We explain these on the About the Data page. Disappointingly, some people we spoke to seemed to find the poor treatment of staff by other colleagues amusing.

The service has a relatively new senior management team. The chief fire officer was appointed four months before our inspection, and several other senior managers are temporary appointments.

The leadership team doesn’t proactively visit stations to speak to staff. The leadership team temporarily suspended visiting stations while the mayor and deputy mayor undertook their own visits. However, being visible on stations would allow them to display the values of the organisation. Staff also described a lack of visible leadership from their middle managers. The service should make sure it uses its full management team to demonstrate and communicate the organisation’s values.

The service is aware of the problems it faces with the culture of its workforce. It is working with staff to refresh its values.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Cause of concern

Greater Manchester FRS doesn’t have enough controls in place to monitor the competence of its staff. This is because it has suspended its centralised assessment of incident command and breathing apparatus training.

Recommendations

  • The service should ensure that managers have quick access to and proper oversight of all records relating to staff training and skills.

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 carries out a thorough analysis of the training needed by its staff. All areas of the service feed into this, and it is used to set future priorities and distribute resources. It identifies organisational gaps caused by changes to the law and by commitments in the integrated risk management plan (IRMP), such as changes to the ways fire engines are crewed. It is fully costed, and identifies gaps in the skills of the response, prevention and protection teams. This helps with succession and financial planning.

However, the service’s centralised assessment and training capability has been suspended to train the influx of new recruits, and the service isn’t mitigating this effectively. Firefighters are receiving important training from within their team rather than from central professional trainers. We found that some managers didn’t understand the need for assessment, and some didn’t have the skills to provide it. As a result, many staff aren’t being assessed in the proper use of breathing apparatus. The service doesn’t oversee these control measures sufficiently to keep its staff safe.

The service has a career management board which helps it to understand key information about its staff, for example how many people are nearing retirement. It keeps track of when staff leave – both anticipated and unplanned – to make sure it can cover workforce gaps, and has effective succession plans in place.

Learning and improvement

The service records electronically how its staff maintain their skills. A separate system is used to record when staff attend courses. We found that not all managers understand the information provided to them and how to use it. There is limited evidence that managers use this information to make sure their staff have the required skills.

Because the service is recruiting firefighters more quickly, there are now more new and inexperienced firefighters arriving on stations. At the request of the service, the accrediting body for firefighter apprenticeships have carried out an audit. This found gaps in the support being provided by mentors on stations and the amount of administrative work expected from apprentices.

Of the 197 respondents to our staff survey, only 55 percent agreed that they had received enough training to enable them to do what is asked of them.

There is a comprehensive system to record and manage complaints. Each complaint is logged, including all relevant correspondence, and is assigned an investigating officer. All the complaints we reviewed were handled within the service’s timescales. There are a number of avenues for raising a complaint (including through the mayor), and these are publicised to staff.

The service has an established programme of annual station inspections. This aims to make sure that local equipment, administration and working practices are at an acceptable standard. Managers told us they value the insights and assurance these can provide. However, this programme is behind schedule for 2018/19. From a total of 40 stations, only 10 audits had been completed. A further nine were planned at the time of our inspection, and it wasn’t clear whether the service would be able to audit every station by the end of the year.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Inadequate

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place mechanisms to effectively engage all staff.

Cause of concern

Greater Manchester FRS has no strategy, visible leadership and limited training on equality, diversity and inclusion. This is affecting watch culture and undermining positives steps to attract new entrants from diverse backgrounds.

Recommendations

By 31 December 2019, the service should:

  • put in place a programme to ensure that inclusion, fairness, equalities and professional development are priorities for the service;
  • ensure that the chief officer team leads the programme, actively promoting the values of the organisation; and
  • ensure that everyone knows how they contribute to the values.

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 do enough to actively engage its staff. It last carried out a staff survey in 2013. Although the combined authority undertook a survey in 2018, most staff we spoke to didn’t respond, and the results hadn’t been published at the time of inspection.

Of the 197 respondents to our staff survey, only 58 percent felt that there were opportunities to feed their views upwards in the service. Some 56 percent felt that their ideas wouldn’t be listened to and 54 percent felt that they weren’t able to challenge ideas without any detriment to how they would be treated afterwards.

The service engages with employee groups, which has brought about a deeper understanding of the workplace culture. However, the service recognises that it still needs to act on the feedback from these employee groups.

Due to the low number of formal grievances received each year, managers have little experience of the process and have received no training in how to carry it out. In the year ending 31 March 2018, there were 16 formal grievances recorded. There is no system to record informal grievances, making it impossible to identify trends or problems.

The service has a management teleconference that is chaired by a principal officer. This allows information to be passed quickly between senior management and borough management teams. Staff who are on duty are encouraged to listen in to the meeting, but in practice they don’t often contribute.

Staff told us that they don’t have much contact with managers above station manager level. When they do see other middle managers, it is for a top-down briefing, and they have little opportunity to raise any issues.

Diversity

The service has historically taken focused positive action that has had some success in recruiting from under-represented groups. This was temporarily suspended in 2018 to enable the service to meet its recruitment target. We found that some staff didn’t understand the value of positive action, and (wrongly) felt that standards were being lowered to allow women and minority groups into the service. We also found behaviour that isn’t in line with the service’s values – in particular, gender-exclusive language was used.

The service is not representative of its community. As at 31 March 2018, 4.5 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 16.2 percent. Over the same time period, 4.3 percent of firefighters were female. As at 31 March 2018, the service had 1,711 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. Most firefighters in Greater Manchester are wholetime firefighters. As at 31 March 2018, 99 percent of FTE firefighters were wholetime.

We found that there is no current strategy for equality, diversity and inclusion. The service runs an inclusivity steering group chaired by a principal officer, but there is no evidence of this influencing the wider service.

We saw a core of passionate and dedicated staff carrying out diversity and inclusion work. However, this work isn’t seen as a priority across the service, resourced sufficiently or consistently led by all senior leaders.

The facilities for women, such as toilets and showers, aren’t fit for purpose at some stations. There is evidence that this is making it difficult to post women to those stations. At the time of our inspection, the service was starting to implement improvements, and planned for this to continue through spring 2019.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place a talent management process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.
  • The service should ensure it has an effective system in place to manage staff development, performance and productivity.

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 told us that the completion of personal performance reviews (PPRs) by staff is low. The evidence we found supported this. Despite some good examples of their use, most staff don’t see PPRs as effective or necessary for providing feedback or monitoring performance. Operational staff don’t need PPRs to access mandatory training, and they aren’t linked to continuing professional development payments.

We found that targets set for staff in their PPRs didn’t support the service’s broader goals, and weren’t regularly reviewed. The service should make sure that appraisals are clearly linked to performance targets and the service’s aims.

The service is aware of this and is piloting a new process. At the time of inspection, this process was expected to be implemented by April 2019. The new process has more emphasis on individual and work-related activities. Staff we spoke to who were already using the new process were positive about it.

The performance of individual staff members isn’t effectively managed because many managers don’t understand the process and don’t know the criteria for effective performance. Staff in the central training team had a good understanding of performance management.

Developing leaders

The service’s promotion process is available on the intranet. Staff expressed confidence in the process and understood what to expect at each stage. We found that this was applied fairly. Human resources professionals carry out dip sampling to make sure the process is consistently applied and interviewers given training on unconscious bias. Staff are given feedback after the promotion process to identify their development needs. However, there is a lack of ongoing structured development for supervisory managers once they have been promoted.

The service doesn’t have a process to attract and develop staff with high potential to become senior leaders of the future. The service recognises that it needs to improve this. It is considering several ways that it can develop a talent management framework. This aims to be responsive to the service’s future needs.