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Isle of Wight 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

Overall, Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service has much work to do to be an inclusive employer when judged by contemporary standards. This is a cause of concern. The service does not do enough to promote the right values and culture. Staff told us they were worried about bullying in the service, as well as domineering behaviour by managers.

We also found examples of language that excludes women. The service should review the impacts of its diversity strategy. This must ensure that the recruitment, retention, development and progression of staff is open and fair to all. The service should also improve how it supports staff wellbeing. This is particularly for when staff experience traumatic incidents. Many staff are not confident in reporting their concerns. The service could do more to listen to the views if its workforce. It is not good at engaging with staff or responding to concerns.

The service is facing considerable organisational change. Over the past few years it has already seen its strategic management team move from working on the island to being based in Hampshire. It is not able to plan properly until it knows more about its future. However, it understands the skills of its workforce and trains its staff well. It has a good culture of learning and improvement.

We found that the service could do more to manage performance and develop its future leaders. Processes to assess staff performance are not consistent. The service should bring in a way to support the development of staff and leaders, both laterally and for those seeking promotion.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure staff have access to trauma support and counselling services.
  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident in raising welfare concerns.

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

Workforce wellbeing

Isle of Wight FRS does not have reliable arrangements in place for supporting staff who experience traumatic or disturbing incidents. Most fire services have established procedures to help staff recover from such incidents. We are aware that managers try to visit staff who have been affected in this way, but this does not always happen. Retained firefighters told us of occasions when follow up visits were not possible because of their other work commitments.

The service used to have a formal trauma risk management programme, but the contract for the service was not renewed. Firefighters do have access to the county council’s occupational health team. However, staff told us about lengthy delays in getting appointments.

We also found that staff are not confident in reporting wellbeing concerns, either for themselves or for colleagues. An employee assistance programme allows staff to raise confidential concerns. However, many do not feel this programme is suited to people suffering from the symptoms of traumatic stress. They are reluctant to use it.

All of this makes it difficult for staff to raise welfare concerns other than with their line manager. Some individuals said they are not confident that their line manager would respect their confidentiality.

We also found that some of the service’s premises do not have the facilities to provide basic comfort and dignity in the workplace. This particularly affects retained duty fire stations, where the poor changing facilities are a common complaint. The county council has investigated these complaints. But staff feel the council is more concerned with access to fire stations rather than the facilities within them.

The county council is soon to launch a mental health campaign called ‘time to change’. This will help staff talk to colleagues about mental health. It will include a signposting service if people need professional help. Isle of Wight FRS will be part of this campaign. We look forward to hearing about the benefits it brings in the future.

Health and safety

Hampshire FRS manages Isle of Wight FRS’s health and safety function. This is part of the “Delivering Differently in Partnership” arrangements. There are reporting arrangements for accidents and near misses, and staff are aware of their responsibilities.

The service is currently tendering for a new occupational health service provider to improve care to staff. Also, staff have access to clinics in County Hall, set up for council employees. These clinics provide a trauma response service, routine medicals, Hepatitis B vaccinations, asbestos-related injury treatment and sickness absence support.

Culture and values

Over the past few years the service’s strategic management team moved from working on the island to being based in Hampshire. The service recognises the risk of having a less visible leadership team at a time of great change, and has more to do to connect with staff and to respond to their concerns.

The service shares a statement of values and standards with the county council. It refers to them in the IRMP. However, we found little evidence and could not conclude that senior members of staff role model these standards and values, or that they are important to the workforce.

We found a frequent use of gender-exclusive language, such as references to ‘blokes’, ‘firemen’ and ‘manned’ fire stations. This shows a disregard to the female workforce. Female staff we spoke to do not think that the service genuinely promotes equality and inclusion.

Frontline staff do not believe there is adequate recognition for the work they do. They believe that since the senior leadership team became shared between Isle of Wight FRS and Hampshire FRS, there is a lack of focus on rewarding and honouring exemplary work and bravery. This means that examples of good work do not receive the recognition they deserve.

Staff told us they have experienced management styles that they considered to be both domineering and potentially bullying. Rather than there being a culture of developing and nurturing, staff are often belittled when they make suggestions. In particular, managers who have been temporarily promoted are reluctant to challenge the hierarchy or raise concerns.

We discuss our concern again in the section ‘Ensuring fairness and promoting diversity’ and we detail steps the service needs to take.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

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 an organisation facing significant change. The future of the organisation will not become clear until it knows the outcome of the proposed combination with Hampshire FRS, and finalises its own service review. We recognise that making plans about the future workforce is difficult in this context. The service will know more about its future in Spring 2019, and is committed to making finite plans at that point.

The service has embarked on a programme to improve its training provision. In recent times, record keeping of training skills and accreditation had become unreliable. The appointment of a new training manager has begun to put this right. The service has put a new curriculum in place. This prioritises incident command, the use of breathing apparatus, response driving and safety-critical training. In addition to these measures, the service has introduced a three-year training programme for the maintenance of the skills required of the workforce.

The service has also introduced a digital training records system. All staff also have access to e-learning materials that supplement classroom training and fire-ground exercises.

Learning and improvement

The service has an established culture of learning and provides training in risk-critical activities. Frontline staff have confidence in the training they receive. In particular, fire training in simulators that recreate real-life experiences, training to ventilate premises, and familiarisation with new equipment, are held in high regard by frontline staff. The training set-up at Ryde offers excellent facilities.

The service has put good arrangements in place to ensure that training records are kept up to date. The service can instantly review the operational competencies of its staff. This is an important component of assuring the readiness of its services.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Cause of concern

Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service doesn’t do enough to be an inclusive employer. We found signs of low morale in the workforce. People have little confidence that they will be treated fairly or that senior leaders have their best interests at heart.

Recommendations

By 30 June 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 its recruitment activities are open and accessible to all of the Isle of Wight’s communities;
  • treat employees according to their needs so they feel valued;
  • ensure that each person’s potential can be developed so that the best can reach the top;
  • 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 has a process for gathering feedback from staff, but it is inconsistent and superficial. Staff across all departments expressed concern at the lack of information regarding the future of the service and the lack of visibility of the senior leadership team.

The service is not good at staff engagement or responding to the concerns raised by staff. We found limited evidence of positive change that had happened because of listening to staff.

Firefighters and non-operational staff have recently been invited to take part in an Isle of Wight Council staff survey. However, we found that few of them are aware of this opportunity. The service needs to implement effective staff surveys so that it can listen to the voices of the staff and make changes in response to the concerns they raise.

We also looked at how the service deals with grievances and complaints raised by members of staff. The service uses the county council’s policies and procedures for grievances. We examined several files and the service had completed them all in accordance with the council’s guidance and timescales. Although this is encouraging, we found that managers could provide better support to members of staff involved in grievance procedures.

Diversity

The service has a plan to increase the representation of minority members of staff, but it is not leading to improvements. The county council leads its recruitment campaigns. The service could do more to direct these campaigns at under-represented groups and specific communities. Furthermore, the service has no systems in place to ensure that recruitment processes are fair and non-discriminatory.

Isle of Wight FRS does not do enough to support staff from minority groups that serve with it. The service has limited engagement with them, and no effective networks exist to support them should they feel isolated. We also spoke to female firefighters who expressed dissatisfaction with some of the service’s facilities. In some fire stations, male and female shower cubicles are not segregated. We also heard how some women choose to change in the toilet because of a lack of locker-room facilities.

The service should review the impacts of its diversity strategy to ensure that the recruitment, retention, development and progression of staff is open to all on a fair and equitable basis. The service needs to take immediate steps to meet these standards. The momentum needs to come from the top of the organisation and everyone should play a part in making this happen.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • 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 has arrangements in place to assess and develop the individual performance of all staff. However, staff told us of inconsistencies in how information is recorded and the standard of assessment. We also found that the service does not have procedures in place to quality-assure personal development reviews. This is partly because some staff continue to use a paper-based system rather than completing their appraisals digitally.

We examined whether the service properly considers the career development of non-operational staff. We found that most of them are subject to frequent appraisals and are trained to a level that is suitable to their responsibilities.

We raised concerns with senior leaders about a recent ‘employment preference’ survey which had been sent to middle managers. Managers were asked voluntarily to record their skills, experiences and future career aspirations. However, the purpose of the exercise was not clear to them. This had a negative effect on staff. They felt that if they did not complete the questionnaire, the service would punish them or transfer them elsewhere. Apart from two managers who told us they had been moved to other positions on return from a period of absence, there were no examples of adverse experiences of this survey. However, the service could have managed this better.

Developing leaders

The service does not actively manage careers of staff. There are no programmes in place to support employees who are identified as having exceptional talent and potential. Career opportunities do exist, for example for non-operational staff who seek to qualify as human resources practitioners. However, these opportunities exist for those who are motivated to find them. They do not form part of a structured career development programme. The service needs to develop a leadership strategy to ensure that it prepares its best people for the challenges of the future.

Non-operational staff can apply for positions with the county council as they believe career progression within the fire and rescue service is limited.

Frontline staff expressed concerns about the fairness of the promotion system. Several middle managers have been temporarily promoted and there has been insufficient communication about the positions that will exist in the future.

We recognise that uncertainty about the future of Isle of Wight FRS makes career opportunities unclear. However, this is only likely to be in the short term. The development of staff should include lateral career progression as well as promotion.