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

Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has no formal process to support staff who have attended a traumatic incident. The service also needs to update its health and safety policy.

The service has had four chief fire officers in the last five years. It has also had several temporary senior managers during the same period. Staff told us that management behaviour has been inconsistent.

The service is currently carrying out a review of its values. But staff weren’t aware of this review and had an inconsistent understanding of what the service’s values are.

In addition to reviewing its values, the service is reviewing several of its HR policies and procedures. These relate to bullying and harassment, absence, discipline, promotion and recruitment.

The service has a variety of networks and groups to reflect equality and diversity issues. However, the service’s workforce doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. Moreover, some staff don’t have a good understanding of diversity. During our inspection we heard frequent use of gender-exclusive language.

The service has no central system to record and manage training records. We also saw out-of-date staff training records for health and safety. And the service couldn’t show us how it learns from compliments and complaints.

The service’s staff lack trust in the grievance process and this needs to be addressed. Several staff said they wouldn’t use the grievance procedure because of repercussions in terms of future promotion opportunities.

On that note, staff consistently reported significant concerns about the promotion process. It is believed to be unfair and lacking openness, rather than identifying the talent of the future. The service has told us it is developing a new promotions policy. It also accepts that the current appraisal process is ineffective, and is reviewing it.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation.
  • The service should ensure staff have access to trauma support and counselling services.
  • The service should ensure it has an up-to-date health and safety policy and procedure and that staff understand and follow its health and safety policy and procedure.

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 has an occupational health department that offers health, medical and fitness screenings. Advice is also available on facilitating employees’ rehabilitation and return to work. Staff who have used occupational health support are positive about these services.

Last year supervisory staff received mental health first-aid training. This helps them to more effectively recognise staff who may be experiencing mental health issues.

The service doesn’t have a formal process to support staff who have attended a traumatic incident. As a result, the service may not identify or support adversely affected staff.

This view was supported by many staff who said that the service should do more to support staff after a traumatic incident.

Health and safety

The service has an established committee to review and monitor health and safety, as well as recommendations from debriefs. However, we found that several actions had not been completed. The service’s health and safety policy is out of date and staff training records for health and safety staff were also out of date. Several staff we spoke to couldn’t recall the last time they had health and safety training. The service hasn’t proactively promoted health and safety with staff. The health and safety team completes audits and monitors risk assessments, but there is a backlog due to limited capacity.

The service has a good system in place for some of its lone workers. Skyguard is a technical warning and protection device used by community safety educators working alone in the community. In an emergency, the system notifies a call centre, which in turn notifies control and emergency services.

Culture and values

In the last five years, the service has had four chief fire officers. It has had several temporary senior managers during the same period. Staff told us that management behaviour, including the way managers treated staff, was inconsistent.

Senior leaders have an annual programme of visits to stations. Some staff were positive about these visits; others said there was still a lack of visibility from leaders. Some staff felt there was a ‘them and us’ divide, and feedback from leaders was limited.

The main means of communicating to staff across the service is the intranet and the Service Matters weekly bulletin. Staff are aware of Service Matters, but there is no way of ensuring that they read and take in the information. The intranet is, however, easy and clear to use with plain, inclusive language.

The service reviewed its Code of Conduct for Directors, Managers and Employees in May 2018. The service is currently reviewing its values. Staff had an inconsistent understanding of values and weren’t aware of the review. In addition, several HR policies and procedures are under review. These relate to bullying and harassment, absence, discipline, promotion and recruitment.

We heard frequent use of gender-exclusive language which tends to suggest a culture that isn’t yet fully inclusive.

Several members of staff said they wouldn’t use the grievance procedure because of repercussions for future promotion opportunities. While we found no evidence of this, there is a strong perception among staff that this reflects the culture. Many staff we spoke to said the promotion process was unfair and unclear. We discuss this in more detail later in the report.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its electronic system for recording and monitoring operational staff competence is accurate and accessible.
  • The service should ensure staff are appropriately trained in safety-critical skills, such as incident command.

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 published its corporate and integrated risk management plan in 2018. Called ‘Our Plan: Corporate and Integrated Risk Management Plan 2018–2021’, it includes an action plan of the main work it is implementing. Staff told us there are several other activities they are carrying out in the next 12 to 18 months. The service needs to consider how work will be prioritised and achieved with the time and people it has available.

The plan also incorporates the new people strategy and workforce plan. The six planning areas in the people strategy are from the National Fire Chiefs Council’s national people strategy. The workforce plan lacks detail about how the service will meet its resourcing needs.

The service’s 2016–2020 IRMP (‘Towards 2020’) focused on reducing staff numbers to meet large budget reductions. Measures included:

  • reducing the number of operational and support staff;
  • reviewing management structure; and
  • sharing services with other organisations.

The number of FTE staff in the service peaked as at 31 March 2010 at 913 FTE staff. At the same date in 2018 there were 614 FTE staff in the service.

The service told us that it has reduced several posts within its management structure and that there are quite a few people new in post. The service accepts there is less experience at a senior level, but not a lack of skill. Local authorities carry out some specialist activities (such as treasury and legal). This means the service has access to professional advice and does not need to recruit directly into these roles. 

These staff reductions have had an impact. At the time of our inspection several departments had a backlog of work due to limited staff being available. The minimum staffing levels for most fire stations is four. The service has a policy on fire cover resourcing. However, it is not current as it doesn’t include all fire stations. The service follows a process to maintain adequate cover. This includes relocating staff to different stations, removing appliance availability and paying overtime. Managers told us they spend a considerable amount of time co-ordinating staff to meet minimum requirements. This has an impact on planned training. There is reliance on paying staff overtime to meet staffing needs.

Learning and improvement

The service has several systems for keeping records about training. They aren’t centrally managed. The learning and development team hold some records, while some departments hold their own. For example, safeguarding and equalities training have their own system. The service uses an electronic database to record and monitor some competencies. A ‘traffic light’ system alerts supervisory officers to any gaps in competence. We sampled the main competencies of firefighters from across the service. We found several to be out of date, and the current system to be inefficient and time-consuming.

Supervisory managers plan and run training for operational staff, and update the system to show competence. They give regular reports to district managers to show competence levels, and training that has yet to be completed.

Level two and level three commanders haven’t received training or reassessment following their initial incident command course. The service should put mechanisms in place so that level two commanders and above have the required competencies and training to command incidents.

In addition, operational staff haven’t received training in prevention activities or in gathering site specific risk information. The service is aware of this and plans to give training to all operational staff. Furthermore, equalities and health and safety training was out of date. The service told us that it is working to improve and enhance training provision, and to become an accredited centre. It knows that it doesn’t fully understand the skills and capabilities of the workforce, and plans to improve this. It is confident that operational staff are competent. As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of FRS staff to get their views of their service (please see the About the Data page for more details). Of the 115 staff who responded to our staff survey (16 percent of the workforce), 70 percent agreed that they had received enough training to enable them to do the things they are asked to do, while 30 percent disagreed.

Additionally, 58 percent of respondents agreed that they were satisfied with their current level of learning and development, while 42 percent of respondents weren’t. Most staff have an appropriate understanding of risk-critical information and can carry out safety checks of equipment. 

We saw firefighters testing equipment, including breathing apparatus. It was very positive to see that they carried this out confidently and effectively.

On-call and wholetime staff take part in exercises. They have a programme of exercises, some of which are ‘over border’ with other services and agencies. They take part in a debrief session to enhance their learning.

There was less evidence of learning and improvement in non-operational areas. The service couldn’t show us how it learns from compliments and complaints.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.
  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should ensure diversity and inclusion are well-understood and become important values of the service.

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

Service Matters is published weekly on the intranet. The service uses it to communicate important messages to staff.

Senior leaders told us of their commitment to visit all staff and locations across the service. Staff value these visits and feel confident that they can ask questions. But staff consistently said they don’t get feedback from questions asked, or they get pre prepared, political answers. For example, staff have asked for clarification of the use of tactical response vehicles, but haven’t had a clear response.

The service commissioned Opinion Research Services to conduct a staff survey in 2016. Some 36 percent of the workforce responded to the survey. The service hasn’t been able to show us that it has acted on staff feedback following the survey.

The service has a grievance procedure, which sets out timescales for action. Some staff we spoke to said they don’t have confidence in raising problems through the grievance procedure. They lack trust in the process and said there would be negative consequences for them. This could be the reason for the low number of grievances. 

In our staff survey, out of the 115 respondents, 21 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed, and 31 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the last 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.

The service has regular meetings with employee representative bodies. This is the forum for the bodies to raise and resolve concerns about matters that may affect its members. Employee representative bodies said that generally they have a good relationship with management, but there is limited opportunity for negotiation and consultation. They said the service makes decisions in advance, and they want involvement at an earlier stage.

The service has an established staff consultation forum, as well as equality diversity groups and staff networks. Senior leaders, staff representatives and the diversity officer are all members of these groups. The women’s network has devised a questionnaire for all female operational and non-operational staff to gather information about what they would like to change or have addressed.

Diversity

The service’s workforce doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. As at 31 March 2018, 2.8 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 21.6 percent. As at 31 March 2018, 4.2 percent of firefighters were female.

The service has actively worked with diverse groups to promote recruitment. It has attended events during Diwali, as well as Leicester Caribbean Carnival and Leicester Pride.

During the last firefighter recruitment campaign, the service held several ‘have a go’ days targeting under-represented groups, namely women and those from a BAME background. The service has evaluated these activities and made some changes for the next campaign. The service’s website promotes ‘have a go’ days with more focus on fitness for women, with a view to promoting their recruitment and selection.

Some staff don’t have a good understanding of diversity or positive action. Many staff have a perception that white men applying for a job as a firefighter are disadvantaged and excluded. We heard gender-specific terms such as ‘firemen’ and ‘lads’ rather than firefighter. Leaders need to do more to challenge these behaviours and attitudes among staff to create an inclusive and diverse workforce.

The service has an equality diversity and inclusion policy, but it lacks detail. Some staff felt that equality impact assessments aren’t always meaningful, and that equalities data collated and reported hasn’t influenced policies and procedures.

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 ensure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair.
  • 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 a paper-based annual appraisal system to monitor performance and development. Data on completed appraisals isn’t available as there is no central collation or monitoring. This means the service is overlooking a valuable opportunity to identify organisational learning and development needs.

For operational staff, the appraisal links to continuous professional development payments. Staff applying for promotion need a review and updated continuous professional development plan.

We found an inconsistent approach to appraisals across the workforce. Some staff told us they hadn’t had an appraisal in more than 24 months. Some staff said that appraisals were a meaningless ‘tick box’ exercise; they weren’t aware what happened with an appraisal once it was completed. Some non-uniformed staff said that the appraisals don’t support their development, and the service lacks development and training opportunities.

The service accepts that the current appraisal process is ineffective, and is reviewing it.

We found performance management to be inconsistent across the service. There are limited performance targets for control room staff. Line managers monitor calls, but there aren’t any call-handling targets. We also found that in some departments staff don’t have their performance managed. This leads to a backlog of work and a lack of clarity about priorities.

Developing leaders

The service is now developing a new promotions process following issues with how fair and open its previous one was.

Staff consistently reported significant concerns. They said the promotion process was unfair and lacked openness, rather than attempting to identify the talent of the future.

The service has made recent changes, by having members external to the service on some interview panels. However, the lack of a clear agreed procedure will continue to feed the perception of unfairness and bias.

The service doesn’t have a formal talent management process, or one that seeks out high-performing or high-potential staff to develop them to become future leaders. The service has invested in leadership management training for senior managers. This is an area it recognises it needs to improve.