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

The service requires improvement at promoting values and culture. It prioritises workforce wellbeing and supports staff wellbeing in various ways. But not all staff know about the wellbeing support. The service is addressing this.

Staff record accidents and near misses as a matter of course. The service shares data with managers. The county council monitors it.

The service is subject to the county council’s values, but these are not well understood by fire service staff. It now has a new cultural framework. It should ensure its workforce understands it.

Norfolk FRS is good at getting the right people with the right skills. The service understands that its workforce is ageing. It recruits and trains to avoid skill gaps. It is working to recruit more on-call firefighters.

The service trains staff robustly in risk-critical areas. It monitors training and competencies so it can identify gaps easily. And it quality assures its records.

The service requires improvement in ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Some staff do not trust the anonymity of the service’s feedback system. So the service may miss out on feedback.

The service is aware that its workforce doesn’t reflect the diversity of its community. It is working to overcome barriers to recruiting people from under-represented groups. Norfolk FRS requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

Its appraisal process is linked to the county council’s. Most uniformed staff have had appraisals recently. Rates are lower among support staff. By improving this rate, the service will ensure support staff have clear objectives.

The service has a two-stage promotion process. The human resources department administers the first stage. The second is a local interview. Candidates told us they felt the first stage was fair. They told us they felt the second stage was not open and clear.

The service does not have a talent management programme to help it discover potential leaders. But it has a plan for one.

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 assure itself that staff understand and have confidence in the purpose and integrity of health, safety and wellbeing policies.

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 wellbeing of staff is a priority for the service. It has a wellbeing board that is chaired by the deputy chief fire officer. The service had 15 wellbeing champions at the time of inspection. It is actively recruiting more volunteers to raise awareness of wellbeing and wellbeing support across the service.

The service provides a variety of wellbeing support to staff. This includes externally provided occupational health and physiotherapy services. It also provides a counselling and support line.

The service has an effective trauma risk management process to support staff after a traumatic incident.

We have heard from staff who have used these services. They found them effective in supporting both mental and physical wellbeing. 

But many staff were unaware of the wellbeing support available to them. And they didn’t know how to access it. The service was aware of this because it did a wellbeing survey in 2018. It has a plan to address it. The service should ensure that staff understand and have confidence in its wellbeing support and that they know how to access it.

The service signed the Mind Blue Light Time to Change Pledge in October 2018. It hopes this will further raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. It hopes it will make staff feel more comfortable asking for support when they need it.

The service carries out annual fitness testing of operational staff. It has a dedicated physical training instructor to help staff as they improve their physical fitness.

Health and safety

The service has a clear health and safety policy. It sets out its purpose and scope, along with a statement of intent from the chief fire officer. It clearly defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels to promote health and safety.

The service has a well-understood ‘safety event’ recording and investigation process for all accidents and near misses. It shares statistical data with managers across the organisation. The county council also scrutinises and monitors this data. We had 195 responses to our staff survey, equating to 23 percent of the service workforce. Of these, 90 percent reported that they were satisfied that their personal safety and welfare are treated seriously at work. Some 98 percent know how to report accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences, and 95 percent stated that they are encouraged to report all accidents, near misses or dangerous occurrences.

The service tells staff about health and safety information using regular bulletins. We saw evidence of these during inspection and staff are aware of the areas highlighted in most recent bulletins.

Culture and values

Norfolk County Council has recently simplified and relaunched its values.

These are to:

  • take accountability;
  • make strategy happen;
  • be evidence based;
  • be business like; and
  • be collaborative.

These values are applicable to all council departments, including the fire service. But we found that these values are neither well accepted nor understood among fire service staff. They do not feel that they are relevant and, as such, there is a lack of acceptance and buy-in. 

Some on-call staff expressed concern that they did not feel valued. They felt that some officers did not see them as equal to wholetime firefighters. We also heard examples of inequalities between non-operational staff and their operational colleagues. There was evidence of isolated examples of staff not acting in accordance with accepted behaviours, which was perceived to be bullying. Of the 195 respondents to our staff survey, 17 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed. And 15 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 recently launched a new cultural framework. It should use this to ensure that all staff clearly understand its values and act in accordance with them.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the 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 understands its workforce profile. It has an ageing workforce. There are some operational staff reaching retirement age over the next few years. Human resources staff work with districts and stations to keep track of projected retirement dates and transfers. This ensures that they have a pool of people available when required. The service has been proactively recruiting and scheduling assessment development centres (ADCs) before projected retirements. It also does risk-critical training in advance to avoid any resource and skills gaps as individuals leave.

During inspection we saw evidence of gaps in capability and resilience in specialist roles such as protection. The service should ensure that its proactive approach to succession planning takes full account of specialist skills and knowledge requirements. 

Norfolk County Council has effective processes to fill vacancies for senior fire service officers. When it found out that the current chief fire officer would be retiring, it acted quickly. It got specialist advice and support from another fire and rescue service, agreed the selection process and advertised within a few weeks.

As at 31 March 2018, 62 percent of FTE firefighters were on-call firefighters. The service faces similar challenges to many other fire and rescue services in recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters. It is aware of this problem and is undertaking a range of activities to address it. These have included a social media campaign, devised by the service’s in-house digital media officer. It also uses blogs written by on-call staff to explain what the life of an on-call firefighter entails. This campaign has been very successful in generating awareness of the role of on-call firefighters. We look forward to seeing if this leads to increased recruitment. The service is also supporting work nationally in this area. Two of the role models in the Home Office on-call national awareness campaign come from Norfolk FRS.

The service makes effective use of its performance management tool, ‘live view’. The tool acts as a dashboard for performance. Managers have a tailored view for their specific location. So they can monitor the performance of the teams they are responsible for against their key performance indicators. We saw an example of this being used to ensure that risk file reviews were up to date.

Learning and improvement

Risk-critical training is a clear priority for the service. We found that staff are well trained in risk-critical areas. We saw evidence of regular, robust training and assessments for incident command and breathing apparatus in particular.

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

The service trains to an annual plan. It uses a basic spreadsheet system to record and monitor training and competencies. A traffic light system allows supervisory officers to identify any gaps in competence. We sampled the core competencies of firefighters from across the service and found them to be generally up to date. We also saw evidence that line managers sample and quality assure the records. This also happens during station audits.

The service records training and maintenance of competence in a similar way within fire control against a comprehensive training plan.

We sampled records and spoke to staff about training. We found evidence of a lack of training in areas such as safeguarding and equality, diversity and inclusion. The service should ensure that all staff receive appropriate training in these areas.

Protection staff receive comprehensive training, qualifications and continuing professional development. Opportunities for training and development for other support staff are more limited. Some staff suggest that they cannot access even basic IT courses, even if it is a requirement of their role. The service should ensure that it provides appropriate training and development opportunities to all support staff.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures.
  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms.
  • 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

The service has a generally positive and productive relationship with representative bodies and staff associations. These organisations engage regularly with senior leaders.

The deputy chief fire officer has made a series of visits to meet and talk to staff since being appointed in May 2018. These visits have been well received. Staff see them as a good way to discuss problems and provide feedback and challenge. But staff feel that other senior leaders are far less visible and do not engage with them. The service plans to introduce a programme of visits by all members of the senior team. So staff will get more opportunities to engage with them.

Following feedback from the staff survey, the service introduced a ‘sounding board’ and ‘rumour mill’ to the staff intranet in April 2018. These allow staff to ask questions and provide feedback anonymously, and to get responses from senior leaders and managers. While this appears to be an effective way to improve engagement, staff do not feel that it is effective. Some staff suggested that they don’t trust that it is anonymous and so are not confident in using it. Others stated that they have raised issues and never received a response.

The service updates staff using various newsletters and bulletins including business information sheets and operational bulletins. Of the 195 respondents to our staff survey, 82 percent felt there were opportunities to feed their ideas upwards in the service. But only 55 percent were confident that their ideas would be listened to. Also, only 56 percent felt they could challenge ideas without any detriment to the way they would be treated afterwards.

The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms. Feedback helps the service to gather valuable information and improve engagement between staff and senior leaders.

The service has a procedure to resolve staff grievances. It encourages staff to resolve workforce concerns locally and informally. There is no requirement to record these informal grievances. So there is neither organisational oversight nor quality assurance. The service is not aware of how many informal grievances are raised, nor of any common themes. It also cannot assure itself that outcomes are consistent and fair. While formal grievances are recorded, the number being raised was very low between the years ending 31 March 2015 and 31 March 2018.

During our inspection, staff raised concerns about the grievance procedure. Most staff we spoke to said that they would not feel confident in raising a grievance. They felt that raising a grievance would be held against them and may damage their future career prospects. They preferred not to ‘put their head above the parapet’. Some staff told us about bullying, harassment and discrimination in our staff survey. Those who did not report incidents to the service stated that they felt nothing would happen, had concerns about being labelled a troublemaker and were worried about potential victimisation and a lack of confidentiality.

The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures for all staff. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process. It should ensure that it monitors and reviews both formal and informal grievances. Then it can learn from them and make improvements.

Diversity

The service’s workforce does not fully reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. As at 31 March 2018, 0.6 percent of firefighters were from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 3.5 percent. Only 3.0 percent of firefighters were female.

The service is fully aware of this situation. It is acting to overcome some of the barriers to recruiting under-represented groups.

There was a focus on positive action during a recent wholetime recruitment campaign. The service ran information events and have-a-go sessions for under-represented groups. This had a positive impact on the number of women applying and being successful. The service has not yet been as successful attracting other under-represented groups. It should continue to work to recruit a more diverse workforce.

During inspection we found a lack of understanding of positive action among staff. Some stated that it had meant ‘a lowering of standards’”. And some didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of having a more representative workforce. The service should improve the understanding of positive action and the benefits of having a diverse workforce among its staff.

The service works hard and has been successful in recruiting young people from diverse backgrounds onto its youth programmes. These include cadets and the programme it runs with The Prince’s Trust. The service sees the youth programmes as a stepping stone to recruitment in the future.

The service has established a new inclusion group. We look forward to seeing how this group helps to support the service on its ‘cultural journey’. And we look forward to seeing improvements in equality, diversity and inclusion.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its selection, development and promotion of staff are 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

We saw evidence of effective performance management within fire control. This includes regular reviews of call handling times as part of monthly one-to-ones and quarterly performance reviews.

The service has a performance development (appraisal) process aligned to Norfolk County Council’s model. During individual appraisals, staff set personal and specific objectives. Completion rates for appraisals among uniformed staff, including fire control, wholetime and on-call, are good. They stand at 95 percent, 94 percent and 96 percent respectively as at 31 March 2018.

Many support staff we spoke to during inspection had not had an appraisal recently. Data suggests that completion rates for appraisals among support staff were only 54 percent as at 31 March 2018. Support staff also felt that their opportunities for development were very limited in comparison to those available to their uniformed colleagues.

According to our staff survey, 72 percent of the 195 respondents were satisfied with their current level of learning and development. But only 57 percent felt that they were given the same opportunities to develop as other staff in the service.

The service should ensure it uses its performance development (appraisal) process consistently to give all staff clear, personal and specific objectives. 

Developing leaders

The service is making good use of an apprenticeship scheme to provide leadership development to staff.

The service has a two-stage process for promotion.

The first stage is an ADC. This is administered and quality assured centrally by the human resources department. We reviewed the completed records from recent processes. They appeared consistently open and fair, with the highest scoring candidates being successful. The service offers feedback to all candidates following the process. Both successful and unsuccessful candidates told us that they felt this was an open and fair process. They felt that feedback allowed them to ‘prepare better for next time’.

The second stage of the process, open to anyone successful at the ADC, is an interview for specific roles. The interview stage is administered locally, at stations or in districts. There is no standard format and the human resources department doesn’t carry out any standardisation or quality assurance. The service doesn’t routinely keep records of interviews, so we couldn’t review them during our inspection. Staff told us that they did not feel that this part of the process was open and clear. They felt that ‘the goalposts kept moving’. The service should improve the interview stage of its selection process to ensure that it is consistent, fair, open and clear.

The service does not currently have a process to identify and develop high-potential staff. There is a plan for a talent management process with Norfolk County Council. The service should ensure that this plan progresses.