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

The service takes workforce wellbeing seriously and has effective support systems to improve staff mental and physical wellbeing. It has a positive and proactive health and safety culture, and carries out regular safety inspections.

The service’s values focus on delivering service to the public. Staff, on the whole, embrace them. However, it isn’t clear how the values benefit the organisation by promoting diversity and equality or encouraging positive change.

The service’s workforce strategy states the importance of development opportunities for all. In reality, it is operational and technical areas that get most attention. Support staff get less. Personal development reviews (PDRs) are an important element of the service’s strategy. Yet completion and quality are seen as largely dependent on line managers and viewed by some staff as a ‘tick box’ exercise.

The service manages effectively the performance of response staff against risk critical skills, but it doesn’t have as effective a performance management process to maintain its competency training framework. Capacity and financial resources are affecting its ability to effectively plan and develop staff for specialist functions. There are also a number of staff in temporary positions, roles which should have been filled on a permanent basis. Additionally, we didn’t find processes to identify and develop staff with the potential to be senior leaders.

There are historical tensions in the service. Nevertheless, it seems a place where staff feel able to give feedback to their senior managers. A recent staff survey highlighted several areas for improvement.

There was a worrying lack of understanding about the benefits of diversity in the workplace from some staff and middle managers. The service does not have a diverse workforce. At 31 March 2018, 4.7 percent of firefighters were female, and 0.5 percent were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, compared with a BAME population of 3.4 percent. There is a drive to recruit more women but not the same focus on BAME people.

Women in the service struggle to get standard issue uniform. Despite efforts to make it available, many stated they still buy their own because of availability and fit.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values
and culture. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated by all staff.

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 takes health and wellbeing seriously and has effective support systems to improve its staff’s mental and physical wellbeing. Staff can access a well-advertised 24-hour confidential helpline and website for counselling or advice. Staff gave us positive examples of this service.

Staff also have access to an employee assistance programme called ‘PAM assist’. The service also promotes the MIND Blue Light Programme for supporting mental health.

The service also provides physical health monitoring and fitness testing via occupational health. The occupational health team is made up of an occupational health nurse and physiotherapist. Because of the large geographical area of North Yorkshire, this small team is primarily only able to deliver reactive rather than proactive health campaigns.

After traumatic incidents, fire control contacts crews to signpost staff to specialist wellbeing support. Staff who had used this support were very positive about the service they had received.

Health and safety

There is a positive and proactive health and safety culture in the service. Staff are encouraged to report accidents and near misses via an online system. Safety events are investigated appropriately, and trends are monitored to inform improvements. Accident outcomes are reported to the service risk management group and learning is communicated to staff via email and a health and safety bulletin. Less serious events are communicated via the service’s monthly update publication.

All stations undergo a regular health and safety inspection that is carried out in conjunction with station staff or the representative bodies’ nominated person.

Culture and values

The service has a set of seven values, which focus on how it will deliver its service to the public. These values are:

Professional
Respect
Openness
Trust
Excellence
Competence
Teamwork

It was clear to us that staff want to deliver the best service they can to the public – and these values reinforce that opinion. What was not clear is how these values drive behavioural change to increase understanding of diversity, promote equality and create organisational change.

The service has historically had a culture of top-down management. We were told that this had stifled staff engagement and trust between staff groups. The service has recognised some of these challenges and is working to create a more harmonious working relationship across the organisation. Engagement between senior managers, staff and representative bodies is seen to be improving.

Staff told us that communication with senior leaders has improved. The new chief fire officer appointment was viewed as a positive step towards building a more open and inclusive atmosphere.

We found a male-orientated culture and language being used at station level – for example, male-orientated language and terminology, and lots of references to ‘firemen’ and working with the ‘lads’. 

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

North Yorkshire 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 encompass all roles, including non-operational roles.

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 has a workforce strategy that covers the period from 2017 to 2021. The strategy sets out how the service aims to train, develop and maintain the competence of staff at all levels across the organisation. The strategy includes the need to provide development opportunities for all roles, but mainly focuses on operational or technical areas such as fire protection and prevention. Support staff are developed on a bespoke basis dependent on their area of expertise and the needs of their role.

The strategy has four aims to cover competence in its:

  • intervention (response);
  • technical fire safety (protection);
  • community safety (prevention); and
  • provision of legal compliance and governance.

It also sets out the service’s vision for an inclusive workforce linked to its values (PROTECT).

The strategy clearly sets out the link between the need for PDRs and bespoke development plans. There was no evidence to show that this link is being made consistently across the service.

The strategy also outlines the need for a sustainable workforce with workforce planning, recruitment and retention as priorities. We found that capacity and financial resources are limiting the service’s ability to effectively plan for and develop staff to take up positions in specialist functions such as protection.

The workforce strategy aligns with the service’s IRMP. It specifically reinforces and prioritises the need for response staff to acquire and maintain competence against nine operational areas. Competency is planned and assured as part of the training and development strategy and staff’s operational licence.

On-call firefighters get a clear development path at point of entry, with training and assessments aligned to National Occupational Standards. The service’s training programme is designed to accommodate the needs of on-call staff. Course availability is managed in a flexible manner and includes weekend courses. Some on-call firefighters on the development plan told us they found it difficult to achieve competency because they are limited by time constraints, a complex system and frequent assessments against the same skills.

The service has a promotions process, but staff told us they didn’t always feel it was clear. Some staff had been in temporary positions for some time and, although performing well, were not offered their roles on a permanent basis. The service told us that this was due to uncertainty over future funding levels. Staff also felt that changes to temporary managerial positions affected a function’s overall performance. As at 31 December 2018, 37 employees were temporarily promoted.

Learning and improvement

The service manages the performance of its response staff against risk-critical skills effectively. But it does not have such an effective performance management process for the ongoing maintenance of the competency training framework. We saw several training records that showed staff had not completed all their required theoretical training on Learnpro, an e-learning system.

Training for operational staff in risk-critical and other technical skills, such as breathing apparatus, fire behaviour, driving and water rescue, are co-ordinated centrally. These are subject to an additional layer of monitoring called ‘a ticket to ride’, or ‘operational licence’. To maintain the operational licence, staff are trained and assessed at regular intervals – those who do not meet the requirements are removed from operational duties. This training is recorded centrally on a system called ‘FireWatch’. The training manager accesses a report from FireWatch to plan how many courses need to be available to satisfy training needs.

Ongoing competency is achieved by station-based training activity against a set framework of practical and theoretical training. The systems for recording this training are not effective and there is a lack of ongoing monitoring or oversight. We found staff with training that had not been completed or recorded.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • 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, led by chief officers.
  • The service needs to improve its arrangements for uniform and facilities for female members of staff.

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

We found that staff feel able to feed back and challenge their managers through face-to-face meetings, during visits from the senior leadership team and in staff surveys.

An external company conducted a staff survey in 2018. In total, 45 percent of staff responded. The survey highlighted several areas for improvement including:

  • a lack of transparency from senior management;
  • staff not feeling valued;
  • frustration with the PDR process; and
  • scepticism that the survey results would be acted on.

During the inspection, we saw posters that highlighted the findings and it was clear that the senior team are trying to act. However, the service was unable to show us a clear action plan with timescales and priorities to address the concerns raised.

The service currently has good engagement with all the representative bodies. However, this hasn’t always been the case and there are some historical tensions still evident in the workforce. This tension affects the service’s ability to implement change – for example, the full adoption of safe and well checks or some specialist non-contractual skills at stations.

The service receives few formal staff grievances. Those it does receive are handled appropriately, in line with service policy and good practice. All managers receive training on grievance resolution as part of their development in role. This helps the service ensure that processes are applied fairly and consistently.

Of the 90 respondents to our staff survey, 18.2 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 17.2 percent feeling discriminated against at work in the past 12 months.

Diversity

The service is planning positive action events to attract more female staff as part of its recruitment. It is enthusiastic to turn plans into reality, but no events have happened yet. However, it does not have the same emphasis on attracting candidates from BAME groups. As at 31 March 2018, 4.7 percent of firefighters were female, and 0.5 percent of firefighters were from a BAME background compared with a BAME residential population of 3.4 percent.

Staff support and engagement networks are limited. A lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network is in place, but there is nothing for other staff groups. The service is missing the opportunity to harness ideas from under-represented groups that will help identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity.

We were concerned to hear of a widespread lack of understanding of the benefits of, and need for, workforce diversity. This was attributed, among others, to fairly senior managers – that is, those who would typically be classed ‘middle management’. We did, however, hear good examples of staff challenging unacceptable behaviour and feeling supported to do so.

Female staff told us they do not always have the right facilities, such as for showering and changing, available to them. Specific uniform for female firefighters was also highlighted as an ongoing concern, with some staff buying their own work clothes because the uniform is not suitable or easily available.

Staff told us that the service had recently set up an arrangement with North Yorkshire Police to supply female uniform. However, female members of staff have still been required to buy their own uniform because standard issue uniform is not easily available. The service has now set up a female uniform working group to look at such concerns.

While it was clear that the new senior team is committed to promoting diversity, the absence of a structured corporate plan is likely to hinder its efforts.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for 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 a performance-monitoring process in place to monitor completion of PDRs. Data supplied by the service showed that the highest completion rate in the PDR process was among wholetime operational staff, control staff and on-call staff. However, staff who were not in operational roles had a significantly lower rate of PDR completion.

The completion rate does not tell the whole picture. We heard from many staff that PDRs can vary greatly in quality. Many did not feel they had any real value for their ongoing development. This is a concern because the service’s workforce plan highlights the importance of PDRs in its overall staff development strategy.

Staff told us that PDR completion and quality were dependent on the competence and motivation of their line manager. Some staff said that the PDR was a ‘tick box’ exercise and only useful for staff seeking promotion. This affects the motivation of staff who have limited career development opportunities within their role. This issue was highlighted in the recent staff survey.

Developing leaders

Although the workforce strategy clearly articulates the requirement for leadership development, we found no process in place to identify and develop staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future. There was evidence of some staff being given development opportunities through secondment and temporary promotions, but this was limited and not clearly structured, organised or planned.