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

Nottinghamshire FRS effectively promotes its values and culture. Staff are positive about the way the service looks after their safety and wellbeing. But the service doesn’t monitor the hours worked by staff on dual contracts. It should also check that staff have enough rest, so they are safe to work. The service promotes its values to improve behaviour. But some staff reported behaviour not in line with service values.

The service knows what problems it faces to keep its workforce up to capacity. But its workforce plan doesn’t align with the objectives of its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). And while the service learns from incidents, this information doesn’t always inform training. It could also do more to use learning from complaints to improve its service.

The service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. It gets feedback from staff, and acts on it. Representative bodies are satisfied with their relationships with service leaders. Staff are confident about raising grievances, and the service monitors formal and informal grievances so it can spot trends. It has a programme of positive action to promote diversity. But the service should improve how it educates staff about positive action, as some staff who we spoke to failed to understand the benefits of positive action.

The service should improve how it manages performance and develops leaders. Some staff are on long-term temporary promotions, which has caused uncertainty. The service doesn’t do enough to manage individuals’ performance. It gives staff performance and development targets but doesn’t link them to service-wide objectives. Staff feel they don’t have clear enough performance targets. The service has limited processes to develop high-potential staff towards senior leadership roles. For instance, its aspiring leaders programme is aimed only at non-managers who want to become managers.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put appropriate mechanisms in place to enable closer monitoring of hours worked by staff.
  • The service should develop a wellbeing strategy and a system to improve understanding of health, safety and wellbeing trends.
  • The service should ensure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation.

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

Workforce wellbeing

Nottinghamshire FRS staff spoke positively about the wellbeing interventions available to them. This included psychological help through the service’s peer support team and access to physiotherapy through the occupational health department. Staff also spoke positively about the welfare support offered following traumatic incidents.

The service offers an employee assistance programme, access to counselling and fitness equipment to all staff. It proactively monitors and manages long-term sickness absence and provides a range of support mechanisms and information through the occupational health and fitness team. Our survey found that, of the 216 respondents, 93 percent agreed that they are satisfied their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

However, the service doesn’t have a health and wellbeing strategy. It also doesn’t consistently evaluate the effectiveness of its wellbeing measures. It told us it is currently devising a new strategy.

Health and safety

Nottinghamshire FRS has a health and safety manager and a dedicated committee. It has an overarching health and safety statement of intent and 37 separate procedure documents. Some of these are either out of date or don’t have a review date.

Health and safety messages are sent out to staff through safety-critical alerts. They show a good awareness about how to report health and safety issues. In answering our survey, of the 216 respondents, 94 percent agreed that they are encouraged to report all accidents, near misses or dangerous occurrences.

Health and safety training is available for staff, but the level and frequency is inconsistent. Refresher training for some operational managers is significantly overdue.

The service offers dual contracts to wholetime employees so they can also provide on-call cover. Nottinghamshire FRS does have a policy advising on rest periods. However, there is limited monitoring of the hours staff work. The service should make sure staff have enough rest periods and are safe to work.

Culture and values

Nottinghamshire FRS has a people strategy that sets out four behavioural values:

  • value and respect others;
  • professional in all that we do;
  • one team working together; and
  • openness to change.

The service carried out a staff survey in 2018, to which 55 percent of staff responded. Of those who did, 90 percent understood the service’s values.

The chief fire officer is clear that the values of the organisation are dependent on the people within it. Senior leaders demonstrate the values of the organisation and are approachable. Staff said senior leaders are more visible now.

Nottinghamshire FRS proactively works to improve behaviours. It promotes its values on the staff intranet and via posters displayed at fire stations. At least one station holds meetings with staff to ensure their behaviour reflects the service’s values. The values were reflected by most staff we spoke to. However, some referred to behaviours that aren’t in line with these values. The 2018 staff survey showed that 15 percent of staff had witnessed workplace conversations in the previous 12 months that had included inappropriate or discriminatory language. This was supported by our own survey: of the 216 respondents, 15 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 14 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.

The service communicates with staff through a variety of methods. It uses the intranet and newsletters to distribute information across its workforce. It holds conferences and management briefings to communicate with staff and managers face-to-face. However, staff told us that some middle managers don’t always pass information on to their staff. The service has recently addressed this by providing written updates following middle managers briefings and spot checks to confirm this information has been cascaded.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should develop a training plan that clearly aligns and supports its workforce plan.
  • 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

Nottinghamshire FRS clearly identifies workforce challenges in its 2018–20 workforce plan. But this isn’t fully aligned with the objectives in its integrated risk management plan. According to data provided by the service’s HR department, retirement and natural turnover could see up to 78 wholetime uniformed and 74 on-call firefighters leaving by March 2020. This informs its recruitment plans.

The service is responding to future workforce challenges. It will recruit 24 trainee firefighters in 2018/19. There are plans for wholetime crews at some stations to provide cover only during the day, instead of for 24 hours. As there are fewer incidents during the night, the service will cover this period with on-call staff. Its aim is to create capacity and make savings linked to its medium-term financial plan. The service’s on-call sustainability group is tackling the problem of recruitment and retention of on-call staff firefighters. Members of this group also provide cover to improve on-call fire engine availability.

Nottinghamshire FRS has systems to record firefighter skills and competencies, but these are not joined up. There is also no clear training schedule in place. The service needs to be clear on how it is planning for future training needs in line with its workforce plan. In the training records sampled, staff’s critical competencies were up to date. But there is a lack of central oversight and robust management procedures for the revalidation and completion of these competencies.

The service records water rescue specialist skills, but not other specialist skills such as heavy vehicle rescue. It plans to address this through its operational assurance group.

There is limited recording of competency and training for level two commanders and above. And this is not monitored effectively. The service should put mechanisms in place to make sure these officers have the competencies and training needed to command incidents.

Learning and improvement

Training for Nottinghamshire FRS staff is available through a mixture of face-to-face and e-learning packages. A specific training team also carries out critical competency training, such as in breathing apparatus use and incident command. Those staff we tested on breathing apparatus showed a good understanding of its use. Incident commanders tested incorporated elements of national operational guidance into their decision-making processes.

Staff spoke positively about the quality of training. Of the 216 respondents to our staff survey, 84 percent agreed that they had received enough training to enable them to do what is asked of them. And 84 percent of the 216 respondents were satisfied with their current level of learning and development.

The service’s delivery assurance group monitors each commander during incidents, so it can give them feedback. But we were told that operational monitoring lacked structure, and training was out of date for several level two and level three incident commanders.

The service looks to learn from operational incidents and uses a digital debrief system to record learning points afterwards. When it issues safety-critical information, staff must confirm they have read it. Service-wide debriefs are held for large or significant incidents.

We were told that operational learning wasn’t filtering through into changes in training. The service is addressing this through more closely aligning operational assurance and training teams.

Staff are unsure if training in areas such as fire safety and manual handling is compulsory. Training in areas such as site-specific risk identification is inconsistent.

The service has no clear professional development plan for non-operational staff. It should devise a training plan for all staff members and establish clear compulsory training requirements.

Nottinghamshire FRS lacks overall oversight and performance management when it comes to learning and improvement. We saw an example of this from 2018. The service identified shortfalls in its watch manager selection process. However, at the time of inspection, the service could not confirm if the necessary improvements were made due to this lack of oversight.

The service also isn’t consistently using the learning from the complaints it receives to improve its practice. It doesn’t closely monitor or review outcomes from complaints.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should improve communication around positive action through all levels of the organisation.

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

Nottinghamshire FRS has various methods by which it gains feedback from its staff. This includes conferences and face-to-face engagement with senior leaders. The conferences are an opportunity to both receive information and give feedback. Staff said leaders are more visible now, and are approachable.

Staff submit suggestions through a scheme called Little Acorns. Ideas acted on include providing medical bags for flexi-duty officers and reducing the use of plastic cups and stirrers at the service’s headquarters. In our survey of staff, of the 216 who responded, 81 percent agreed that there were opportunities for them to feed their views upwards in the service.

Nottinghamshire FRS’s middle managers regularly attend briefings. The service recently introduced a process to make sure information from these briefings was passed to all staff. Previously some managers did this, and some didn’t.

Representative bodies are positive about their relationship with senior leaders.

The service surveyed its staff in 2018 and worked with them to draw up a 25-point action plan afterwards. At the time of the inspection, it was not clear how much progress had been made against this action plan. The service should implement changes in a timely manner. This is especially important given that the survey indicated there may be instances of harassment and bullying.

The service monitors formal grievances and has oversight of informal grievances to spot trends and issues. Most staff we spoke to were confident about raising a grievance, but grievance policies were overdue for review. 

Diversity

Nottinghamshire FRS doesn’t yet reflect the community it serves. As of 31 March 2018, 3.3 percent of its firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population in the service area of 11.2 percent. Also, only 4.8 percent of its firefighters were female. However, the service has an established programme of positive action. It holds positive action days and is drawing up an equality plan. The service had a degree of success in attracting candidates from under-represented groups in its most recent wholetime firefighter recruitment process.

Nonetheless, there is a lack of overall co-ordination between groups set up to focus on equality and diversity. There is an equalities steering group and an employee engagement group which are independent to the service. Some staff within these groups felt they weren’t being effective.

It is of concern that some male staff perceive that the selection tests for female firefighters applying to join the service are made easier. This isn’t the case. If the service is to meet the equality and diversity commitments in its IRMP, its culture needs to change and its communication about positive action needs to improve.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure individual performance targets clearly support objectives within the IRMP.
  • The service should improve staff awareness and understanding of promotion and selection processes.
  • 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

There isn’t sufficient management of individual performance at Nottinghamshire FRS. Senior management and staff told us there is no culture of performance management. The service has a personal development review (PDR) process and sets performance and development targets, but these don’t link to the organisational objectives in its IRMP. Staff we spoke to commented on the lack of clear targets.

As of 31 March 2018, 71 percent of the service’s control room staff, 69 percent of wholetime firefighters, 69 percent of support staff and just 27 percent of on-call firefighters had a completed PDR. The PDR process is expected to be completed by all staff every 12 months.

Staff told us the service’s PDRs lacked corporate oversight and quality assurance, and one-to-one meetings with managers are inconsistent. Some staff who have a PDR found the process useful, but others see it as no more than a tick-box exercise. The service offers training in how to use the PDR system, but it is only for managers and isn’t compulsory.

The service needs to make sure that individuals are set clear performance targets. This will drive continuous improvement.

Developing leaders

Nottinghamshire FRS has a promotion process and leadership framework that identifies development pathways for operational staff. The sample of promotion files we reviewed showed the process was applied fairly and in line with policy. The person specification and selection processes are linked to the leadership framework.

However, some staff we spoke to said the process for temporary promotions isn’t seen as open and transparent because it isn’t formally documented. The service should ensure all promotion opportunities and outcomes are consistently communicated. As of 31 December 2018, 68 staff had been temporarily promoted and the average length of temporary promotion was 267 days. Staff told us the large number of temporary promotions and frequent changes in management caused instability.

Nottinghamshire FRS has no process to identify, develop or support staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future. The service has a springboard course aimed at women that is designed to increase confidence and self-awareness. There is also an aspiring leaders programme. However, this is aimed only at those who are currently non-managers and does not continue to support those who are already managers.