Skip to content

Royal Berkshire 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 19/06/2019
Good

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, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service takes the wellbeing of its workforce seriously. It offers staff a wide range of services, including counselling and trauma support, and funds a private healthcare scheme for its staff.

Its health and safety policy defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels, and it works closely with representative bodies to reduce accidents.

In 2014, a review highlighted a culture of bullying in the service. The current senior leaders told us they have been working to create a positive and inclusive culture across the organisation. Staff told us they see senior leaders as positive role models and respect them for improving the culture within the service. But during our inspection, we witnessed examples of some operational staff using language not consistent with an inclusive workplace. The service should make sure all staff understand its values and behave accordingly.

The service has a strong culture of learning and improvement. In December 2018, it introduced a revised performance regime to monitor staff competence, which aims to simplify its planning and recording. But we found that some staff are still not aware of this.

As part of our inspection, we reviewed a small number of recent grievance cases. Based on these we found the service’s handling of such cases is inconsistent. 

The service understands it faces a challenge to change its workforce diversity to be more representative of its community. It has a new action plan to increase diversity, and has set up a staff group to support this. This work is at an early stage.

The service has good arrangements in place to assess and develop staff performance. However, it could do more to identify and develop those who have leadership potential.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Royal Berkshire 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 ensure 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

Royal Berkshire FRS takes the wellbeing of its workforce seriously. It offers staff a wide range of services to support their wellbeing, including counselling, health and wellbeing advice, and health screening. It also provides support for non-work-related problems that can affect performance in the workplace.

The service monitors sickness absence of its staff and reports it to the fire authority. Following staff feedback, it introduced an innovative private medical healthcare scheme in March 2017. It reported a financial saving of over £150,000 in the first year, due to reduced sickness absence. It has also introduced a fitness movement specialist, as it had identified musculoskeletal injuries were the primary cause of sickness absence.

The service has an effective trauma support process, with trained staff to support colleagues. It has signed the Mind Blue Light pledge, and data it provided shows it has more than 40 blue light champions, who provide mental health support to staff across the service. Mind Blue Light is a charity programme that gives mental health support to emergency service staff.

Some staff reported delays in accessing occupational health services, but feedback on the service’s wellbeing provision was almost universally positive. 

Health and safety

Royal Berkshire FRS’s health and safety policy clearly defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels. The service provides additional health and safety training for specialist roles. 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 105 staff (16 percent of the service’s workforce) who responded to our staff survey, 94 percent agreed that they were satisfied their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

The health, safety and wellbeing committee assesses health and safety across the service. It is chaired alternately by the assistant chief fire officer and the Fire Brigades Union. The service monitors the number of accidents and reports this to the senior leadership team and fire authority. Of the 105 staff who responded to our survey, 98 percent agreed that they knew how to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences.

The service has recently upgraded the gym facilities in its stations. It has more than 100 qualified physical education supervisors, and its firefighters are subject to a six-monthly fitness test. In the year to 31 March 2018, of the 418 staff who took a fitness test, 411 (98 percent) passed first time.

Culture and values

In 2014, a review highlighted a culture of bullying in the service. The current senior leaders told us they had been working to create a positive and inclusive culture across the organisation. Of the 105 respondents to our staff survey, 14 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 10 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. However, staff told us they see senior leaders as positive role models and respect them for improving the culture within the service.

There is a behaviour charter for staff, based on the four pillars of ability, predictability, benevolence and integrity. The service’s people strategy found that not all staff were aware of this c
harter and our interviews confirmed that. Of the 105 respondents to our staff survey, 90 percent agreed they are treated with dignity and respect. But during our inspection, we witnessed examples of some operational staff using language not consistent with an inclusive workplace.

The service has launched a new 2018–2021 people strategy, which sets out its commitment to its workforce. It is aligned to the NFCC’s people strategy. At the time of our inspection, the service was developing a new behavioural competency framework, setting out expected behaviours for staff at all levels. It was piloting this with a section of its workforce during their annual appraisal. We will monitor the outcome of the pilot.

Most staff told us that they feel positive about working for the service, but several on-call staff told us they feel undervalued. The service hosts an annual sponsored staff awards event, and several staff highlighted this as a good way of rewarding positive behaviour and performance.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

Royal Berkshire 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 staff and managers use its competence recording system effectively.

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

Workforce planning

Royal Berkshire FRS’s workforce plan covers the period up to 2025/26. It sets out how the service will make sure it has the right number of operational staff with the right skills to meet the requirements of its CPIRMP. A planning group with representation from across the service meets regularly to map out the skills of the workforce.

There is a robust planning process to identify future training requirements for operational, leadership and management skills. These are identified through the workforce plan, reports from the heads of service and the appraisal process. Training is planned on a three-year rolling cycle.

There is a high standard of training for new protection and response staff. However, the training is more informal for prevention staff and relies mainly on peer-to-peer learning without quality assurance.

According to the service’s data, it is failing to meet its target of having 60 percent availability for on-call fire engines. Its on-call working group aims to improve this. It has had recent success with recruitment and has identified other areas for improvement – for example, reducing the time spent on the initial training of new firefighters by collaborating with Oxfordshire FRS.

There is an ICT system to monitor the number of firefighters available, including their mix of skills and capabilities. Local managers are responsible for making sure enough staff are available to crew the fire engines, but each manager takes a different approach to doing this. This lack of central planning means stations may be left with insufficient staff and raises a risk of managers offering overtime preferentially.

Learning and improvement

Royal Berkshire FRS has a strong culture of learning and improvement. In the service’s staff survey in December 2018, 96 percent of those who responded said they were fully engaged in the training and development they needed to do their job well.

The service has a good process for making sure its staff are adequately trained in risk-critical response skills, such as breathing apparatus and incident command. This training is aligned to the national fire professional framework. Staff take an initial course, then refresher courses at set time periods, and these courses are assessed according to national standards. Those who fail a particular skill are taken off the operational response and the service supports them in reaching the required standard.

Of the 105 staff who responded to our survey, 80 percent agreed they had received sufficient training to enable them to do their jobs. Additionally, 79 percent agreed they were satisfied with their current level of learning and development.

In December 2018, the service introduced a revised performance regime to monitor how well it is maintaining staff competence. This new approach aims to simplify planning and recording. It includes new training modules, which are designed to fit with the three hour on-call training sessions. Staff were informed about it through emails, bulletins, intranet notices and videos, but many we spoke to weren’t aware of it. Managers who could access the system told us it was more user-friendly, but we can’t assess it until it is fully embedded.

The service has qualified supervisory managers who plan and monitor the quality of training in stations. On-call stations train monthly with wholetime stations, and new on-call firefighters can improve their knowledge by riding wholetime fire engines as an extra member of the crew. Wholetime and on-call staff told us this was working well. However, on-call firefighters told us that they didn’t have remote access to the service’s systems and that this restricts their learning opportunities. The service has introduced a bursary scheme, which allows staff to apply for financial support for training. We observed firefighters confidently and effectively testing equipment, including breathing apparatus.

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.

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

Royal Berkshire FRS has a good relationship with trade unions. It has also formed a joint consultative committee – a group for staff who aren’t members of a union. A member from the Fire Brigades Union alternately chairs the health, safety and wellbeing committee, and the union has been involved in designing the remotely managed stations / flexible duty officers project.

Staff are consulted on service changes and told us the current management is more open than the previous leadership. Staff are invited to observe strategic meetings, and senior leaders have an annual programme of station visits. Staff appreciate these, although some told us they didn’t always receive responses to their feedback. The service has changed its exit interview process from an online survey to a face-to-face interview.

The service has many communication channels, including the fortnightly Cascade bulletin and monthly Shout magazine. Staff seemed aware of these and the service tracks the number of staff who access it electronically. The intranet also provides information. However, on-call staff can only access the bulletins and intranet at work.

The service told us it had made changes as a result of staff feedback, such as introducing the private healthcare scheme. However, most staff weren’t aware of the service responding to their feedback. Of the 105 staff who responded to our staff survey, just 58 percent agreed that they were confident their ideas and suggestions would be listened to.

The service has committed to holding an annual staff survey and, in 2018, over 55 percent of staff responded. However, many seemed unaware of the results and doubtful that any action would be taken as a result.

As part of our inspection, we reviewed a small number of recent grievance cases. Based on this, we found the service’s handling of such cases is inconsistent. It encourages managers to resolve low-level grievances locally and informally, but there is no oversight to assure fairness and consistency. This prevents it from identifying trends that could be used to make improvements.

Staff told us they were confident about raising concerns to the service. The service also has an independent confidential reporting line.

Diversity

As at 31 March 2018, 2.4 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 20 percent. And as at 31 March 2018, 4.4 percent of firefighters were female. Wholetime firefighter recruitment in 2018 has failed to improve these statistics. As at 31 March 2018, 88.2 percent of full-time equivalent (FTE) firefighters were wholetime. Recent on-call recruitment has achieved a small increase in female firefighters. The campaign included have-a-go sessions and targeted mothers of school-aged children. 

The service’s people strategy sets out its commitment to achieving greater workforce diversity. In terms of the wider workforce, it has made some progress. For example, as at 31 March 2018, four of its 32 protection staff were from a BAME background, 14 of its 20 prevention staff were female, and women are well represented in senior positions.

The service has a new action plan to increase diversity and has set up a staff group to support this. This work is at an early stage and the service should continue to give this its full attention. The service implemented mandatory online equality, diversity and inclusion training in May 2018 and its data showed 80 percent of staff had completed this.

The service has also set up an equality, diversity and inclusion forum, which helped develop its new equality, diversity and inclusion objectives. These objectives were subject to public and staff consultation before being finalised. We found the service’s use of the forum had been limited since this initial work. So it should consider how it might use the forum more effectively.

The service works with Leonard Cheshire Change 100, which is an internship programme placing graduates with disabilities in the workplace. The service has worked with seven interns in the last two years and two have become members of staff.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Good

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

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

Royal Berkshire FRS has good arrangements in place to assess and develop staff performance. Every member of staff has an annual performance appraisal with their manager, to review the previous year’s performance and set targets and objectives for the next. Staff generally spoke positively about this process. The service is piloting a new type of appraisal called a behavioural competency framework. 

The number of staff who have completed their appraisal is a corporate target and reported quarterly to the strategic performance board and fire authority. As at 31 March 2018, the service had 609 FTE staff. Some 93 percent of wholetime firefighters, 96 percent of on-call staff, 96 percent of control room staff and 89 percent of staff had completed an appraisal.

Through the appraisal process, all staff can access courses focusing on personal development including areas such as time management, personal resilience and managerial skills. Support staff were positive about the career development opportunities available to them. The service believes the new remotely managed stations / flexible duty officers project will increase opportunities for all staff.

Developing leaders

The service relies on its appraisal process to identify staff who are interested in promotion. It doesn’t have a formal system in place to identify and develop those with high potential. Service leaders told us they are looking into this and have supported a member of staff to research talent management as part of a master’s course.

We found the promotion process to be clear and well documented. Staff told us they trusted it to be fair.

The service has developed a leadership development programme for middle managers, focused on leading self, leading others and leading the business. It is doing the same for supervisory managers. Senior leaders have been working with coaches, both individually and as a group, to help with self-development and working as a team.