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

We found that staff enjoy working for Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service. They feel valued and know what is expected of them. They believe that their health and safety are treated seriously by the service. Staff trust the people who are leading them. In turn, senior managers listen to their staff. They regularly visit stations and have shown that they will make changes to the way the service works when problems are raised. The low number of grievances made by staff reflects the service’s open and fair culture.

Staff are well trained. The service invests in training so that staff have the skills they need for their jobs. The service also works to make sure that it has people with the right skills to take on more senior roles as opportunities emerge. However, we found that some commanders do not immediately get the extra training they need for them to take charge of more complex incidents.

Staff believe that the right people are chosen when promotions are offered. But the service has no formal process for picking out staff with the potential to become leaders in the future. Opportunities for support staff are limited. There is no process for on-call staff to achieve promotion to management roles beyond their own stations.

The workforce doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of the community it serves. More could be done to explain to staff why positive action to attract more people from under-represented groups in society is a good thing.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Shropshire 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 consider monitoring secondary contracts to ensure working hours are not exceeded.

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

Workforce wellbeing

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has a range of welfare services for staff. These include Mind for better mental health, counselling, employee assistance schemes and occupational health. Services are accessed via a health and wellbeing page on the internal website or directly with the human resources department.

Staff spoke highly of the support in place for mental and physical health. As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of FRS staff to get their views of the service (please see the About the Data page for more details). Of 115 respondents (18 percent of the workforce), 98 percent agree that they are satisfied that their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work. Many gave examples of the type of support received. Some staff were not aware of the new trauma risk management (TRiM) system that has been introduced to ensure wellbeing after traumatic incidents. The service needs to promote this further so that all staff understand the benefits and how to access support.

The service has recently increased fitness standards for firefighters in line with national guidance. They recognise this may have an impact on some staff groups so have purchased fitness equipment for some stations to help members of staff build fitness levels if needed.

The service has a notable dyslexia programme in place to support staff in the workplace. Staff praised the scheme and how it had helped improve their performance at work.

We found that the service does not monitor working hours of wholetime staff on secondary contracts to ensure that working hours are not exceeded. Staff told us that rest periods are left to their own discretion. This means that the service cannot be assured of the welfare of its staff across the service. 

Of the 115 respondents to our staff survey, 11 reported feeling bullied or harassed in the past 12 months, and 13 reported feeling discriminated against in the same time period. There are limitations to the staff survey which should be considered alongside the findings. We explain these on the About the Data page.

Health and safety

The service’s health and safety policy is a statement of intent to maintain current legal obligations and staff welfare. It is displayed at all premises, but we found that copies at some stations were out of date.

The service is part of a regional health and safety group and their health and safety manager leads on regional investigations.

We found that staff are well trained and that there are systems in place to monitor and audit health and safety compliance. For example, we found that station premises are audited annually and a health and safety report is published. Our staff survey found that 98 percent of the 115 respondents know how to report all accidents, near misses or dangerous occurrences, and 98 percent of respondents agree that they are encouraged to do so.

We found that sickness absence is monitored on an HR data dashboard. The dashboard is used to monitor attendance management, modified duties and return to work. The service can identify and understand emerging trends. For example, it has found that the main causes of sickness absence are mental health and musculo-skeletal injuries. Recognition that mental health absence was a priority enabled the service to introduce the TRiM system.

Culture and values

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service values – improvement, people, diversity, community – are integral to service plans and staff behaviours. We found that staff at all levels of the organisation were welcoming and motivated, demonstrating positive values and behaviours.

Staff feel valued and they think that their leaders are approachable and responsive. Our staff survey found that 90.4 percent of 115 respondents agree that there are opportunities for them to feed their views upwards in the service. There is a positive culture throughout. Staff trust their senior leaders. Leaders regularly visit stations and departments. Staff tell us that these visits are positive and interactive. We found that staff thought leaders demonstrated the values of the organisation. The chief fire officer speaks highly of his staff and the culture of the service. In the staff survey, 97 percent of 115 respondents agree that they are treated with dignity and respect at work.

The service fosters good working relationships with representative bodies. Staff are confident to raise issues with line managers and are proud of the positive approach the service has to making things better.

We spoke to a variety of the service’s partners during the inspection. They all said that dealings with the service are positive and engaging. 

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

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

Areas for improvement

  • We found that newly promoted level 3 commanders do not receive sufficient training before joining the command function at that level. This is a potential vulnerability for the organisation.
  • The service should ensure it has a system to record and monitor control staff competence which is accurate and accessible. This should include training plans and quality assurance.

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

Workforce planning

Workforce planning is part of the overarching people strategy of the service. Departmental managers meet monthly to discuss workforce and succession planning. The forum advises on recruitment, skills gaps and retirement profile. This is an effective way of ensuring continuity of service to the public is maintained wherever possible.

The service uses external sources to provide specialist training. These include prevention and protection skills. There is a clear development programme and supporting structure in place for protection staff. However, we found that managers need to think more carefully about the time needed to achieve qualifications. For example, it can take many months for a new member of protection staff to be qualified and ready to undertake fire safety audits. This can leave a skills gap which could result in the risk-based inspection plan audits falling further behind.

The service has a high level of availability of on-call firefighters. Between April 2018 and December 2018, the overall average monthly engine availability ranged from 96 percent to 98 percent. The service has achieved this by working with on-call firefighters to ensure their working conditions support the commitment they make to the public. On-call staff are supported by a small central team that provides cover where needed and carries out routine tasks to support local managers.

The service has many wholetime firefighters who also have on-call contracts. This has contributed to the sense of unity we saw between these sections of the workforce. It is also seen as important in maintaining skill levels of on-call staff.

Learning and improvement

We found that the culture of learning and improvement in the service is strong. Staff spoke highly of the positive and supportive environment at the training centre in Telford.

Operational staff are well trained. The service offers additional training for on-call staff if needed. Stations where staff hold specialist skills also receive additional training. This ensures operational competencies are maintained effectively.

Response staff are trained in line with national standards. Staff across the service develop management skills through the Institute of Leadership & Management. Protection inspection officers study for an accredited certificate or diploma in fire safety.

The service has a database to record and monitor training and operational events.A second database provides online learning tools. We sampled the main competencies of firefighters across the service and found some were out of date. The service is in the process of moving to a single system to improve efficiency. However, we found that systems to monitor the performance and competence of control room staff were not consistent with the rest of the operational workforce.

The service has a central training calendar for large-scale exercises involving several fire engines and crews. These follow themes but focus on core competencies to support learning and improvement. Training exercises involve both on-call and wholetime crews and are supported by central teams and commanders.

We saw good evidence that the training team adds learning points from operational debrief and monitoring into exercise programmes to ensure continuous improvement. Staff gave us several examples where learning had been shared. Our staff survey found 89.6 percent of the 115 respondents agree that they receive sufficient training to do their job.

We found that commanders who are newly promoted at group manager level do not immediately receive the additional training for them to take charge of larger and more complex incidents. This is an area of potential vulnerability for the service.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure that all staff understand positive action and why it is necessary.
  • The service needs to assure itself that it has appropriate mechanisms to engage with and seek feedback from all staff, including those from under-represented groups. This will enable it to better understand staff needs.

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

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has a programme for senior leaders to visit all stations and departments at least once a year. Staff told us that these visits were both positive and interactive. We found during our interviews that leaders are generally aware of the issues and concerns of their workforce.

The service seeks feedback from staff via employee surveys and a staff suggestion scheme. On-call managers attend regular meetings with the central management team. We found that workshops had been held to explore negative feedback following the last staff survey. We saw a detailed action plan to address the issues raised.

We found that the service communicates with staff in various ways. These include a service newsletter, chief officer bulletins and officer briefings. We saw that all suggestions submitted through the suggestion portal had received feedback from the service. The service hosts focus groups to address specific topics.

We found that the service has formed good working relationships with staff representative bodies. Representatives are invited to all decision-making meetings and are consulted on changes which affect the workforce.

The service has a low number of formal grievances in the year to 31 March 2018, which reflects the open and fair culture we found. However, the service has no view of those grievances which are being resolved informally at the lowest appropriate level. It is therefore not able to assure the fairness and consistency of informal outcomes or identify trends to support organisational learning.

We found that the service does not have any employee voice groups to support and engage under-represented staff such as women, those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. We found that many staff did not understand positive action, or the need for support groups.

Diversity

We found that the service’s workforce does not fully reflect the communities it serves. Senior leaders are aware of this problem and are giving it an appropriately high profile within management teams.

As at 31 March 2018, 0.8 percent of firefighters were from a BAME background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 3.9 percent. And 6 percent of firefighters were female.

It is positive to note that the service has provided unconscious bias training to all managers who are involved in recruitment. The service has taken some positive action to encourage members of under-represented groups to apply for jobs.

The service examined where candidates from under-represented groups were unsuccessful during the last recruitment process and as a result they have initiated a fire ‘boot camp’ to assist with the job-related physical tests.

The service has a flexible working policy in place. This is actively promoted in job adverts and as part of the recruitment process. We found a fully embedded dyslexia and reasonable adjustments programme in place. Staff spoke highly of the positive impact this has had.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires 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 carries out annual performance appraisals. We found that this system was not mandatory and therefore completion numbers are low across the service. Some on-call staff told us that they didn’t see the value of performance appraisals due to the nature of their role. The service has told us that a new appraisal system is being introduced in early 2019. We look forward to seeing how this has embedded during our next inspection.

Development opportunities are available for staff who wish to pursue operational leadership roles. The service ensures that commanders have the skills they need to manage performance through the Institute of Leadership & Management. We were encouraged to find that lower level managers are provided with bespoke training which includes discipline, managing difficult conversations and mental health awareness.

We found that there are no opportunities for on-call staff to progress into middle-management roles. However, we found that staff thought promotion processes were fair and transparent and had been improved following feedback.

Our staff survey found that 88.7 percent of the 115 respondents agree that they are satisfied with their current level of learning and development. Staff told us that there were limited development pathways for non-uniformed staff. Some staff had left due to lack of opportunity.

Developing leaders

The service does not have a system in place to identify, develop or support staff with high potential to become senior leaders. Instead, the service relies on people putting themselves forward for promotion. We did find evidence that managers encourage staff to seek promotion, but this was informal and not consistent.

Staff trust the promotion process. They are confident that the service promotes the people who perform best. We were encouraged to find that following feedback the service had improved the transparency of how final appointments are made from a pool of successful candidates.

The service has a good promotion and development process in place for uniformed staff. However, we found that there are fewer opportunities for on-call and non-uniformed staff.

The service has introduced additional training for new managers. This includes awareness on prevention, protection and managerial skills such as having difficult conversations.