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Staffordshire 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 17/12/2019
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, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service is outstanding in promoting the right cultures and values. Staff know the values of the service and the standards that are expected of them. They see their leaders putting those high standards into practice. Leaders encourage staff to ask questions and to expect honest answers. They also take time and trouble to support members of staff.

The service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. Staff – whether wholetime or on-call – are trained to the same standards. Training is organised and executed to benefit both the service and staff. The service made changes to training schedules to better suit the needs of on-call staff. As a result, on-call recruitment has improved.

The service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity and inclusion. Staff told us that they feel comfortable raising concerns with their leaders. The service is working to encourage applications from women and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. However, the workforce does not currently fully reflect the community that it serves.

The service is good at managing performance and developing leaders. The annual appraisal system works effectively. The promotion pathway is clear for operational staff, and the selection process is open, accessible and robust. However, the service does not have a programme that helps to spot, nurture and support future senior leaders.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Outstanding

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

Workforce wellbeing

Staffordshire FRS understands the wellbeing needs of its staff. They all have access to an employee assistance programme, occupational health and professional support, such as counselling, if needed. The service has a dedicated fitness adviser to support staff health and wellbeing. Systems monitor the working hours of staff.

Staff can access information on wellbeing support through an intranet portal. Following difficult incidents, operational staff are supported by a process known as TRiM to reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic stress. The service runs events throughout the year which focus on both male and female health issues, such as prostate cancer and menopause.

Health and safety

Staffordshire FRS has a good framework in place to promote health and safety in the workplace.

New employees complete an induction package which includes manual handling, hazard spotting and how to use the accident reporting procedure. All staff complete annual e-learning training packages to maintain their understanding. Health and safety information is shared via a safety flash.

The service is part of a regional health and safety practitioners’ group. Member services carry out compliance audits on each other. Local workplace safety groups meet quarterly and provide reports on risk assessments, workplace assessments and training.

In our survey of fire and rescue staff (please see Annex A for more details), 95 percent of the 146 staff who responded agreed that their personal safety and welfare was treated seriously.

Culture and values

Staffordshire FRS has a long-established core values and behaviours framework which is clearly presented to staff. This was refreshed, involving all staff, in 2018. We found that staff across the whole organisation consistently demonstrate positive values and behaviours. 

The core values are easily accessible on internal systems, displayed at all places of work and reflected in documents and policies. Staff clearly understood the values and think they are reflected within all staff groups across the service. In our survey, 91 percent of the 146 staff who responded agreed that they were treated with dignity and respect at work.

Staff think that leaders demonstrate and maintain service values. They spend time talking to staff at headquarters and carry out station visits, both scheduled and ad hoc, regularly. Staff are encouraged by leaders to ask questions and expect honest replies. This is replicated across all management tiers.

Many staff gave us examples of senior leaders making the time to send cards or call them when they have been off work following a bereavement, or on other occasions.

The service has 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 for making improvements.

We spoke to a variety of the service’s partner organisations during the inspection and they unanimously described their interactions with the service as positive and engaging.

We thought it notable that the service decided some time ago to remove rank markings from day-to-day uniform. Staff across the whole organisation told us that this was a positive move, and that it had helped to remove perceived barriers and build a more inclusive environment where everyone felt equally valued.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

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 and a plan to replace staff. It identifies known leavers, for example staff due for retirement, and plan for vacancies that may arise. This is cross-mapped to a training needs analysis document which is used to forecast skills gaps and allocate budget. Vacancies are reviewed to ensure currency. The service uses forecasting to enable them to maintain the specialist skills that are critical to its work.

On-call staff can be offered full-time contracts to cover shortfalls. Following a review of the fire protection department, a business case has been submitted to secure funding for three more staff. 

Staff are well trained. There are programmes in place to support development and progression. Programmes are managed and monitored via online systems known as LearnPro and PDRPro. Once development is completed, staff move on to a maintenance of competence framework.

Firewatch gives the service an overview of skills and competencies. It will highlight when core skills such as using breathing apparatus, driving and incident command are due to expire. Refresher training ensures that staff skills keep up to date.

On-call staff must complete the same training as full-time firefighters. To make training easier for on-call firefighters, core skills are broken down into modules. Additional training hours are available to on-call staff if needed.

Stations have monthly themed training which they are expected to complete. All stations have the same training plan so that training content is consistent. Specialist staff from a central learning and development team support local managers to ensure consistency.

Staffordshire FRS is an employer-provider for the Trailblazer firefighter apprenticeship scheme. The service has recognised that the role of a firefighter is changing and developed an accredited course which provides in-depth prevention and protection training to new and existing staff. To support operational incident command and reducing staff numbers, they have started to train staff to a higher level of command competence.

Learning and improvement

Staffordshire FRS has established a successful culture of learning and improvement. A central staff team supports operational and themed training events.

As well as using feedback from operational incidents, a central team carries out a rolling programme of station assurance visits to ensure that tasks are completed consistently. This includes a review of training recording systems. Learning from these visits is shared via ops flashes and Stop, Start, Continue bulletins.

A review of on-call firefighter availability showed that the service’s training programme was a barrier to recruitment and retention. The service consulted staff and introduced a modular training programme for on-call staff and a shift working system for the central learning and development team. This has enabled them to better support on-call training and development. On-call staff recruitment is higher as a result.

Last year the service undertook a review of its prevention activities, including carrying out /safe and well visits. Following staff feedback, the service recognised the need to invest in training. This led to an accredited prevention and protection course being introduced for all staff.

Following feedback from previous promotions, the service identified that staff would benefit from some development and handover prior to taking up new positions. It has recently carried out a promotion process which gives successful staff time to develop new skills before starting new roles. It will use these staff to ascertain whether such an approach will benefit future managers.

Response staff are trained in line with national standards. Staff develop management skills through the Institute of Leadership & Management. Specialist staff such as those in the fire protection department are supported to ensure they are suitably qualified to national standards to carry out their role.

Training and competency are recorded online. Training includes both practical training, job-specific training and e-learning packages for all staff. We sampled competencies of staff across the service and found them to be well managed, both locally and centrally.

Out of the 146 responses to our staff survey, 84 percent agreed that they were satisfied with their current level of learning and development and 84 percent agreed that they received sufficient training to do their job.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Good

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 mechanisms to identify and resolve staff concerns. Leaders have regular meetings with representative bodies, who are also invited to attend management boards. The senior team has an ‘open chair’ policy at every meeting, which any member of staff can ask to attend.

Staff can access information through a weekly iNews bulletin, The Burning Issue news magazine, a weekly blog from the chief fire officer and a regular vlog by the deputy chief in which he responds to questions and challenges from staff. Staff told us they feel up to date with service information. The communications team monitors how many staff are accessing online news to evaluate its use.

The service has no formal support groups for staff from under-represented groups. Staff told us they felt comfortable to raise issues with managers when necessary and that the culture of the service supported this. Staff are encouraged and supported to attend external events such as those provided by Women in the Fire Service and the Asian Fire Service Association.

The service conducted a leadership message and cultural framework survey in 2018. This was followed up with workshops which were open to all staff. The number of responses was low, but the service did act on feedback, such as changing the images and words they use in literature.

The service has low numbers of grievances, but those it does receive were handled in a timely manner and within policy guidelines. Of the 146 respondents to our staff survey, 13 percent felt bullied and harassed, and 13 percent felt discriminated against during the previous 12 months.

Diversity

Staffordshire FRS’s workforce does not fully reflect the communities it serves. Senior leaders are aware of the difficulty in attracting staff from under represented groups such as women and those from a BAME background. The service currently has 18.5 percent women and 2.9 percent BAME in its overall workforce. In the operational workforce this is much lower: 7.2 percent women and 2.8 percent BAME against a population of 50.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively.

The service has carried out positive action initiatives to encourage a more diverse range of applicants, including taster sessions, visits to local gyms and a ‘boot camp’, but has seen limited success.

Although the service has a record of those who drop out at each stage of recruitment, it has not examined whether the process disproportionately affects any group. The service may wish to consider engagement with unsuccessful candidates to help prepare them for the next recruitment campaign. It is positive to note that the service has provided unconscious bias training for all managers involved in recruitment.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Good

Staffordshire 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

Staffordshire FRS has a widely understood and accepted performance appraisal system. The system is linked to the values of the organisation, with evidence and objectives closely linked to job roles. All staff are expected to complete yearly appraisals which contribute towards plans and targets and are supplemented by one to-one meetings throughout the year.

Staff told us the appraisal system was user-friendly and effective. We heard examples of staff working in specialised roles who had identified during a performance appraisal that their operational skills had deteriorated. This resulted in changes to how operational staff in day roles can maintain operational awareness. 

The service expects operational staff to complete their appraisal between 1 January and 30 April each year to allow for business planning. In the year ending 31 March 2019, 90 percent of wholetime firefighters and 48 percent of on-call firefighters had completed a performance appraisal. The figure for support staff was much lower for the past 2 years, at 23 percent in the year to 31 March 2018 and 36 percent in the year to 31 March 2019. The service should try to establish why.

The career pathway for operational staff is well defined. A promotion process for operational supervisory staff is carried out yearly. Opportunities for support staff to progress are limited, due to low staff turnover and fewer vacancies. This may be reflected in the staff survey, where 40 percent of the 146 respondents disagree that they have the same opportunities to develop as others in the service.

Developing leaders

There is no formal process in place to identify and develop staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future. All staff are encouraged to access progression pathways, and processes focus on ability and talent rather than length of service.

Staff are expected to be proactive with their development. This is supported by objectives in performance appraisals and feedback from promotion processes. There are opportunities to shadow other staff in the organisation. Coaching and mentoring opportunities are available to all staff. Supervisory managers must complete modules which include human resource management.

The service has a clear, comprehensive and robust promotion process. Assessment panels are made up of staff from different levels across the organisation to ensure diversity of thought. A review of promotion processes at all levels showed detailed record keeping, and clear scoring and outcomes, where top scorers had been offered jobs.