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West Sussex 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 19/06/2019
Inadequate

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, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.

We have several fundamental concerns about how well the service manages people. It has adopted the county council’s values, but most staff don’t understand or follow them. We also found examples where staff weren’t acting in line with these values, including reports of bullying. Despite receiving feedback to the contrary, the service has so far failed to launch an anti-bullying campaign. Senior leaders need to do more to promote the service’s values and make sure they become part of the organisation, as well as act appropriately on feedback from staff.

The service isn’t doing enough to ensure fairness and diversity. There is little engagement with staff groups, particularly with those from minority groups. The service isn’t doing enough to improve the experiences of women and people with disabilities, and must do more to understand and remove barriers for under-represented groups. We also saw little promotion of equality and inclusion in the workforce. Staff weren’t clear what training was in place or if it was mandatory.

Although the service has a health and safety framework, we saw out-of-date risk assessments. It has a grievance process, but we saw little monitoring of outcomes. And while it is positive that the service offers a range of wellbeing support, this isn’t co-ordinated, so staff may not be getting the full support they need.

The service’s performance management process isn’t rigorous enough. Uniformed staff have little faith in annual appraisals, seeing them as tick-box exercises.

Links between staff appraisals and the service’s wider aims and goals aren’t clear. The service also lacks a process to identify high-potential future leaders.

That said, the service’s training offer is good – in particular, for new firefighters. But more could be done to help established firefighters maintain their skills.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has a robust system in place to review and update its risk assessments, and that recommendations from workplace accidents are actioned in a timely manner.
  • The service should have appropriate means to monitor the working hours of its staff.

Cause of concern

West Sussex FRS’s staff sometimes act in ways that go against its core values. This is leading to bullying in the workplace.

Recommendations

  • The service should clearly and effectively communicate its core values to staff. This should include acceptable behaviour statements.
  • The service should ensure that staff act in line with its values and are trained to identify and deal with non-compliance.

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 range of wellbeing measures in place include an occupational health team and a trauma aftercare team. These provide psychological support after operational incidents occur. Of the 76 respondents to our staff survey, 74 percent agreed that they were satisfied their personal safety and welfare was treated seriously at work. But we found the teams work independently of each other. This could lead to the wellbeing needs of staff being missed. These teams should work more closely to make sure staff needs are fully understood.

Operational managers are the gateway to welfare services for frontline staff. But we found these managers have received little training to support staff. The service has identified this as a problem. It plans to introduce the Mind Blue Light programme for its staff in 2019.

Health and safety

The service has a dedicated health and safety team, and operational managers are well trained. Safety messages are sent to staff to raise awareness of health and safety issues. And in the staff survey, of the 76 respondents, 87 percent agreed that they were encouraged to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences. However, we found several operational risk assessments were out of date and action wasn’t always taken within a reasonable time after workplace accidents.

In the year to 31 March 2018, 31.1 percent of wholetime firefighters had external secondary employment and 21.1 percent of wholetime firefighters had secondary employment within the service. The service doesn’t monitor this closely enough to make sure staff are well rested and safe to work.

Culture and values

West Sussex County Council has five core values. These are: proud to be customer-centred (we put the customer central to everything we do); listen and act upon (we listen to each other and act on what we say); honest and realistic (we are honest and realistic about what we can achieve); trust and support (we trust and support each other); and genuinely valued (we feel our contribution is genuinely valued).

We found that West Sussex FRS staff don’t always act in line with these values. In some cases, staff have been bullied, and several such cases were shared with us during our inspection. In our staff survey, of the 76 respondents, 29 percent said they had been bullied and or harassed 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.

In 2017, West Sussex FRS conducted a stress survey that also highlighted bullying as a concern for staff. The recommendations arising from this included conducting a bullying awareness campaign. But when we inspected the service in late 2018, work on this campaign had yet to start.

We found some evidence of senior leaders promoting the service’s core values, but it appeared to be limited and has done little to establish these values across the workforce. Staff also described a lack of visible leadership on the part of middle managers. The service should assure itself that its full management team is modelling and promoting its values.

The service communicates with staff through a weekly newsletter. Information is available on the internet, including welfare promotion. Managers hold seminars at which senior leaders engage directly with frontline managers. The service has invested in new noticeboards at every station that can display a range of standard information. This includes performance data, wellbeing notices and service updates.

Staff told us they feel the values are the council’s rather than the service’s, and they weren’t engaged when they were developed. Senior leaders in the service need to do more to communicate the values to staff. They should make sure these values form the basis of how staff behave towards each other in the workplace.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities it needs to carry out its IRMP.

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 describes its workforce challenges in its IRMP. They include losing 36 percent of its operational workforce through retirement over the next four years. It published a people and culture strategy in 2018 that describes its long-term workforce aims. We found that links exist between the service’s medium-term financial plan and its workforce plan.

The service has formed a staff control group that oversees staffing requirements. It meets every two weeks to consider staff moves, training requirements and planning for future workforce needs. The service has acknowledged its problem with retaining on-call personnel. It is now recruiting operational staff to manage staffing shortfalls. New firefighters have been recruited over the last two years and the service intends to recruit more in 2019.

The service told us that over 50 percent of its middle and senior management may retire by 2022. While this is included within its people and culture strategy, a process to develop future leaders is still in the planning stages. It isn’t clear to us how the service intends to overcome this loss of experience and expertise.

The service uses an electronic crewing system, FireWatch, to support operational resource management. It uses a central crewing team to identify shortfalls and make staffing moves. But we found staff on stations are still spending time trying to fill crewing gaps. Staff told us they were using online messaging services to communicate with firefighters to help deal with local staff shortages. The service’s provision for managing crewing, including the use of the central crewing office, isn’t as efficient as it should be. We also found that FireWatch didn’t support longer-term planning for on-call staff. This has also made it difficult to deal with the crewing shortfalls.

Learning and improvement

The service has a dedicated and well-resourced training, development and assurance team. This trains new and on-call recruits and delivers courses for road traffic collision and incident command. It also provides competency assessments for incident commanders and those wearing breathing apparatus (BA). The service also uses external providers to carry out training it can’t provide in-house. This includes management training and specialist operational skills training, such as rope and large animal rescue. The service has created a learning prospectus that shows the development available to each operational role in the service. It isn’t available for non-uniformed staff, however.

Staff told us that the initial operational training delivered by their training centre is good, but that the service could do more to help them maintain their skills. For example, staff told us they would like to practise using BA more often, as the opportunity to do so at real incidents is decreasing. And, of the 76 respondents to our staff survey, only 51 percent agreed that they had received sufficient training to enable them to do what is asked of them. We also found that the maintenance training for Level 2 incident commanders wasn’t structured or prioritised enough.

The service uses FireWatch to record its staff training and we found it was generally well used. The service provides much of its learning content through Learning Pool. This electronic system contains learning packages on a range of subjects, including safety notices, new equipment and procedures. Staff sign off the packages when they complete them, which the service monitors. However, staff said the service relied too much on this system, including when it used Learning Pool to align its procedures to national operational guidance incident command. Users also told us the system was word-heavy and hard to understand. The service should make sure the learning it offers meets the needs of its staff.

The service conducts annual station audits. These cover a range of subjects and are agreed by senior managers responsible for the service’s operational staff and resources. Managers told us the audits gave them a good insight into operational staff’s competencies. But we found few examples of the service using the outcomes of these audits to inform operational learning and improvement.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Inadequate

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure all staff are appropriately equipped for their role.

Cause of concern

West Sussex FRS doesn’t engage with or seek feedback from staff to understand their needs. We found this to especially be the case with some under-represented groups. When staff raise issues and concerns, the service doesn’t respond quickly enough.

Recommendations

  • The service should ensure that it effectively engages with its staff, including minority groups.
  • The service should improve communications between staff and senior managers, so concerns are responded to in a timely and appropriate way.

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 doesn’t engage and seek feedback from staff to enable it to understand their needs. The county council undertook a staff survey in 2017. This didn’t include on-call staff and little action has been taken in response to the feedback. Of the 76 respondents to our staff survey, only 26 percent agreed that they were confident their ideas and suggestions will be listened to.

West Sussex FRS undertook a stress survey in 2017, which 33 percent of its staff completed. The recommendations from this survey included the need to launch a bullying awareness campaign and better engage with minority focus groups. We found this work was still at an early stage, and the work on bullying hadn’t yet started. The service has established ways to engage with staff representative bodies but has done little to improve the experiences of the diverse groups within its workforce. For example, it doesn’t provide a suitable range of workwear for women. This has been raised by staff as a problem, but the service hasn’t acted quickly enough to resolve it. Staff with disabilities such as dyslexia told us they had difficulties with the way the service relied on Learning Pool to deliver training. During our inspection, we also met staff who told us they had been bullied because of their gender or race.

In our staff survey, of the 76 who responded, 33 percent felt they had been discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

The service has a formal grievance process. Monitoring of informal grievances has been inconsistent, however. As a result, the service doesn’t know enough about staff concerns to identify trends or recurring concerns that would inform organisational learning. Training for managers to deal with grievances has been inconsistent. The service recognises this and plans to improve manager training. But this hadn’t started at the time of our inspection. We found that, since the year ending 31 March 2018, the number of formal grievances has been low. But grievances relating to bullying and harassment have been made for several years.

Diversity

As at 31 March 2018, 11.8 percent of the workforce were female (81 women). This is a reduction since 31 March 2009, when 13.7 percent of the workforce were female (132 women). As at 31 March 2018, 5.7 percent of the service’s firefighters were female.

As at 31 March 2018, 0.7 percent of the workforce identified as black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). This is a reduction from 2.8 percent as at 31 March 2014. As at 31 March 2018, 0.8 percent of the service’s firefighters were from a BAME background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 6.2 percent.

We also found the service didn’t prioritise equality and inclusion training enough.

Recent recruitment campaigns for operational staff have seen some success in broadening the diversity of the workforce. But we saw little co-ordinated effort on the part of the service to understand and remove the barriers facing all under-represented groups. If it is to meet the commitments it has made in its IRMP, the service will need to understand what barriers exist to entry and make sure the workplace is inclusive of everyone.

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’s performance management process isn’t rigorous enough. We found few examples of staff objectives being linked to local or service objectives. This means that staff don’t always know which work is most important or when they have been successful.

All staff are expected to complete an appraisal every 12 months. The service uses the county council’s performance process rather than a bespoke one. Completion rates are high. As at 31 March 2018, the completion rate was 91 percent for wholetime firefighters and 82 percent for non-uniformed staff.

Non-uniformed staff told us they found the appraisals useful, whereas we found that uniformed staff didn’t find the same value in the process. The on-call workforce complete group rather than individual appraisals. This could limit managers’ ability to discuss individual performance or welfare issues. Staff can request an individual appraisal if they wish. Uniformed staff told us the council’s appraisal process wasn’t relevant to them and they saw it as a tick-box exercise. We found that service-specific targets for staff weren’t linked to their appraisals or regularly reviewed. The service should make sure clear links exist between appraisals and performance targets or service aims.

The service hasn’t given operational managers the training they need to conduct meaningful appraisals. As a result, they do them inconsistently. We did find that non-uniformed managers had access to appraisal training through the county council, but this hasn’t been prioritised sufficiently for uniformed managers. The service should make sure all managers are trained to carry out meaningful appraisals.

Developing leaders

The service publishes promotion processes on its internet site. This explains how staff can access the process and what to expect. Staff generally found this information useful. We found that the service has followed the guidance it gives for these processes, although the connection between selection and appointment to role was not clear.

The service doesn’t have a process to attract and develop staff with high potential to be senior leaders in future. It has a value-centred leadership programme that offers leadership development for uniformed and support managers. But it does little to develop senior leaders and relies on external providers.