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Bedfordshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Good

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

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has new service values. It developed these with its staff, therefore the values are well understood by staff at all levels. Senior managers have more to do to make sure they are demonstrating these values at all times.

The service has good health and wellbeing processes in place. These include absence management and reasonable adjustments to support those in the workplace.

There are robust and monitored learning and competency arrangements throughout the service. Staff understand them well.

The service needs to make improvements to its arrangements for selecting and supporting people for development, including into senior roles. It also needs to make sure these improvements happen throughout the organisation.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment

Fire and rescue services should have positive and inclusive cultures, modelled by the behaviours of their senior leaders. Health and safety should be effectively promoted, and staff should have access to a range of wellbeing support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

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

The service values are well understood by staff at all levels of the organisation

After our previous inspection, we identified an area of improvement for the service to make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation.

The service has made significant progress in both introducing new values and making sure they are reflected in the behaviours of most staff. But senior leaders need to do further work to make sure they are always demonstrating the new values.

The service worked with staff to develop new values, as such they are well understood. Ninety-seven percent of staff who responded to our staff survey (193 of 200) said that they are aware of the service’s statement of values.

Staff we spoke to said that the behaviours of both their colleagues and line managers were reflective of the service’s values. Eighty-eight percent of respondents to the staff survey said that their line managers consistently model and maintain the service values. This figure was 91 percent for colleagues. Of those who responded to our staff survey, most staff would feel confident in approaching senior managers. However, only 66 percent of respondents felt that senior leaders consistently model and maintain the service’s values.

There is a positive working culture across the service, with staff engaged in decisions that affect them. For example, the service has introduced a virtual employee-engagement forum, where any member of staff can ask questions of the senior team directly.

Staff have access to a range of services to support both their mental and physical health

The service has well-understood and effective wellbeing policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example, the service offers:

  • occupational health practitioners;
  • trauma risk management practitioners; and
  • a 24/7 employee assistance programme (for work and non-work-related matters).

There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing and staff can access them easily. Wellbeing is a clear priority for the service and is a focus in the weekly staff bulletins. Eighty-four percent of staff who responded to our staff survey (167 of 200) told us that they have had a conversation with their manager about their health and wellbeing. Ninety-six percent (191 of 200) felt able to access services to support their mental wellbeing. Most staff reported they understand, and have confidence in, the wellbeing support processes available.

Staff understand and have confidence in health and safety policies

The service continues to have effective and well-understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. The service gives health and safety training to all staff as part of their induction. It has effective processes in place to make sure that staff receive and understand urgent safety messages. The service also communicates non‑urgent information and campaigns through meetings, news bulletins, emails and the staff intranet.

Staff have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service. Our staff survey shows that 94 percent of staff (187 of 200) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

The service has a robust absence management process

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence including sickness, parental and special leave.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Individual absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. The average number of shifts per full-time equivalent person that are lost to long-term sickness is below the national average.

The service doesn’t have a formal process for forecasting sickness trends. This makes it difficult for it to make staffing decisions and to introduce support for staff to reduce sickness absence in future.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have workforce plans in place that are linked to their integrated risk management plans, set out their current and future skills requirements, and address capability gaps. This should be supplemented by a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development across the service.

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

The service has effective workforce planning arrangements in place

The fire and rescue service has good workforce planning in place. This means skills and capabilities are aligned with what is needed to effectively implement the community risk management plan (CRMP). The service has a four-year people strategy in place. This focuses on workforce planning, development and leadership. It supports the service in forming an accurate picture of its workforce and future needs.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. The service’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability effectively. Eighty-five percent of staff who responded to the staff survey (170 of 200) agreed that they have received sufficient training to effectively do their job.

Following our previous inspection, we gave the service an area for improvement to ensure that it was achieving value for money (and making the right resourcing decisions) in relation to probationary training requirement for on-call firefighters to transition to a wholetime firefighter role. The service has significantly improved these training arrangements. We found that the service carries out a training gap analysis for everyone. It also makes a realistic assessment as to whether a full or adapted course is needed.

The service monitors operational staff competence by planning and tracking activities in a central system. At the time of our inspection, the service was introducing this system to all staff. The service regularly updates its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities through regular oversight by line managers and monthly reporting for formal scrutiny. This approach means the service can identify gaps in workforce capabilities and resilience and can make sound and financially sustainable decisions about current and future needs.

The service supports staff with a range of learning and development resources

A culture of continuous improvements is promoted across the service and staff are encouraged to undertake learning and development. For example, staff take part in regional and national projects (such as multi-agency training for specialist response teams). The service has adapted how it provides learning and development opportunities during the pandemic. This has included maximising the use of virtual platforms.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place to develop staff. These include allocating mentors to new and developing staff. In addition, the service has mandatory learning in place for all staff, which involves a monthly reporting system.

Overall, 79 percent of staff survey respondents (158 of 200) told us that they were able to access a range of learning and development resources to undertake their role effectively.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Good

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Creating a more representative workforce will provide huge benefits for fire and rescue services. This includes greater access to talent and different ways of thinking, and improved understanding of and engagement with their local communities. Each service should make sure that equality, diversity and inclusion are firmly embedded and understood across the organisation. This includes successfully taking steps to remove inequality and making progress to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion at all levels within the service. It should proactively seek and respond to feedback from staff and make sure any action taken is meaningful.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.

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

The service has made enough improvements to its overall approach to EDI

The service has taken positive steps to improve its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). We found a good understanding of inclusion at all levels. Also, the service has made reasonable adjustments to improve the ability of staff with specific needs to carry out their roles. These adjustments include offering portable screen filters for use with mobile data terminals at incidents, and providing coloured stationery to alleviate visual stress for people with dyslexia.

The service has appointed a new EDI lead. Mandatory basic training is in place for all staff. We found that the service is proactive in building staff awareness; EDI is a regular feature in the service’s weekly ebulletin.

However, although the service does have some means of gathering staff feedback on matters relating to EDI, they are inconsistent and not wide ranging. For example, the service has one formal staff network (LGBTQ+). This is limited in scope and doesn’t focus on specific staff needs relating to other protected characteristics.

Although the service has a process in place to assess equality impact assessments, this is limited in scope and not widely understood. The impact on each of the protected characteristics isn’t properly assessed or acted on. More could be done to engage with both internal and external networks to inform this approach.

The service has a good understanding of the diversity of its workforce

Following our 2018 inspection, we gave the service an area for improvement which highlighted that the service should make its workforce more representative.

The service has acted positively to improve diversity. For example, it has introduced a mobile recruitment vehicle, and more targeted recruitment, in a bid to reach those it might not otherwise attract. Also, women and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds can sign up for additional support to become firefighters. This is supported by the workforce. We are keen to see the impact these actions have on improving diversity within future recruitment.

Despite the above actions, the service has made limited progress to improve both female and BAME diversity. Since 2017/18, the percentage of staff who have self-declared as being female or from a BAME group has stayed broadly the same. Positively, the percentage of staff who don’t declare their ethnicity has reduced from 6.9 percent to 3.9 percent. The overall percentage of firefighters who are female is 7.3 percent. This is in line with the average for England.

The service has some processes in place to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes, such as mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff. However, there were limited examples of the service giving consideration to EDI during recruitment processes, including making sure its interview panels were diverse.

Staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination

Following our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement. We wanted the service to assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. The service has a revised comprehensive grievance procedure in place. It also has a training plan to introduce to all staff.

We found that staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are, and the negative effect they have on both colleagues and the organisation.

Our staff survey revealed that, over the past 12 months:

  • 12 percent of respondents felt they had been subject to bullying and harassment (23 of 200); and
  • 12 percent felt they had been subject to discrimination (24 of 200).

Of the 200 respondents to the staff survey, 23 respondents told us they have felt bullied or harassed at work in the last 12 months, and 24 respondents told us they have felt discriminated against at work in the last 12 months. Of those, only five said that any action had been taken as a result of reporting the incidents. However, during our inspection many staff told us that they are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as grievances and disciplinary matters.

Representative bodies (such as the Fire and Rescue Services Association and the Fire Leaders Association) feel that the service has put appropriate processes in place and that it takes appropriate action to eliminate bullying and harassment.

The service doesn’t have many grievance cases. Managers are encouraged to resolve grievances at a local level.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have robust and meaningful performance management arrangements in place for their staff. All staff should be supported to meet their potential and there should be a focus on developing high-potential staff and improving diversity in leadership roles.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure it has arrangements in place to identify, develop and support all high-potential staff across the organisation.

Innovative practice

The service has improved the way it manages succession planning for senior leadership roles

The service has signed a regional concordat to allow opportunities for secondment of senior manager(s) between service to fill gaps while a full and open recruitment process takes place. The secondees gain from the experience of working as a principal officer and the services benefit from the mutual exchange of knowledge and development.

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

Managing individuals’ performance

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. Ninety-one percent of respondents to our staff survey (181 of 200) said they had had a personal development review or appraisal in the last 12 months. In addition, the service supports staff to achieve academic qualifications (and apprenticeships) and allocates mentors to new and developing staff members.

Through our staff survey, most staff reported that they have received regular discussions with their manager and that they were meaningful. Each staff member has individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of performance. Staff feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

The service has improved how it develops operational staff. Further work is needed to ensure arrangements in place to support all staff across the organisation

Following our previous inspection, we identified an area of improvement. We wanted the service to ensure that its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair.

We found the service has put considerable effort into developing its internal recruitment, promotion and progression processes for operational personnel, so the processes are fair and understood by staff. The service has introduced new promotion processes, which to date, staff feel are open and fair. (The service is introducing these processes in stages.) On-call and wholetime personnel can apply for all operational posts. The service advertises vacancies both internally and externally, to encourage applicants into middle and senior management roles.

We gave the service an additional area for improvement. It highlighted that the service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

We found the service had made significant improvements, including:

  • putting effective succession planning processes in place to manage the career pathways of operational staff, including into leadership roles;
  • introducing promotion gateways and tailored development for operational staff; and
  • agreeing secondments from other fire and rescue services for senior roles, to allow full and open recruitment processes to take place.

However, changes to selection, development and promotion currently focus primarily on operational staff. This has resulted in some staff feeling less valued. The service should make sure it has arrangements in place to identify, develop and support all high-potential staff throughout the organisation.

The service has taken steps to reduce temporary promotions through its gateway procedures. But it needs to do more to make sure these procedures are being used appropriately. At the end of March 2020, figures showed that the average length of temporary promotion was 456 days. This is higher than the average for England.