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Cornwall 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

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

Staff have a good range of learning opportunities. But there are differences between those for operational and non-operational staff.

Communication by leaders has improved. But this is sometimes seen as one-way. The service needs to ensure staff are comfortable challenging leaders.

Senior leaders are committed to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion. But the plans need more focus and better co-ordination.

It is not clear how the service uses recruitment and promotion policies to increase diversity. We found examples of the promotion policy being applied inconsistently.

The service uses the personal development review process inconsistently. We saw a low level of completion.

More work is needed to manage and develop aspiring leaders and high-potential staff.

We acknowledge that the service has made some improvements since our last inspection. But more needs to be done.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

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

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was good 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.

A welcome move to an open and approachable culture

The service has well-defined values. While not all staff could quote the service’s values, they were clearly reflected in the behaviours of staff we spoke to at all levels in the organisation. Our staff survey, conducted as part of this inspection, indicates that 91.6 percent of respondents (110 of 119) are aware of the service’s statement of values. We were also encouraged by the cultural improvements the service had made since our 2018 inspection. Staff we spoke to recognised and welcomed the move to a culture which is much more open and approachable.

Senior leaders act as role models. For example, the chief fire officer is an advocate for equality and fairness both within the service and nationally. The deputy chief fire officer led the move to change the service’s culture, pioneering a ‘one team’ approach, demonstrating his openness and approachability through increased staff engagement, including weekly ‘sit reps’ which started during the pandemic. 81.7 percent of respondents to the staff survey (89 of 109) said that senior leaders consistently model and maintain the service’s values. This increased to 89 percent when they were asked about line managers, and more than 90 percent for their colleagues. The service has considered the requirements of the new national code of ethics, which supports culture improvement and improved workplace behaviour in the fire service. It has plans to implement this.

There is a positive working culture across the service. The service has introduced mechanisms to increase staff involvement and engagement in decisions about the service and in decisions which affect them. These include staff working on ‘task and finish groups’, the introduction of project champions and development opportunities which are tailored to specific individuals. Of the staff responding to our survey 73.9 percent (88 of 119) said they are confident their ideas or suggestions will be listened to.

Effective support for staff’s physical and mental wellbeing

The service has well-understood and effective wellbeing policies which are available to staff. There is a significant range of wellbeing support for both physical and mental health. For example:

  • occupational health;
  • one-to-one meetings with managers;
  • referral to external mental health support; and
  • critical incident defusing.

The service extended this support during the pandemic. It placed greater emphasis on local management through one-to-one meetings with line managers and the introduction of welfare officers.

There are good provisions to promote staff wellbeing. This includes availability of welfare information and contact details on workplace notice boards and regular updates about wellbeing support included in senior leader ‘sit reps’. Of the staff that responded to our survey, 92.4 percent (110 of 119) said they could access services to support their mental wellbeing. Most staff reported that they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. However, we found that some staff working remotely were not fully aware about the range of wellbeing support available and how to access it. The service should consider how it can further promote its wellbeing support offerings among all staff, particularly those who work remotely or spend much of their time away from their base locations.

There is a robust approach to health and safety

The service takes a robust approach to health and safety management. It uses the council’s health and safety policy and has its own policies for fitness testing, secondary employment, lone working, and absence management. The service has received ISO 45001 accreditation for its health and safety framework.

Staff we spoke to and those responding to our survey were clear about their health and safety responsibilities. Among the staff who responded to our survey, 91.6 percent (109 of 119 respondents) were satisfied their health, safety and wellbeing was treated seriously at work; 97.5 percent (116 of 119) stated the service had clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses, and dangerous occurrences. But this view was not fully shared by the two staff associations which responded to our survey. Both felt that accident reporting procedures were not clear. The service should engage with the associations to understand and resolve their concerns.

A robust but supportive approach to absence management

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 clear processes to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who get training and support to manage absence effectively. We reviewed a range of absence cases which had been managed well and in accordance with policy. We saw a robust approach to managing absence, particularly for long or repeated absences. But we were pleased to see the procedure applied sensitively and compassionately. The service told us that its approach had led to reductions in both short- and long-term absence, most notably in the last year.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at getting the right people with the right skills.

Cornwall 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 (IRMPs), 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.

Areas for improvement

The service should make sure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.

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

The service should improve its approach to workforce planning

The service has started to introduce arrangements to plan for future skills needs and forecast retirements. But it has not made enough progress towards introducing a consolidated workforce plan which meets the needs of the IRMP. This was an area for improvement we identified in 2018. We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows them to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. For example, there were vacancies in the specialist area of protection. And reductions in prevention staff were driven by the need to make savings. There are also a large number of staff who have been temporarily promoted to fill gaps in workforce capability and resilience.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. The service has a training needs assessment which informs development of its training plan. The annual training plan ensures all staff can maintain competence and capability effectively. For example, training plans for on-call stations take account of the specific needs of staff at the station, length of service and level of development. 79.8 percent of staff (95 of 119) stated they had received sufficient training to do their job effectively.

Local managers are responsible for regularly reviewing the records for their staff. They schedule training and book courses to make sure skills and competence remain current and up to date. The service has increased the number of group training instructors who support on-call stations and make sure risk-critical skills such as breathing apparatus and incident command remain current. We reviewed a sample of training records for all operational staff. These were up to date and all risk-critical skills were current.

The service has a centralised system to record and monitor staff competence. But this applies to operational staff only. It was less clear how the service records and monitors training and skills for non-operational staff. During our last inspection we found staff were frustrated as the system used to record operational training did not link to the computer-based training system. The service was slow to respond to this. It did not link the two systems until our latest inspection. We look forward to seeing if the anticipated improvements are achieved once the new systems are fully established.

The service provides opportunities for staff learning and development

Staff can access a range of learning resources. These include online resources for all staff from the council’s website, computer-based training for operational staff and tailored training for on-call staff. The chief fire officer and senior team promote learning opportunities during weekly briefing sessions. Seventy-four percent of staff (88 of 119) stated they were satisfied with the level of learning and development they received.

While there are examples of a culture of promoting learning and development across the service, there are inconsistencies in the format and structure of this between operational and non-operational staff.

Training for operational staff is highly structured and systematically monitored to make sure staff keep their operational competencies and risk-critical skills up to date and validated.

Non-operational staff told us they were required to complete mandatory training such as manual handling and equality, diversity and inclusion. While they can access further training related to their role, this had to be agreed with their line manager first, often as part of a routine performance review. While discussions with managers about learning and development were largely found to be helpful, 75.6 percent of staff (90 of 119) stated these occurred twice a year or less.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 make sure that all staff understand the benefits of EDI and their role in promoting it.
  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms and doing so would not disadvantage them.
  • The service should make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open and fair.

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 visible and engaging leaders

Senior leaders have worked hard to create a culture of approachability and openness. The majority of staff we spoke to told us they had seen a positive change since our last inspection. They described leaders as approachable, more visible and engaging. We also heard that the service has recently started to encourage staff to become involved with service projects and planning groups. This originated during the COVID‑19 pandemic and has since been extended.

Better response needed to staff feedback and challenge

This shift in leadership is a positive step which is to be welcomed. However, the increase in communication has not been seen universally as an increase in engagement. Communications were sometimes described as ‘one way’. Some staff stated they were not confident to challenge ideas or raise issues. Thirty-seven percent of staff (44 of 119) who responded to our survey stated they felt unable to challenge ideas without worrying about how they would be treated afterwards.

Cornwall Council surveyed the staff in 2018. While there were some staff communications in response to the council’s action plan, there has been no co‑ordinated response by the service. We found limited evidence of the service making changes in response to staff feedback.

There is commitment to improving equality, diversity and inclusion

Senior leadership is committed to improving equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the service. It has established a community engagement, equality and diversity (CEED) group which has set equality objectives including:

  • increasing the number of applications for employment from underrepresented groups;
  • encouraging staff to declare personal diversity information; and
  • making sure staff complete equality training which helps improve understanding of the importance of a fully inclusive workplace.

EDI plans need more detail and co-ordination

However, we found the service’s approach to improving EDI lacks co-ordination and there is insufficient detail in the CEED plan to measure and evaluate progress. So, the service has not made the progress it hoped to. For example, most staff we spoke to didn’t fully understand the value of a diverse workforce and a diverse workplace. Additionally, there is low declaration of demographic data: 30 percent of the workforce don’t declare their ethnicity. This means the service has limited data on which to base its understanding of disproportionality in the workplace and introduce improvements.

We also found concerns about the provision of gender-appropriate facilities at all fire stations. Staff we spoke to said access to appropriate facilities depended on the station. Five percent of staff (6 of 118) said they did not have access to appropriate facilities. We were disappointed to find the service does not have a plan for providing gender-appropriate facilities at all fire stations.

The service uses Cornwall Council’s equality impact assessment process. But when we reviewed some completed impact assessments, we found issues with the way this was applied and how actions were followed up. Impact assessments are applied inconsistently. For example, the service had not completed an assessment for the recent promotion policy. The service does not routinely consult or involve its staff groups when completing assessments. While actions arising from an assessment are assigned to an owner, there was no system to monitor progress and assure the service that effective follow-up actions were being taken.

Recruitment and promotion are not directly linked to increasing workforce diversity

It is not clear how the service intends to increase the diversity of its workforce through recruitment. The service does not have a detailed recruitment strategy linked to its IRMP that shows how it will improve the diversity of its workforce. We reviewed a recent recruitment plan which expressed the service’s commitment to improved diversity and referred to the use of positive action. But there was no detail on how this would work in practice and what measures would be used to evaluate success.

The service has a comprehensive policy for promotion. But it does not set out how it will improve workforce diversity. The policy is not always applied consistently. 38.6 percent of staff (46 of 119) who responded to our survey stated they felt the service’s promotion process was not fair. Some staff told us they felt the promotion policy did not focus on a proven track record as the basis for promotion.

We reviewed a selection of promotions and found the service did not always follow its policy. We found evidence of recent promotions which were not made in line with the service’s policy or subject to external competition.

We noted the service was consulting on a new promotion policy during our inspection.

Robust promotion of zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and discrimination

The service promotes a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination. It encourages staff to challenge inappropriate behaviours.

Staff we spoke to had a good understanding of appropriate behaviours. They felt confident to challenge and report unacceptable behaviour. This view was broadly reflected by the staff representative bodies who responded to our survey. We were told that the service would act quickly to address inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours.

Through our survey, 10.1 percent (12 of 119) of staff told us they had felt bullied or harassed. And 11.8 percent (14 of 119) felt discriminated against over the past 12 months.

More needs to be done to address staff concerns about bullying

We were surprised to see that out of the 12 respondents who reported feeling bullied or harassed, only 9 had reported it. Of these, only one reported that any action had been taken. And they also reported that they did not think that this would make a difference. The service should consider how it can make sure that staff who raise concerns feel that they have been taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

Cornwall 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 improve all staff understanding and application of the performance development review process.
  • 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.

Individual performance managed inconsistently

The service uses Cornwall Council’s performance and development review (PDR) policy to assess and develop its staff. There is a bespoke service format for on‑call staff. The PDR policy is clear on timescales and content for meaningful review and feedback and arrangements to make sure the process is fair and inclusive.

Some staff, including most non-operational staff, told us they saw the PDR process as positive. They saw it as a way to discuss their performance and future aspirations with their manager, review progress and agree objectives for the coming year. But others did not see its value. They felt it was a ‘tick-box’ exercise that did not reflect their role. We also heard about operational staff having difficulties recording their reviews following the move to a new IT system. This caused frustration.

The PDR process is applied inconsistently. 47 percent of staff (56 out of 119) stated they had not had a PDR or appraisal in the past 12 months. The service told us it was unable to monitor completion rates centrally. The onus for having an up-to-date PDR sits with the individual. So, the service could not assure itself about progress. This was further complicated as Cornwall Council did not require PDRs to be completed during the pandemic.

Leadership development is improving but more work is needed

The service has begun to introduce arrangements to actively manage the career pathways of staff. This includes those with specialist skills and those aspiring to leadership roles. We identified this as an area for improvement during our 2018 inspection. The service has not made enough progress.

The service does not have a plan for improving the way it manages career pathways. It needs to do more to introduce a co-ordinated talent-management programme, establish succession planning and link this to the new promotion process.

We heard that the service has started to introduce succession planning. This was not documented in detail, but we were told how the service had introduced a tiered approach. It plans to use information from the PDR to assess an individual’s performance and behaviour as part of the gateway to progression opportunities.

The service has started to widen the development opportunities it offers to staff. These include the chance to work on service development projects or management cells and champion roles in specialist areas. The senior management team has had a period of change recently. The service has used this to develop the skills and experience of some of its senior leaders.