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Devon and Somerset 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

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

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

We are satisfied with some aspects of how well the service looks after its people, but there are areas where it needs to improve.

In our 2019 inspection, we highlighted as a cause of concern that the service cannot assure itself that operational members of staff meet the minimum fitness requirements to perform their role. We are pleased that annual fitness assessments are now part of the operational staff’s maintenance of competence, which allows the service to monitor the assessments more closely. We are satisfied that the service has made enough progress for this cause of concern to be discharged.

Despite most staff telling us they are aware of the service’s values; we found some behaviours that didn’t meet the standards expected. A common theme during our inspection was that some staff groups didn’t feel respected or valued. As a result, we have raised a new cause of concern. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see various staff networks in place and the service has recently agreed to provide more support and time to these. The service has also recently introduced some new initiatives, such as ‘safe to’, which allows staff to challenge poor behaviours. However, more needs to be done in this area and all staff need to feel empowered to challenge poor behaviour.

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should have an effective grievance process in place. While some work has been done in this area, the service needs to do more. We were told by some staff that they don’t have the confidence to raise workforce concerns as they felt it would be used against them in future promotion opportunities.

The service needs to do more to make sure its recruitment and promotion processes are fair. From the files we sampled, we found that most applicants hadn’t been provided with feedback following the promotion process. We spoke to many operational staff who were frustrated and didn’t have confidence in the process.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.

Devon and Somerset 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 promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of wellbeing support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

Cause of concern

The service has shown a clear intent from the executive board to improve the culture of the service. However, more needs to be done throughout the organisation. We have found evidence of poor behaviours that are not in line with service values. Some staff didn’t have the confidence to report these issues.

Recommendations

By 31 August 2022, the service should develop an action plan to:

  • make sure that its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation; and
  • make sure that staff are trained and supported to identify and challenge inappropriate behaviour when identified and that they have clear mechanisms in place to raise their concerns.

Areas for improvement

The service should monitor secondary contracts to make sure 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.

The service’s values are not routinely demonstrated by some staff

We highlighted in our previous inspection that the service’s values and behaviours should be understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation. The service has a clearly defined set of values, and 97 percent (569 out of 586) of respondents to our staff survey said they are aware of them. Most staff we spoke to during the inspection displayed the service’s values and 84 percent (490 out of 586) of respondents to the survey said they are treated with dignity and respect at work.

However, the culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values. We are concerned that some behaviours we saw or were told about didn’t meet the standards expected. A common theme during our inspection was that some staff groups didn’t feel respected or valued. For example, we found inappropriate behaviours by some wholetime firefighters towards their on-call colleagues.

We were also told about cultures amongst local teams in some parts of the service where staff demonstrate unacceptable behaviours, such as disguising racist or sexist language as banter. Some firefighters made it clear that they wouldn’t work in some areas of the service due to the negativity they have experienced.

We found that some staff didn’t have the confidence to challenge poor behaviour. We were told that managers would deal with this inconsistently and that, worryingly, some managers might ignore it. Of the respondents to our staff survey, 45 percent (261 out of 586) said they couldn’t challenge ideas without experiencing detrimental treatment afterwards. The service has recently introduced some new initiatives, such as ‘safe to’, which allows staff to challenge poor behaviours. There are also HR business partners assigned to stations to provide extra support. However, much more needs to be done in this area and all staff need to feel empowered to challenge poor behaviour.

We were told that there is a disconnect at different levels of the service such as middle management. Some staff told us that information is not always filtered down effectively from senior leaders and, similarly, feedback provided to middle managers doesn’t make its way to senior leaders. Of the respondents to our staff survey who answered the relevant question, 34 percent (196 out of 569) stated that senior leaders did not consistently model and maintain the service’s values.

The service has wellbeing provision in place

The service continues to have well understood and effective wellbeing policies in place that are available to staff. Of the respondents to our staff survey, 98 percent (575 out of 586) reported they can access services to support their mental wellbeing. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example:

  • The service has trained mental health first-aiders to support staff.
  • External counselling and occupational health services are available.
  • Specialist defusing officers are deployed immediately to staff who have experienced a traumatic event.

The service has trained defusers who provide support to staff immediately after they have experienced a traumatic incident. Attendance is mandatory but participation is not. Although this is a good practice, some staff told us that the defusing sessions are not always consistent, and the quality of the sessions varies. We were told that some defusers go into too much detail, which can have a negative effect on those staff who haven’t been directly involved in the incident. For example, staff told us that after a recent fatality, the defuser went into explicit detail about the scene of death, which caused trauma to staff who were not initially exposed to it.

Health and safety arrangements are effective

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. This was identified as an area for improvement in our last inspection. Since then, the service has recruited additional staff in the health and safety team and the chief fire officer now chairs the strategic health and safety committee, which meets quarterly. We were told this allows resulting actions to be completed in a timely manner.

The service has also put in place processes to make sure its operational staff are meeting the minimum fitness requirements to perform their role, in response to this area being highlighted as a cause of concern in 2019. We are pleased that annual fitness assessments are now part of the operational staff’s maintenance of competence, which allows the service to monitor the fitness assessments more closely. All its operational staff are required to undergo an annual fitness assessment alongside a three-yearly medical. We are satisfied that the service has made enough progress for this cause of concern to be discharged.

Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service. At the time of our inspection, the service introduced a personal alarm for those staff who mainly work alone, such as home safety technicians. Our staff survey shows that 92 percent of respondents (542 out of 586) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

There is a clear process to manage absence

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. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. The service introduced a new IT application that makes it easier for managers to review absences. The manager is now sent prompts, such as a prompt that a return-to-work interview is due. The application also allows the service to monitor any trends. There was evidence of managers making regular contact with staff who weren’t at work due to sickness.

Overall, the service has seen a decrease in staff absences over the 12 months between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.

The service should improve the way it monitors working hours

The service has a policy on working hours and the management of secondary contracts. But not all staff we spoke to comply with them. This was an area for improvement we identified in our last inspection. As of 31 March 2020, 34 percent of wholetime staff had secondary employment. We found some of these were not properly monitored. For example, some on-call firefighters’ primary role is driving vehicles. These staff can also work wholetime shifts to cover any crewing shortfalls and volunteer to drive ambulances. We were told by staff that it is up to the individual and their manager to manage their hours but this doesn’t always happen.

2

How well does the FRS get the right people with the right skills?

Good

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs), sets out their current and future skills requirements and addresses capability gaps. They should supplement this with a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development throughout 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 IRMP.
  • The service should address the high number of staff in temporary promotion positions

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 some workforce planning arrangements in place

The service does some workforce planning, but it doesn’t take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to be able to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. At the time of our inspection, we found the service’s workforce plan was still in draft. The lack of workforce planning resulted in several vacancies in the prevention team during the early stages of the pandemic, which then resulted in a backlog of HSVs. We also found the number of staff in temporary promotion positions has increased in the last two years in most departments. The data shows that, in the year to 31 March 2021, 63 wholetime members of staff (mostly crew and watch managers) were on a temporary promotion.

However, we recognise the service is getting better at workforce planning. It now has strategic oversight where senior leaders and heads of department meet to provide more focus on workforce planning. The service has recently recruited in prevention, protection and response and there are workforce profiles for operational staff, which allow the service to better forecast which staff may be retiring.

As the service is the largest employer of on-call firefighters, we were pleased to see it leading the design of the national on-call operational firefighter apprentice scheme. The service ran a pilot course, which six apprentices successfully passed.

Learning and development takes place

The service has a people plan, which details how the service aims to develop its staff. There is a structure in place for operational staff to follow to further develop themselves. However, this isn’t always the case for non-operational staff. We were told by some staff that they aren’t given the same opportunities as operational staff to develop.

Supervisory managers complete an Institution of Occupational Safety and Health qualification and crew managers also complete the level 3 certificate in fire safety.

During the pandemic, the service has adapted how it offers learning and development opportunities. It now includes the use of virtual platforms. However, some staff felt that the level of learning and development available to them decreased during this time. Overall, 68 percent of respondents to our staff survey (398 out of 586) said they are satisfied with the level of learning and development that is available to them.

Most staff receive the appropriate training

The service carries out most of its risk-critical training for operational staff well. The service has a good system in place to allow staff to monitor their training records. This allows the service to have better corporate oversight. We found good systems in place to make sure managers take responsibility for maintaining their team’s critical competencies. The service recognises that on-call firefighters make up most of its workforce and has invested in its e-learning packages to allow them to carry out some of their learning remotely.

Most staff told us that they can access the training they need. Overall, 79 percent of respondents to our staff survey (463 out of 586) said they have received sufficient training to effectively do their job. We also found:

  • prevention staff receive the appropriate training;
  • protection staff use the National Competency Framework to ensure consistent, professional training of staff; and
  • fire control staff training is aligned to the NFSP.

We spoke to on-call firefighters who welcome the new Pay for Availability scheme. This allows them to attend a more diverse range of incidents, which results in their operational skills being continually maintained.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Devon and Somerset 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 equality, diversity and inclusion are firmly understood and demonstrated throughout the organisation. This includes successfully taking steps to remove inequality and making progress to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion at all levels of 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 it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.
  • The service should improve staff understanding of the purpose and benefits of positive action.

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 listen to its staff’s ideas and suggestions

Senior leaders have engaged with the workforce by providing it with weekly communication blogs. They also have a programme of engagement sessions with staff that take place throughout the service. These allow senior leaders to provide useful updates. During the early stages of the pandemic, a senior leader contacted each wholetime watch to give daily support.

Although the service has some means of gathering staff feedback, they are inconsistent and not wide ranging. For example, 39 percent (230 out of 586) of staff responding to our survey said they weren’t confident their ideas or suggestions will be listened to.

The service has various staff networks in place such as:

  • Female Firefighters Forum;
  • Dyslexia and Disability;
  • Multicultural Support; and
  • Fire Pride.

The network chairs meet with the chief and deputy chief fire officer every quarter, who in turn update the workforce with any developments in the weekly blogs. The networks influence improvements. For example, the Dyslexia and Disability Network makes sure reasonable adjustments are considered in all training material. Furthermore, the service has recently approved a business case for providing more support and dedicated time to the networks.

While the wider workforce welcomes the networks, some staff told us they would like to be involved and they aren’t always provided with information following the meetings. We are pleased to see the networks in place but the service should continually work with and develop them as they can bring about positive changes to the service.

The service needs to instil confidence in staff who raise workforce concerns

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should have an effective grievance process in place. While some work has been done in this area, the service needs to do more. We were told by some staff that they don’t have the confidence to raise workforce concerns as they felt it would be used against them in future promotion opportunities.

The service must go further to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their responsibilities for eliminating it. Through our staff survey, 14 percent (82 out of 586) of respondents told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 18 percent (105 out of 586) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Not all representative bodies felt that the service had appropriate processes in place to eliminate bullying and harassment and that appropriate action was taken. We were also told that cases take a long time to resolve.

Although the service does have policies and procedures in place, staff have limited confidence in the service’s ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and discipline.

As previously mentioned, the service has recently introduced a ‘safe to’ initiative. This has influenced the review of policies and procedures for matters such as discipline, grievances, resolution and capability to perform a role as required to help make sure people feel safe to learn, contribute and challenge. We recognise that this will take time to implement.

We found that exit interviews aren’t always carried out, particularly for on-call firefighter roles. The service may be missing opportunities to work with staff to find out what does and doesn’t work in the organisation and to identify any potential improvements the service could make.

Not all staff understand the benefits of positive action

The service has made some improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. Joiners from ethnic minority backgrounds and female joiners have increased in the last two years. On 31 March 2021, for wholetime firefighter recruitment, 13 percent of new recruits were women and 6 percent were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Of the whole workforce, 1 percent were from ethnic minority backgrounds and 13 percent were women. The England average is 5 percent from ethnic minority backgrounds and 17 percent women.

The service is continuing to learn from its firefighter recruitment campaigns and evaluates each stage. For example, the service has reviewed its recruitment policy and removed outdated or unnecessary criteria that could be causing disproportionality.

While positive action is carried out to promote roles throughout the service, this is not always understood by the workforce. During our interviews, we were told by individuals that they felt positive action discriminated against them because they were white males. Staff we spoke to didn’t know why the activities take place and what the benefits of having a diverse workforce are.

It was good to see that a recent senior staff appointment was made from outside the service. But the service knows it needs to go further to increase workforce diversity, especially in middle and senior management.

More needs to be done concerning EDI

The service has improved its approach to EDI but there is more to do. It is encouraging to see how the service acted swiftly to address inappropriate language and poor behaviour of some firefighters. An intervention workshop was arranged that centred on understanding how the use of language affects different people and on staff’s ability to challenge inappropriate behaviour. We found that staff are required to complete EDI training every three years. The service should review whether the frequency of this training is enough. We were told that senior leaders received bespoke EDI training internally, but there are no plans to roll this out to the rest of the workforce. The service would benefit from having a clear plan and an evaluation mechanism when new initiatives are introduced, as this would allow it to better understand how effective they have been.

The service has a process in place to carry out equality impact assessments (EqIAs). The ones we reviewed had been completed to a good standard and involved engagement with external organisations. However, more could be done to improve organisational learning, as we found that the information and findings in the EqIAs that may affect staff with protected characteristics wasn’t shared across the service. Furthermore, we found that staff aren’t trained in how to complete an EqIA and the EqIAs aren’t regularly reviewed or evaluated. Alongside EqIAs, the service has people impact assessments. The service will benefit from reviewing whether both processes are required as this may cause confusion to staff.

The service has reviewed its workplace facilities

We are pleased that the service has reviewed its workplaces to ensure the facilities are accessible and suitable for female staff. We identified this as an area for improvement in our last inspection. Investment has been made in some stations, such as the installation of dividers and the provision of individual restrooms.

However, we were surprised to find that, in some stations, males were continuing to use facilities provided for females, and staff didn’t have the confidence to speak up. We recognise that some stations require longer term investment and plans are in place for those stations to be modernised, but males should not be using facilities provided for females.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Devon and Somerset 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 staff and improving diversity into leadership roles.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open and fair, and that feedback is available to staff.
  • 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.

Staff don’t have confidence in the promotion process

The service needs to do more to make sure its recruitment and promotion processes are fair. The service has made changes to its promotion process but recognises it needs to do more. The staff survey shows that 57 percent (335 out of 586) of respondents disagreed that the promotion process is fair.

From the files we sampled, we found that most applicants hadn’t been provided with feedback following the promotion process. This means that staff can’t develop or improve before they apply next time. The process has an endorsement stage at which a line manager approves the suitability of a firefighter going for promotion. However, most staff said the endorsement stage was inconsistent and not fair. For example, a firefighter told us they were endorsed by a manager they hadn’t met. We spoke to many operational staff who were frustrated and didn’t have confidence in the process. In addition, managers aren’t trained in having those difficult conversations with staff who they deem unsuitable for promotion. We were also told by on-call firefighters that the requirements to join the wholetime duty system changed midway through the process and the whole experience was onerous. The service has carried out an evaluation of its on-call-to-wholetime firefighter process and there are plans in place to improve it.

The service needs to review individuals’ performance more often

Since our previous inspection, a new personal performance development IT application has been introduced. However, through interview, focus group and staff survey, we found staff (at various levels) who had not had a conversation about learning and development or a personal development review in the last 12 months. Furthermore, not all staff had specific and individual objectives and not all had had a conversation in the last 12 months about their performance.

The service told us that managers receive performance training from an external organisation, which encourages managers to hold regular performance conversations. But in our staff survey:

  • 32 percent (188 of 586) of respondents said they hadn’t had a personal development review in the last 12 months;
  • 55 percent (322 of 586) of respondents said they have a conversation about performance with their line manager twice a year or less; and
  • 6 percent (33 of 586) of respondents said they have never had a conversation about performance with their line manager.

The service should identify and develop its high-potential staff at all levels

The service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders. This is an area for improvement we identified in our last inspection. The service has invested in a range of leadership programmes. These include Chartered Management Institute certificates and apprentice leadership courses. But more progress needs to be made.

The service needs to improve how it actively manages the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and those who are suitable for leadership roles. The service doesn’t have a talent management scheme to develop leaders and high‑potential staff.

Temporary promotions aren’t well managed, and we found evidence of them being in place for longer than appropriate. For example, our data shows that one staff member has been in a temporary post for more than six years.

A sponsorship programme has been introduced with partner organisations. This is open to females who wish to develop themselves. Seven females enrolled on the first programme. They were matched with sponsors at senior leader level who will provide mentoring and support. They can attend various board meetings and workshops. We spoke to some females who spoke highly of the programme and we look forward to seeing how this develops in future.

The service told us that over 50 on-call firefighters have transferred to the wholetime duty system. We spoke to some of the on-call firefighters who are attending a migration course. There was some frustration at having to complete the wholetime development programme despite some staff being competent supervisory managers in their on-call capacity. The service should review the process for this

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