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Durham and Darlington 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment

We are pleased with the progress the service has made since our last inspection in how it looks after its people, which has improved.

The service continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. It has developed several ways to engage with staff on issues and decisions that affect them. The chief fire officer had visited every watch this year and we were told by most operational staff that they received feedback on issues raised.

The service continues to have well-understood and effective well-being policies in place that are available to staff, including trauma support volunteers and access to occupational health and counselling services. Health and safety is managed well. We have identified an innovative practice, with the service developing a new breathing apparatus washing facility which removes the products of combustion from the breathing apparatus equipment. This further supports the aim of keeping operational staff safe.

The approach to workforce planning has improved. The strategic workforce plan sets out the service’s main objectives, including making sure the right people, with the right skills and values, are in the right roles. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the community risk management plan (CRMP).

The service has an effective and successful apprenticeship programme. The apprentices have been recruited in diverse roles across the service including operational roles, fire control and in workshops. We were told that recruiting apprentices has helped positively change the culture of the organisation. In the last cohort of firefighter apprentices, 50 percent were women and 25 percent from an ethnic minority background. We have identified the service’s apprenticeship programme as an innovative practice.

We were encouraged to find the promotion process was managed well. Many staff told us it is transparent and they knew what is expected of them to progress in their roles.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

County Durham and Darlington 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 promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of well-being support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

Innovative practice

A new breathing apparatus washing facility has been created

A new breathing apparatus washing facility has been created in the service’s training centre. The facility removes the products of combustion from the breathing apparatus equipment and is used alongside additional cleaning of firefighting personal protective equipment. This further supports the aim of keeping operational staff safe.

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

Values are established, and culture continues to improve

The service continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. Of those who responded to our staff survey, 96 percent (82 out of 85) said they are aware of the service values. Behaviours that reflect service values are shown at all levels of the service. This was reflected in our staff survey, where 98 percent (80 out of 82) of respondents stated that service values are constantly modelled and maintained by their colleagues, and 88 percent (72 out of 82) stating that line managers modelled and maintained the values. We spoke to many staff who are proud to work for the service.

The service has introduced the new national Core Code of Ethics and aligned it to its own values and behaviours. Any gaps were identified, training has been provided to staff and a new booklet was published.

Senior leaders act as role models. Most staff we spoke to said senior leaders were more visible since our last inspection and there has been an improvement in the willingness to listen to any issues raised.

Well-being support for staff is good

The service continues to have well understood and effective well-being policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of well-being support is available to support both physical and mental health. This includes:

  • trauma support volunteers;
  • mental health first aiders; and
  • occupational health and specialist counselling services.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. We spoke to many staff who were positive about the well-being support. The overwhelming majority of respondents to our survey, 93 percent (79 out of 85), told us they feel able to access services to support their mental well-being. Additionally, 87 percent of respondents (74 out of 85) were confident that well-being support would be offered after an incident if appropriate.

Health and safety is now well managed

In our previous inspection, we identified as an area for improvement that the service should ensure that required actions arising from health and safety investigations happen on time and any identified learning is implemented. Encouragingly, in this inspection we found the service has reviewed all health and safety investigations and made sure all actions have been implemented. A quality assurance process has been developed and a quarterly health and safety meeting takes place. The service also invests in accredited health and safety training that managers must complete.

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. Our staff survey shows that 93 percent of respondents (79 out of 85) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

The service monitors staff who have secondary employment or dual contracts to make sure they comply with the secondary employment policy and don’t work excessive hours. Most staff we spoke to were able to clearly explain the rest periods that they would adhere to.

A new breathing apparatus washing facility has been created in its training centre. The facility removes the products of combustion from the breathing apparatus equipment and is used alongside additional cleaning of firefighting personal protective equipment. This helps keep firefighters safe.

There are clear processes in place for managing 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. We spoke to managers who told us a return-to-work welfare discussion takes place and absences and trends are monitored by the service leadership team. The service has also introduced HR specialists who are assigned to each fire station to provide additional support to staff. Overall, the service told us it has seen a significant increase in staff absences over the 12 months up to 31 March 2022.

2

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

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

County Durham and Darlington 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.

Innovative practice

There is an effective apprenticeship programme

The service has an effective and successful apprenticeship programme which was implemented in 2017. The apprentices have been recruited in diverse roles across the service. This has helped positively change the organisation’s culture. In the last cohort, 50 percent were women and 25 percent from an ethnic minority background.

The service anticipates saving £1m on overall training costs over the next 5 years by using the programme effectively and the apprenticeship levy to its full potential.

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

Workforce planning has improved since our last inspection

We identified as an area for improvement in our last inspection that the service should ensure the effectiveness of its workforce planning so it can meet operational and organisational needs. We were pleased to find the service now has good workforce planning in place. The strategic workforce plan sets out the main objectives, including among other things, making sure the right people with the right skills and values are in the right roles. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the CRMP.

Workforce planning is subject to regular scrutiny in the form of regular meetings to discuss requirements. Managers review their staffing plans, which allows the service to address any issues in a timely manner. For example, three fire safety inspectors left the service unexpectedly, but workforce planning identified people in the service who had the appropriate qualifications to step into some of the roles.

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.

The service monitors staff competence by a central system. It regularly updates its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities through this system. For example, the service’s competency records are easily accessible to operational staff, which allows them to make sure their competencies are up to date. This is also monitored at a strategic level. 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.

Learning and improvement is well established with a range of resources in place for all staff

A culture of continuous improvements is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. Most staff that we spoke to, including corporate staff, were satisfied with the learning and development available to them. We were told that internal and external training courses were available, and staff spoke positively about the leadership courses they had attended. We were also told that the central system that holds the various training packages has improved since our last inspection.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include online learning resources. All departments covering prevention and protection have continuous professional development in place.

The service uses its apprenticeship programme effectively

The service has an effective and successful apprenticeship programme which was implemented in 2017. The apprentices have been recruited in diverse roles across the service including operational roles, fire control and in workshops. Apprentices are proud to work for the service and praised the support they had been given.

We found that once an apprentice joins the service, they spend time in various roles across the service. For example, an apprentice firefighter spends several weeks in the specialist prevention and protection teams, which allows them to learn more about these roles. This also supports their training and competence. All apprentices are invested in and complete various qualifications, such as the Level 3 Certificate in Fire Safety.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

County Durham and Darlington 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 EDI is 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.

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 improved its channels for staff feedback and engages well with its workforce

In our previous inspection, we said the service should assure itself that staff are confident in using its feedback systems. This was an area for improvement. Since then, the service has developed several ways to engage with staff on issues and decisions that affect them. There are regular communications sent to staff. The chief fire officer had visited every watch this year, with the deputy chief fire officer visiting other functions across the service. We were told by most operational staff that the chief fire officer provided feedback on any issues raised. There are other platforms in place to provide feedback, such as the intranet webpage. However, 36 percent (31 out of 85) of respondents to our staff survey said they didn’t feel confident in the systems to provide feedback at all levels in the service.

There are methods to build awareness of fairness and diversity among all staff, as well as work to identify matters that affect different staff groups. For example, the service has an EDI working group chaired by a senior leader. One of the group’s recommendations was that the facilities in a fire station needed to be improved to make it more inclusive. Work to address this is currently underway.

Staff were clear about how to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination

Staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are and their negative effect on colleagues and the organisation.

In this inspection, 6 percent of staff (5 out of 85) who responded to our staff survey told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 12 percent (10 out of 85) to discrimination over the past 12 months.

In our last inspection, we identified as an area for improvement that the service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures that staff are confident using. The service has made improvements in this area, such as recording all formal and informal concerns and providing additional training to staff. However, we spoke to some staff who still didn’t feel comfortable in raising workforce concerns more formally.

Most staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination and disciplinary matters. The service has made sure all staff are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour and we were pleased to find that staff felt confident to do so.

The service is improving the diversity of its workforce

There is an open, fair and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service. The service has an effective system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. For example, the service found that some applicants weren’t passing some of the practical tests in the recruitment process. The service offered the applicants further support over several weeks to increase their chances of passing.

The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. This includes the use of social media. The recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised both internally and externally, which has encouraged applicants from diverse backgrounds. The service has recruited external applicants into strategic and middle manager positions.

The service has made improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. In its last cohort of firefighter apprentices, 50 percent were female and 25 percent were from a minority ethnic background. Of the whole workforce, 1.6 percent are from an ethnic minority background (local population is 2.2 percent) and 16.2 percent are women.

Positive action initiatives include taster days and fitness sessions for people interested in joining the service. In our last inspection we identified that the service should improve understanding of positive action among staff as an area for improvement. We are pleased with the progress made. The service has provided training and created an awareness video. We spoke to many staff who had a good understanding of positive action and supported the service’s initiatives. EDI training is completed by all staff and managers complete an enhanced course.

The service’s approach to equality, diversity and inclusion has improved

The service has improved its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. We found reasonable adjustments were made for applicants going through the recruitment process and for those undertaking training activities. We spoke to many staff who were proud to support the Pride event they were due to attend.

The service has a process in place to carry out equality impact assessments. The ones we reviewed had been completed to a good standard and involved engagement with internal staff and external organisations. However, more could be done to improve organisational learning, as we found that the information and findings in the impact assessments that may affect staff with protected characteristics weren’t shared across the service.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

County Durham and Darlington 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.

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

The appraisal system is effective

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. Following our last inspection, the service has redesigned its appraisal system. All staff are required to complete an annual appraisal and a mid-year review. The appropriate support was provided via Microsoft Teams and there are training packages available to staff. We spoke to many staff who feel the process has been simplified and the appraisal is effective.

Through our staff survey, most staff reported that they have 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 selection, development and promotion of staff is open, accessible and fair

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. This was an area for improvement we identified in our last inspection. During our inspection, we reviewed a range of promotion files. We were encouraged to find these were well-managed. We spoke to many staff who told us the promotion process is transparent and they knew what is expected of them to progress in their roles. Those who were successful also spoke positively about being given their final score, which allows them to manage their own expectations on how soon they are to be promoted.

The service recognises that the promotion process could be further improved. We spoke to staff who didn’t understand why the initial application form and assessment development centre’s scores, which include an interview and presentation, don’t count towards the final stage of the promotion process.

The service has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills. Selection processes are managed consistently by the HR team. Temporary promotions are used appropriately to fill short-term resourcing gaps. But we found some temporary promotions had been in place for a long time. The service should make sure it effectively manages their duration.

The service is good at developing leaders

In our previous inspection, we identified that the service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders. We are pleased that the service has addressed this area for improvement.

The service has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to manage high-potential staff into leadership roles. This is initially discussed during the appraisal and monitored in the promotion process where successful applicants are matched to the vacancies available. The service has several leadership programmes in place including a Chartered Management Institute leadership course. There are talent management schemes to develop specific staff. High-potential staff are given bespoke development programmes to complete, which supports them in the promotion process.

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