People

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.

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

Overall, it is disappointing to see that since the last inspection the service has deteriorated in the way it looks after its people. Much more work is needed, quickly, and with clear vision and leadership.

There has been limited progress on improving the service’s culture.

We found worrying pockets of unacceptable behaviour among staff and management. These are having a negative effect on the wider culture of the service.

A significant number of staff feel some senior leaders don’t model and maintain the service’s values. There is a lack of senior-leader visibility. Staff told us communication with them is seen as one-way and ineffective.

Progress to address bullying, harassment and discrimination has been slow. We found staff have little belief in grievance and bullying, harassment and discrimination procedures. Staff and management have limited confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

Efforts to improve EDI lack a clear vision and are not effectively co-ordinated. Equality impact assessments and actions don’t have effective governance or oversight.

Some promotion procedures have been updated, following consultation with staff. But the service needs to do more to make sure the new procedures are seen as fair and inclusive by all staff. It should also assure itself that they support increasing workplace diversity.

High workloads are affecting staff wellbeing. We found there was no plan to address this.

There has been some progress on workforce planning. But the service needs to do more to develop a comprehensive plan which is linked to the integrated risk management plan (IRMP).

Positively, the service has made some improvements to its approach to staff appraisals. It has appointed an EDI manager, which is an encouraging step towards improving EDI in the service. The number of temporarily promoted staff has also decreased.

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Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at promoting the right values and culture.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate 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.

We wrote to the service in January 2022, highlighting our concerns in this area. This was so it could take immediate action and develop a plan to confirm how it planned to make improvements.

Cause of concern

The service hasn’t done enough since the last inspection to embed its values and associated behaviours and promote a positive workplace culture.

Recommendations

By 28 February 2022, the service should develop an action plan to:

  • improve how it engages with its staff to gain their commitment to the service’s values and associated behaviours;
  • engage with its staff to develop a compelling vision of the service’s future culture and set out a clear pathway to achieving this which staff can understand and relate to;
  • make sure all staff understand the behaviours that are expected of them and how these relate to the service’s culture;
  • support managers to confidently challenge and manage inappropriate behaviour;
  • establish effective measures to monitor and manage staff workloads; and
  • make sure all staff have equitable access to appropriate welfare support.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that senior managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours.
  • The service should assure itself that it has the facility to monitor and record working hours for those staff that have more than one contract.
  • The service should ensure its programme for testing and maintaining equipment has suitable managerial oversight.

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

There has not been enough progress towards improving the culture

The service has more to do to establish a positive workplace culture that is consistent with its values and supported by appropriate staff behaviours.

The service adopted Gloucestershire County Council’s values following our inspection in 2019. While it has taken some early steps, we were disappointed to find the service hasn’t effectively involved its staff in the development of a clear vision of its future culture or created a plan which staff understand and can relate to. Without these it will be difficult to get staff commitment and support for the changes the service needs to make.

Senior managers are committed to making sure the new values and associated behaviours are accepted by everyone in the organisation, but efforts to achieve this haven’t been successful. Most staff we spoke to and 97.8 percent of staff who responded to our survey (186 of 190), were aware of the new values. However, not all staff understood the behaviours expected of them, the reasons the values had been changed, and how the values contribute to improvements in culture.

Some examples of unacceptable behaviour were described to us. This behaviour was inconsistent with the service’s values and was also affecting the wider culture of the service. Examples included inappropriate language, lack of respect for colleagues, bullying, harassment and discrimination. There were limited examples of staff and managers feeling confident enough to challenge poor behaviour and, worryingly, some staff who did challenge it were shunned or excluded by colleagues for doing so. Responses to our survey showed that 48 percent of respondents (92 of 190) felt they weren’t able to challenge ideas without detriment as to how they will be treated afterwards.

Many staff felt there was a lack of senior-leader visibility. 48 percent of staff who responded to our survey (92 of 186) felt senior leaders didn’t model and maintain the service’s values. Online communications, which were established during the pandemic, are seen as one-way, with limited opportunities for staff to challenge or give feedback to senior leaders. We were told staff felt that consultations with them on recent changes that affected the workforce were limited and ineffective. They felt they had not been given a chance to discuss the changes and their voices weren’t being heard.

The service needs to take action to improve staff wellbeing

The service has some wellbeing provisions in place to support the mental and physical health of staff. This includes occupational health support, an employee assistance programme, and defusing support for staff who have attended traumatic or difficult incidents. Most staff on station and those who responded to our survey knew about the services available and where to find them, but we found staff didn’t always find it easy to access them. In particular, some non-operational staff and those in specialist roles found that access to occupational health support and defusing wasn’t always forthcoming or timely.

Despite increases in the number of staff since 2016, we found that high and poorly managed workloads were having a negative effect on staff physical and mental welfare. There has been a recent increase in stress-related absence and there was evidence of other serious illnesses brought on by the pressure of work. We were disappointed to find that, although there was an understanding of the effect of high workloads at senior leadership level, there was no clear plan to address this problem and improve staff wellbeing.

Of the staff who responded to our survey, 24 percent (45 of 190) reported they had never discussed their health and wellbeing with their manager. The service should consider how it can make sure all staff have this discussion with their manager. This will help it to better understand welfare needs and make appropriate improvements.

Absence management and reporting procedures need improvement

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence. The service has a clear, up-to-date, absence management policy. It gives guidance and training for managers and additional support to on-call stations. Managers we spoke to understood their responsibilities and were confident to manage staff absence.

However, we found that files weren’t always complete. In particular, records of contact visits and discussions between staff who were sick, and their managers weren’t always included in the files.

The service doesn’t report its staff absence information nationally. We found this is because the service’s method of recording ‘light duties’ as an alternative to sickness was inconsistent with most other services.

We were disappointed to find the service doesn’t routinely consider redeployment to alternative roles as an alternative to ill-health dismissal. Managers told us redeployment may be used to allow a member of staff to recover prior to returning to their primary role, but that permanent redeployment was rarely considered.

Health and safety management needs to be improved

The service has an up-to-date health and safety policy, but some related policies were missing. For example, there is no lone-working policy. Nor is there a policy for the central oversight of hours worked by staff with dual contracts.

Staff did understand the health and safety policies and procedures that were in place. There was confidence in the service’s approach to managing health and safety, with 85 percent of staff survey respondents (162 of 190) agreeing or tending to agree that the service took their safety and welfare seriously. Representative bodies also tended to agree the service manages health and safety well, although they felt they could be more involved in health and safety discussions.

Disappointingly, we found the service has been slow to take effective action to make sure there is central oversight of the testing of specialist equipment. This is a problem we highlighted during our last inspection. Records are currently held in a standalone computer system, which only one person has access to. Staff told us there were plans to transfer records to a central system run by the council, but this work hadn’t been completed.

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their 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 assure itself that all required training and assessment or re-validation for risk-critical competencies, such as breathing apparatus, driving fire engines and incident command, is provided and that records for these are accurate and up to date.
  • The service should ensure it has development support for all newly promoted managers.

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

More progress is needed on workforce planning

The service needs to do more to improve its workforce planning so it can make sure it has the right skills and capabilities to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. We found it has introduced a workforce planning board which has started to identify the service’s future skill requirements, but further work is needed to make sure this approach is fully established. Departmental plans are developed in isolation. There also isn’t yet an over-arching plan to draw together all the service’s needs, align them to the IRMP, and link them to a service training plan.

More work is also needed to improve succession planning. While we were pleased to see the service has taken steps to reduce the number of staff in temporary positions, the average length of time in a temporary position is still over a year. The longest time in a temporary position is four years and ten months. Although this relates to a long-term specialist role away from the service.

The service has not made sure risk-critical skills are appropriately prioritised. We reviewed the service’s training records and found some staff had not been trained and validated as required by service policy. Nor had all staff overdue training and validation been booked onto a course.

The training recording system could be improved with easy to access reports showing a service-wide view of training currency for all staff. An anomaly which means the service can’t be assured that all staff have the correct skill requirements shown on their record should also be addressed.

We were disappointed to find there has been limited improvement in terms of the development support given to new managers. We identified this as an area for improvement during our previous inspection. Most managers don’t receive mentoring or formal development support. There is a particular need for development support in people management skills, including grievance and discipline case management.

A wider range of training is needed for all staff

The service needs to improve the range of training it offers its staff. There is a range of practical, theoretical, and online training for operational and specialist staff, but only 64 percent of staff (122 of 190) responding to our survey said they received enough training to do their job effectively. For example, we found gaps in training for staff who were joining the prevention department, and in training non-specialist staff in terrorist incident procedures. The service needs to update its learning and development policy to show a clear link between national operational guidance and its training plans.

The service has recognised it needs to improve and has sourced additional training for staff. This includes a leadership programme which is being run with Gloucestershire Police, unconscious-bias training and business fire safety training for all operational staff.

We were pleased to see the service has given additional training time and supervision to on-call staff, particularly those who have specialist response roles. This was an area for improvement we identified during our last inspection. It has also improved the initial training of its wholetime firefighters by introducing a national apprenticeship scheme

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Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Gloucestershire 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.

We wrote to the service in January 2022, highlighting our concerns in this area. This was so it could take immediate action and develop a plan to confirm how it planned to make improvements.

Cause of concern

The service hasn’t done enough since the last inspection to improve understanding and awareness of the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and remove barriers to embedding EDI in the service.

Recommendations

By 28 February 2022 the service should develop an action plan to:

  • engage with its staff to develop clear EDI objectives and a plan to increase awareness of EDI and its importance across the organisation. This should include understanding the impact positive action is having on staff;
  • improve how it engages and seeks feedback and challenge from all areas of the service;
  • understand the reasons for low declaration of staff diversity information and put in place a plan to address this;
  • assure itself it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process; and
  • improve the understanding and use of equality impact assessments in all aspects of its work and consider if its policies and procedures are inclusive and support those with protected characteristics.

Areas for improvement

The service should review how effective its policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination is in reducing unacceptable behaviour towards its staff.

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

The service needs to improve its approach for seeking and acting on staff feedback and challenge

More work is needed to build trust and confidence between senior leaders and the workforce by improving the way the service seeks challenge, gathers feedback from all staff and responds to staff concerns.

The service has ways to gather feedback and respond to staff concerns. These include a staff suggestions process, bi-weekly online meetings, grievance procedure and the annual staff performance review process. There has been an increase in the number of staff grievances the service has received. But we found staff have limited confidence in these and other feedback arrangements and don’t think they are effective. In the survey we carried out:

  • 46 percent (88 of 190) of staff who responded felt their ideas and suggestions wouldn’t be listened to;
  • 50 percent (95 of 190) didn’t have confidence in the service’s feedback systems; and
  • 48 percent (92 of 190) felt they weren’t able to challenge ideas without detriment as to how they will be treated afterwards.

The survey results were strongly reflected when we visited the service and spoke to staff. Many expressed a lack of confidence in feedback arrangements. They described giving feedback or asking questions but then not receiving responses or seeing any changes as a result. The service should make sure its feedback systems are effective, two-way and that staff are confident to use them.

Two of the three staff associations which responded to our survey felt their work with the service was usually meaningful. All three associations had less confidence that their views were listened to and valued by the service’s leaders.

There is not enough effective action to address bullying, harassment and discrimination

Although we highlighted it as an area for improvement after our 2019 inspection, the service has made little progress towards improving staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their duty to eliminate them. In our staff survey, 14 percent of staff (26 of 190) told us they had been subject to harassment in the past year, and 22 percent (41 of 190) said they had experienced discrimination over the same period.

Although the service has policies, procedures and guidance in place, staff have limited confidence in its ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, or grievances and discipline. In some places, we heard that people considered it unsafe to report inappropriate behaviour, as they felt that their concerns wouldn’t be listened to, and that they wouldn’t be acted on appropriately or confidentially. Some feared that they would suffer adverse consequences for speaking up.

We found that the service hadn’t created a safe environment for managers and staff to challenge unacceptable and poor workplace behaviours. Staff gave worrying examples of bullying, harassment and discrimination that hadn’t been challenged or effectively addressed, and managers weren’t always confident dealing with workplace behaviour problems. The service has started to address this by providing training for managers.

Improvements to wholetime firefighter recruitment

The service has started to improve its recruitment processes. It recently introduced a new selection method for wholetime firefighter recruitment. It supports this with positive action, to encourage applications from a wider range of people from different backgrounds to join the service. We were pleased to see encouraging signs of success from the new selection method. Forty-five percent of applicants who had been shortlisted to join the service were from ethnic minority backgrounds or women. We look forward to seeing whether this initial success can be sustained in future recruitment rounds.

This is a welcome improvement in recruitment approach, which builds on the service’s overall workforce strategy. At the time of the inspection, the service had just completed a review of the new recruitment methodology. We look forward to seeing how the service adapts its approach following the review, and how it applies the principles of its current approach to all sections of its workforce.

At the end of March 2021, the proportion of the workforce from an ethnic minority background was 3.1 percent. Although the service has improved, rising from of 2.4 percent in March 2018, it doesn’t compare well to the England figure of 5.3 percent. However, it is closer to the local population figure of 4.6 percent.

At 17.1 percent, the proportion of women firefighters in March 2021 was above the England proportion of 7.5 percent, but has only increased 1.7 percentage points since March 2018. Between April 2017 and March 2021, 2.8 percent (5 of 181) of new joiners who stated their ethnicity have self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds and 25.1 percent (65 of 259) of new joiners were women. For firefighter recruitment in the year ending March 2021, 20.0 percent of all new recruits were women and 2.6 percent were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Disappointingly, we found the service hasn’t taken enough action to clearly explain positive action to all of its staff. In some areas there was lack of understanding about the value of positive action and the benefits it offers in helping to encourage workplace diversity.

The service needs to do more to improve its understanding of workplace diversity. This would help it recognise and eliminate any disproportionality in recruitment, retention and promotion. While the service has recently encouraged all staff to give their diversity data, the current level of declaration of this information throughout the service is consistently below the England level. For example, by 31 March 2021, 21.6 percent of service staff hadn’t declared their ethnicity. This is significantly higher than the England figure of 9.0 percent.

There has not been enough progress on improving EDI

The service needs to do much more to improve its approach to EDI. Senior leaders recognise there is a need to improve the service’s approach, but progress to date has been limited and too slow. There is no plan with clearly stated objectives about how the service intends to improve in this area.

The actions taken so far, while they have made some improvements, lack clear strategic vision and are disjointed. Some areas of work to improve EDI are being steered by passionate and interested groups or individuals, but without senior leaders giving clear direction or taking responsibility for the work.

We found the service’s lack of progress has left staff frustrated at the slow pace of change. In some areas, efforts to improve understanding of the importance of equality and having a diverse, inclusive workplace weren’t well received or successful. Instead, not all staff felt engaged with the need for improvement. It has also resulted in staff lacking the confidence to discuss EDI issues in the workplace for fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and being seen as part of the problem.

We found some pockets of the service where the lack of understanding and respect had led to wholly inappropriate and unacceptable language and behaviour being normalised and left unchallenged. We were particularly concerned when staff described to us examples of sexist behaviour, racist comments and bullying which they had experienced or witnessed in the workplace. We interviewed several members of staff who were clearly distressed by their experiences.

One important process for assessing the equality impact of the proposed changes in the service lacked effective oversight and governance. This meant there was no way for the service to assure itself that any of the actions proposed to mitigate equality impacts had been completed, or that they were having the desired result. We reviewed a selection of recently completed assessments and found that the staff undertaking the assessments had limited training and experience in applying the process. Training in the procedure wasn’t due to be completed until March 2022.

We welcome the recent appointment of an EDI manager, but we are concerned that there continue to be limited resources available to resolve the complex issues the service faces in improving its EDI approach.

The service should set out clear, properly resourced plans and objectives which show how it will improve EDI. It should make better use of its staff networks to do this, and make sure the work is led, managed and supported effectively.

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

Gloucestershire 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 put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.
  • The service should put in place a system to actively manage staff careers, with the aim of diversifying the pool of future and current 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 management arrangements have improved

We were pleased to see the service has improved its approach to performance management since our last inspection. It has an effective system in place, which allows it to develop and assess the individual performances of its staff. The personal development review (PDR) process includes links to the service’s and council’s objectives, and identifies personal contributions to supporting the new organisational values and EDI.

Through our staff survey, most respondents reported that they have had regular discussions with their manager and that these discussions were useful. Each staff member has individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of their performance. Most staff we spoke to felt confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

But figures provided by the service showed that completion rates of PDRs for on-call and non-uniform staff were much lower than those for wholetime and control staff. The service should make sure that all staff receive a regular PDR.

More work is needed to build staff confidence in the fairness of promotion and progression processes

The service needs to do more to make sure its promotion and progression processes are seen as fair and inclusive by all staff. It introduced a new promotion process in May 2021. The policy was developed following feedback and consultation from staff and staff associations. During our inspection, it was being used to create a reserve list of staff for future vacancies.

However, more work is needed to build staff understanding and confidence in the fairness of the service’s approach to promotion. Fifty-nine percent (112 of 190) of staff who responded to our survey did not feel that the promotion process in the service was fair.

The service doesn’t have strong succession planning processes in place to allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills. Senior leaders told us the service had started to introduce career pathways, but there was limited evidence of progress in this area. The service needs to take more action to address this. It needs to develop effective and inclusive career pathways for all staff.

We were pleased to see the service had taken action to reduce the number of temporary promotions. At the time of our inspection these had reduced to 31, from 53 on 31 March 2019. The promotion assessment processes that were being run during the inspection were expected to reduce this number further, but we found that some temporary promotions had been in place for longer than appropriate.

As of 31 March 2021, the average length of a temporary promotion was over a year (420 days). The longest temporary promotion was just over 4 years and 10 months (1,782 days). The service should make sure it takes further action to better manage and reduce the use of temporary promotions for extended periods.

There has been no improvement in developing leadership and high-potential staff

We were disappointed to find the service still hasn’t introduced arrangements to actively manage the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and leadership roles. This was an area for improvement we highlighted following our last inspection.

The service has no talent management schemes. While it recognises this is an area where it needs to do more, there was no plan in place or timeframe in which the work would be completed.

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