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Hereford and Worcester 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Overall, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

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

Staff have a good understanding of the service’s values, which are well defined. The service should make sure that senior managers are visible and model service values.

The service has a good workforce-wellbeing provision. Staff were especially positive about the support they receive from the critical incident support team following traumatic incidents. However, the service needs to talk to staff to better understand their individual needs.

The service has clear processes in place for managing staff absences. However, there has been a significant increase in long-term absence in the year to 31 March 2020 for non-operational staff.

The service does some workforce planning. But it needs a workforce plan that takes full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to effectively meet the needs of its community risk management plan (CRMP).

Some of the service’s records could be more accurate and up to date. We are concerned at a lack of effective arrangements for the monitoring and recording of training completed by staff.

In terms of ensuring fairness and promoting diversity, the service should make sure that it has appropriate ways of gathering feedback from all staff. We note that the service has increased the overall percentage of wholetime female firefighters to well above the England average. It could make more progress to improve black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) diversity throughout the organisation to make it more representative of its local community.

The service needs to have a consistent process in place for performance and development. Currently, it lacks a process for talent management and development.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.

Hereford and Worcester 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that senior managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours.
  • The service should monitor secondary contracts to make sure working hours are not exceeded.
  • The service should make sure it has a robust system in place to update and review its operational incident (analytical) risk assessments.

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

Staff understand the service’s values, but senior leaders need to improve visibility and communication

The service has well-defined values that it updated in consultation with staff in autumn 2019. The results of our staff survey indicate that the values are well understood and accepted throughout the organisation, with 97 percent of respondents stating that they are aware of the service’s statement of values. Those we spoke to understand the service’s values and generally felt that behaviours reflective of the service’s values are shown at all levels of the service.

However, during our inspection many members of staff told us of a continued lack of visibility of senior managers. This was particularly evident during the service’s management of change processes. We found that there had been limited progress on the area for improvement from our last inspection in 2018, in relation to effective two-way communication between senior leaders and staff.

Senior managers in the service recognise that there is a lot more to do in terms of improving organisational culture. However, we did find staff were optimistic that the newly appointed chief fire officer (in post from 1 April 2021) will improve the culture of the service.

Workforce-wellbeing provision is good, but the service needs to engage more with its staff to understand their individual needs

The service has some wellbeing provisions to support the mental and physical health of staff. This includes occupational health, the service chaplain, and the wellbeing team who can support staff to access the help available (such as counselling or physiotherapy). Staff were really positive about the support that the critical incident support team gives following traumatic incidents.

However, staff told us that some of the mental health projects that the service has recently introduced have had limited impact to date. These include having staff wellbeing champions and signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge, a project supported by Mind, the mental health charity. The service is aiming to offer mental health first aid training to some staff in the future. The service could do more to engage with its workforce and understand what else they need to support their individual needs. In our staff survey, 61 of the 225 respondents (27 percent) said they were not having wellbeing conversations with their manager at least once a year.

The service has produced its People Strategy 2020-22, which commits to “maximising the health, wellbeing and fitness of staff”. There is also a draft Wellbeing Plan 2021-23 with associated Plan Delivery Framework Year 1 2020-21.

The plans outline what the aims and objectives are, and how success will be measured in the future. However, the actions to achieve the wellbeing plan are currently at the planning and scoping stage. Also, some of these plans are behind the schedule that the service has put in place. We look forward to reviewing the progress the service has made on workforce wellbeing in the future.

Staff have confidence in health and safety policies, but some aspects of health and safety aren’t being monitored effectively by the service

The service has some effective and well-understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. These include the health and safety management policy, and accident reporting procedures.

The survey completed by staff in the service showed that 210 of 225 respondents (93 percent) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work. Additionally, most representative bodies agree that the service manages the health and safety of its staff well. Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the service’s approach to health and safety.

However, we found that the service doesn’t monitor staff who have secondary employment to make sure they are complying with the secondary employment policy and not working excessive hours. The service puts the onus on staff to manage their working time. And there is no oversight to check whether staff with secondary employment are fit for duty.

We also found ineffective management, monitoring and review of analytical risk assessments. (This is the process used to manage and record health and safety while staff are dealing with fires and other incidents.) We reviewed several analytical risk assessments that were inadequately completed. It was evident that there was no quality assurance during the incident, or later when debriefing or reviewing the incident.

The service has clear absence management processes that staff understand

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 are toolkits and guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. There was evidence of managers making regular contact with staff who weren’t at work due to sickness. We viewed some staff referrals by managers to occupational health, who could then support the individual staff member through actions such as counselling.

However, we found that the absence management process doesn’t sufficiently monitor trends. Also, the service isn’t effectively reviewing and learning from long-term sickness absence cases to see how successfully they have been managed. Overall, the service has seen a decrease in long-term staff absences for wholetime firefighters (9 percent reduction) and control staff (73 percent reduction) over the 12 months between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020. But for non-operational staff there was a 40 percent increase in long-term absence in the same period.

2

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

Requires improvement

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

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

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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure itself that records for risk critical competencies, such as breathing apparatus, driving fire engines and incident command are accurate and up to date.
  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the CRMP.

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 workforce planning so it can fully understand the skills and capabilities of its workforce

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 CRMP. We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows it to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. The service has a quarterly workforce planning group meeting. However, this group has predominantly focused on retirements and wholetime-firefighter recruitment. Recently, the terms of reference for the group have been expanded to analyse wider workforce planning matters. These include trends, recruitment of on-call and support staff, and senior-officer-cover arrangements.

More is needed by the service to improve how it considers future needs and undertakes succession planning. During our inspection, we found that there were many newly-promoted officers within the service, particularly at watch commander level. This places a demand on the service in terms of developing many staff who are new in their role. The service needs to assure itself that the support for those new managers is in place.

We are concerned to find that the service doesn’t have effective arrangements for the monitoring and recording of training completed by staff. The service uses an electronic computerised training recording system. Many records we reviewed for control staff weren’t completed. We also found that some risk-critical training assessments for firefighters were overdue. The service didn’t have suitable monitoring by managers or reporting processes in place to identify staff training requirements. A small number of firefighters were still responding to operational incidents when they were out of date for some competencies.

The service offers a range of learning and development resources

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, the service offers a range of training and health and safety qualifications for staff throughout the organisation. These include the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health qualification for level 1 incident commanders and the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health General Certificate for level 2 and 3 commanders.

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. They also felt that development opportunities aren’t consistent across all staff groups.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include support to achieve academic qualifications, and a fire engineering degree sponsorship programme. The service also has mandatory e-learning in place for all staff. Overall, 165 of 225 respondents to our staff survey (73 percent) said that they could access a range of learning and development resources. This allows them to carry out their role effectively. The survey also showed that 79 percent of respondents found that learning and development conversations with their managers were useful.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

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

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

Areas for improvement

The service should make sure it has appropriate ways to engage with and seek feedback from all staff, including those from under-represented groups.

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 the ways it seeks and acts on staff feedback and challenge

In our previous inspection, we identified that the service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback systems. The service now operates an organisational development and challenge group to work with staff and gather their feedback. The group helped to develop the service values and contributed to the approvals process in autumn 2019. But staff told us that its overall effectiveness has been limited to date, and many staff didn’t know about the group’s purpose. At the time of the inspection, the service was in the process of refreshing the group’s terms of reference.

The service doesn’t carry out an overarching staff survey. This limits its ability to identify staff concerns. It also limits the opportunity for people throughout the service to share their views confidentially about what the service is doing well and what it could improve.

Although the service does have some means of gathering staff feedback, these are inconsistent and not wide ranging. During our inspection, we found that the service had carried out some stand-alone surveys on individual topics such as safeguarding, staff retention and counselling options. These surveys may well help the service with short-term planning. But if the service were to repeat comprehensive staff surveys at regular intervals, these could help it to chart improvements.

Staff have limited confidence in the service’s feedback mechanisms and don’t think they are effective. As part of the inspection process, we saw surveys that representative bodies had done. The surveys supported these views. Also, some representative bodies and staff associations reported that they would like to see improved engagement from the service. The service has a Joint Consultative Committee to discuss matters and has appointed a new engagement and wellbeing officer to improve communication with staff.

EDI needs to be understood by everyone within the organisation

The service has introduced a range of new measures to improve its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). These include:

  • a new EDI Plan 2020-25;
  • a new EDI policy;
  • a new positive action plan;
  • recruitment of an EDI officer; and
  • the introduction of Fire Authority member champions and a buddy scheme for new female recruits.

However, staff we spoke to throughout the service told us that plans for EDI improvement were new and that change wasn’t yet accepted and understood throughout the organisation. We were told that “many staff don’t yet understand the importance of EDI”. The service has appointed EDI allies, but it has given them limited training to date and their roles were unclear.

The service doesn’t yet have robust processes in place for equality impact assessments of its policies and procedures. These are needed to make sure that the service doesn’t discriminate or disadvantage people. At the time of our inspection, the service was developing its arrangements for quality assurance, monitoring of actions and reporting using the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) Equality Impact Assessment Toolkit.

The service has talked to and worked with staff to improve their understanding of positive action. Encouragingly, the service has been increasing the overall percentage of female staff in the service from 15 percent in 2017/18 to 16 percent in 2019 /20. Since 2017/18 there has been a 3.3 percent increase in the female wholetime firefighter workforce. This has increased the overall percentage of wholetime staff female firefighters to 10 percent. This is well above the England average of 7 percent.

However, the service has made limited progress to improve BAME and gender diversity across all staff in the service. Since 2017/18, the percentage of staff who have self-declared as being from a BAME group has reduced from 2.8 percent to 2.3 percent. Five percent of the workforce don’t declare their ethnicity.

The service has made some improvements in showing fairness in recruitment, promotion and progression processes, but needs to do more

There is an open, fair and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service. The service’s recruitment policy gives some guidance to hiring managers about how to recruit to posts and consider the equality duty at each stage of the process. The policy includes guidance on:

  • how to recruit to new or vacant roles;
  • employment legislation; and
  • giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates.

For the most recent wholetime-firefighter recruitment in 2020, the service carried out a wide-ranging positive action campaign to encourage women to apply. However, there was limited focus in the arrangements for BAME candidates and limited evaluation of the campaign’s success.

The service has developed a new promotion policy to make sure that progression processes are fair and that staff understand them. The policy is linked to the NFCC leadership framework. It covers acting up, and temporary and permanent operational staff vacancies, but doesn’t include non-operational roles. To ensure consistency and transparency of promotions, the policy contains provision for an independent scrutiny panel to oversee all stages of the procedures. The panel is made up of a cross-section of people from the workforce, to check and challenge the process.

However, we did find that the service doesn’t always use the scrutiny panel effectively. We also found that some staff still don’t feel confident that the procedures are fair, or that the procedures are promoting the right leaders or people with appropriate experience.

Nearly 40 percent of those who responded to our staff survey said that they didn’t think the promotion process was fair. One third said that they weren’t given the same opportunities to develop as other staff.

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

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

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

  • 9 percent of respondents had been subject to bullying and harassment (20 from 225); and
  • 15 percent had been subject to discrimination (34 from 225).

Of the 20 people who reported that they had been subject to bullying and harassment, 10 didn’t report it. The reasons cited for this were mainly a belief that nothing would be done if the matters were reported, or fear of being labelled a troublemaker.

However, during our inspection many staff told us that they are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment, discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters. Staff we spoke to had received training on these matters and understood their importance. They also knew how to report concerns and felt comfortable to challenge inappropriate behaviour. Most felt confident that their line manager would deal appropriately with any concerns that they raised.

Our surveys showed that most representative bodies feel that the service has put appropriate processes in place, and that it takes appropriate action to eliminate bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The service had nine grievance cases in 2019/20. Managers are encouraged to resolve grievances informally, but we did see that the service doesn’t record informal outcomes of grievances. The service may be limited in identifying and responding to any potential trends.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Hereford and Worcester 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 appraisal review process.
  • The service should make sure it has mechanisms in place to manage and develop talent within the organisation.

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

The service is inconsistent at managing individuals’ performance

The service has an individual appraisal process. But we heard that its effectiveness depended on the skills of the line managers who do the reviews. We also heard that the process is more effective for those staff who are in development or seeking promotion.

It is evident that many members of staff haven’t had an annual performance review. The service supplied data for 2019/20 which showed it had carried out the following percentages of appraisals:

  • 58 percent of wholetime firefighters;
  • 37 percent of on-call firefighters;
  • 35 percent of support staff; and
  • 0 percent of fire control staff.

Therefore, a large number of the workforce aren’t receiving an annual review of their performance. This means that staff are missing out on a performance conversation with their manager, as well as potential opportunities to further their development and improve individual performance. This could be detrimental to the service more broadly, as it isn’t supporting staff development or improving organisational effectiveness.

The service isn’t effective at developing leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

The service needs to improve how it actively manages the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and for leadership roles.

In our previous inspection in 2018, we identified that the service should improve its talent process, and put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders. We found that the service had updated its promotions process. But it still didn’t have a talent management scheme to develop leaders and high-potential staff.

The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders. There is a significant gap in its succession planning at present. The service hasn’t set out how it will identify and develop high-performing staff. Currently, the promotion process is its only process.

The service’s new promotions policy doesn’t apply to all staff. And non-operational staff told us that they have limited or no promotion opportunities. The service’s promotion policy focuses on operational staff. This has resulted in inconsistency and it undermines staff perception of fairness. It has also contributed to some non‑operational staff feeling less valued than their operational colleagues.

The policy covers acting up, and temporary and permanent operational staff vacancies. However, we found that temporary promotions aren’t well managed, and we found evidence of them being in place for longer than appropriate when compared to other fire and rescue services. According to data that the service submitted, the average length of temporary promotions as of 31 March 2020 was 483 days. The longest was 1,551 days. The service uses temporary promotions to fill gaps created by such matters as long-term sickness, secondments and temporary deployments into other areas. The service also needs them for succession planning, development of staff and in between promotion board processes.

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