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London 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at looking after its people.

London Fire Brigade required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Since our 2019 inspection the brigade has made good progress in training its incident commanders. It has also improved its systems for maintaining critical operational skills, although management training has been slow. There is good support for staff’s mental and physical health, and absence is well managed.

The brigade knows its needs to improve its workforce planning. Currently, it doesn’t have enough staff to fill roles in critical areas, such as on the protection team or driving fire engines.

The brigade has introduced a clear set of values and behaviours which it has communicated to staff. We were concerned to still find some behaviour that wasn’t in line with the standards the brigade expects. Not all staff are confident in reporting concerns, for fear of detrimental treatment by others.

We found the brigade is clearly committed to recruiting a more diverse workforce, but it has more work to do. We were disappointed to find not all staff understood the benefits of a diverse workforce. It was concerning to hear examples of racial and gender-based discriminatory behaviour which is clearly not in line with the values of the brigade.

Since our last inspection, the brigade has made limited progress towards providing suitable facilities for women at fire stations.

We found that since our last inspection the brigade hasn’t done enough to manage the individual performance of its staff. Although it is introducing a new performance and development system, many of the staff we spoke to hadn’t had a performance review in the past 12 months. The brigade still doesn’t have a process to identify and develop high-potential staff.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade has shown a clear intent to improve the culture of the brigade, with some staff reporting improvements under the new commissioner. However, more needs to be done. We found evidence of behaviours that are not in line with brigade values, including discrimination and bullying. Brigade values and behaviours are not always demonstrated by senior leaders.

Recommendations

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

  • communicate brigade values to staff effectively, making sure that they understand and can demonstrate acceptable behaviours at all times;
  • ensure it communicates with managers at all levels, so they demonstrate brigade values through their positive workplace behaviours and are trained to identify and deal with non-compliance; and
  • undertake a review of brigade processes designed to deal with behaviour such as bullying and discrimination and implement improvements that build trust and confidence among staff.

Areas for improvement

The brigade 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.

Work carried out by the brigade has resulted in some improvement in culture

Since our last inspection in 2019, the brigade has introduced a set of values and behaviours. It has communicated these to staff. We found that 86 percent (1,136 out of 1,319) of those who responded to our survey were aware of them. A small cultural change team is now in place to maintain the brigade’s cultural change work. During our inspection some staff told us they recognised the commissioner’s commitment to improving culture and said they felt things were improving.

The brigade has commissioned an independent review of culture across all levels of the organisation. This review is expected to conclude November 2022.

But we were concerned to find that the culture of the brigade still didn’t always align to the values and behaviours expected. For example, 43 percent (487 out of 1,137) of respondents to our staff survey stated that senior managers didn’t consistently model and maintain brigade values.

Some staff told us that a them-and-us culture exists between staff and senior managers, and brigade culture was described to us by some staff as “toxic” and “pack‑like”.

During our inspection, we saw and were told about several worrying examples of poor behaviour. Some operational staff told us that a big part of the culture is based on how long they have worked for the brigade. This determines how much say they have at some stations. We were also told by some operational staff that new recruits are given a tough time and given jobs that are seen as less desirable by staff who have been in the brigade longer.

We were also concerned that some staff we spoke to were not confident in speaking up about poor behaviour. Some of the reasons given for this lack of confidence were that they did not want to be seen as a troublemaker or to be given detrimental treatment by others. The brigade is aware of this and has introduced Safe to Speak Up champions to try and improve confidence in reporting concerns.

Staff are well supported for both mental and physical health

We were pleased to find progress has been made in an area we identified for improvement from our 2019 inspection. We said that the brigade should make sure all staff understand and know how to get support after a traumatic incident.

At the time of this inspection the brigade didn’t have a wellbeing plan to inform wellbeing activity. Despite this, we found there are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing. These include staff having access to:

  • trained mental-health first aiders;
  • counselling and occupational health services; and
  • advisory and counselling support following traumatic incidents.

Staff can self-refer to counselling services. Operational staff are automatically contacted, where appropriate, by advisory and counselling services following a traumatic incident. Most operational staff we spoke to were positive about the support they had received. Some staff told us they felt support had improved since Grenfell Tower.

Most staff have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. Of the respondents to our staff survey, 92 percent (1,217 out of 1,319) said they could access services to support their mental wellbeing. Eighty-eight percent (1,159 out of 1,319) felt they would be offered wellbeing services after an incident if appropriate.

The brigade needs to improve how it records risk assessments

The brigade has a comprehensive health and safety policy. We found good governance in place, with quarterly reporting on health and safety incidents. Of those who responded to our staff survey, 87 percent (1,145 out of 1,319) felt their personal safety and welfare was treated seriously at work.

The monitoring of trends is used to identify emerging issues and take action to reduce risks. For example, a trend emerged of staff being assaulted by members of the public and sustaining injuries as a result. The brigade acted on this and produced an awareness package for staff.

However, at incidents, operational staff don’t always record the risk and control measures that were taken. We found that there was no central storage for risk assessments, including locally created risk assessments for incidents or training. This makes it difficult to audit or quality assure the risk assessments. The brigade should make sure that risk assessments are recorded and stored in a way that makes them easy to access.

The brigade hasn’t maintained a regular programme of fitness testing. Fitness testing restarted on 14 June 2021, over a year after being suspended due to COVID-19. The brigade suspended fitness testing again on 13 December 2021 due to the Omicron variant. At the time of this inspection, it hadn’t yet resumed.

The brigade should restart fitness testing to make sure its operational staff are meeting the minimum fitness requirements to perform their role.

Secondary employment isn’t monitored effectively

The brigade has a high number of wholetime operational staff who have secondary employment. In 2020/21, 46.4 percent of wholetime firefighters had external secondary employment, and 4.6 percent had a dual contract with another fire service. Both figures are the third highest in England compared to other services.

However, the brigade doesn’t effectively monitor 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 said they had to obtain permission to have secondary employment, but they also told us there was no formal monitoring of them or the hours they worked.

Absence is well-managed

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the brigade 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 found good communication between managers and employees. In one case we found contact had been maintained over a three-year period with an employee who was absent from the workplace.

Overall, the brigade has seen a decrease in short-term staff absences between 2019/20 and 2020/21. In terms of shifts lost, short-term absences for control staff decreased by 21.4 percent, non-operational staff by 47.3 percent and wholetime firefighters by 18.9 percent.

The brigade has seen a decrease in long-term staff absences over the same period. In terms of shifts lost, long-term absences for non-operational staff decreased by 18.6 percent and wholetime firefighters by 3.5 percent. But control room staff long‑term absences increased by 18.8 percent.

Staff told us that absence management policy training was made available through workshops. However, the brigade doesn’t keep a record of who has completed the training. It should make sure that all managers are trained to manage absence effectively, and that this training is recorded.

2

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at getting the right people with the right skills.

London Fire Brigade was inadequate 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 brigade should make sure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the IRMP, the LSP.
  • The brigade should review its succession planning to make sure that it has effective arrangements in place to manage staff turnover while continuing to provide its core service to the public.
  • The brigade needs to review its reliance on overtime to consider whether there are more effective arrangements to provide its core service.
  • The brigade needs to train all staff properly for their roles, including developing all levels of leadership and management competence.

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

Workforce planning needs to improve

The brigade acknowledges it needs to improve its workforce planning. It has identified workforce planning as a corporate risk and has recorded this in its risk register. The brigade has created an establishment board to carry out improvements. It has taken some action to mitigate some of the losses of skilled operational staff. This includes using a transferee programme to attract staff from other fire and rescue services who have the skills and experience needed by the brigade.

We spoke to staff who told us that the brigade didn’t have a workforce plan that covered all areas of the organisation. Any planning relates to maintaining existing operational numbers by rank. This doesn’t consider the wider skills the brigade needs.

Training needs that are identified through performance reviews aren’t centrally recorded. This means the brigade can’t clearly see what skills staff have or need, which means it cannot fully formulate training plans.

Overall, the brigade doesn’t have a full account of the skills and capabilities needed to effectively meet the needs of the LSP or the future CRMP. The LSP doesn’t detail the level of resource needed or how it is aligned to identified risks, and this information isn’t available in departmental plans, because prevention, protection and response don’t have these in place.

The brigade doesn’t have enough staff with the right skills in several areas. For example, the brigade has an increasing shortage of staff who can drive fire engines. We also found a shortage of qualified protection staff was affecting the level of service it could offer to the public. A recent recruitment freeze has increased vacancy levels across other areas of the brigade.

The brigade also needs to do more to improve how it considers its future needs and succession planning. It increasingly relies on overtime and temporary promotions to cover shortages among operational managers. As of 31 March 2020, there were 283 temporary promotions. By 31 March 2021 this had increased to 411. The brigade is running a promotion process to fill gaps, but it has agreed with representative bodies that only firefighters can drive fire engines. This means if more staff are promoted from the level of firefighter into operational management roles there will be fewer staff who can drive fire engines.

There has been good progress in risk-critical training for incident commanders

In our 2019 inspection we identified a cause of concern. We found a backlog of training for staff in risk-critical skills such as incident command and emergency fire engine driving. Also, we found no individual reassessment of competence for incident command. We re-inspected the brigade’s progress in this area in 2020. Despite some improvements, not enough progress had been made so the cause of concern remained.

During this inspection we were pleased to find that risk-critical training has been a high priority for the brigade. The brigade has put in place a clear process for training its incident commanders. This includes individual commanders having to revalidate their command competence every two years, in line with national guidance.

All of the incident commanders we spoke to told us they had received incident command training. This was supported by the incident commander training records we reviewed as part of our inspection.

As of 6 January 2022, the brigade had trained all 24 of its Level 3 incident commanders and all 13 of its Level 4 incident commanders. Ninety-three percent (1,099 of 1186) of Level 1 and 90 percent (177 of 196) of Level 2 commanders had also received training. This is a clear improvement since our last inspection.

The brigade should put processes in place to make sure it maintains its schedule of incident command training. Also, the brigade needs to assure itself that training is improving operational practice and that staff are competent and safe to effectively carry out operational activity.

We were encouraged to find processes in place for those who don’t meet the required standards for incident command. The brigade is also developing a licence to operate. This means staff will have to show all-round competency to an expected level. Staff who can’t do this will be removed from performing operational duties.

We are satisfied that the brigade has made enough progress for this cause of concern to be discharged.

Processes for maintaining competencies have improved, but more can be done

In our first inspection in 2019 we identified that the brigade should extend its new maintenance of competence programme to all operational staff groups as intended. We also said it should make sure this programme can assure the brigade of its staff’s competencies. The brigade has made good progress against this area for improvement.

We were pleased to find that the brigade has put a system in place to manage and record competency of all operational and control staff.

The Development and Maintenance of Operational Professionalism (DAMOP) programme is a mix of e-learning and practical training that operational and control staff need to complete to maintain operational competence. Training in areas like pumps and ladders and fire survival guidance is given on a cyclical basis. Managers can view individual DAMOP records to see how much training has been completed.

Most operational staff we spoke to were positive about DAMOP and the training they receive. Some staff told us they found it difficult to find time to complete the additional training. The brigade should make sure staff are given enough time to complete DAMOP competency requirements.

Unfortunately, some non-operational brigade staff we spoke to felt they had less opportunity to develop than their operational peers. This view was also reflected in our staff survey findings where 46 percent (604 out of 1,319) of respondents said they were not satisfied with the level of learning and development available to them.

Our inspection in 2019 identified that improvement was needed in developing leadership and management competence. We are encouraged to find that the brigade has started to give management training to its staff, but at the time of our inspection, this training had only just started and so this remains an area for improvement.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

London Fire Brigade 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.

The service isn’t taking a proportionate approach to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace.

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.
  • The brigade should identify and overcome barriers to equal opportunity, so its workforce better represents its community. This includes making sure staff understand the value of positive action and having a diverse workforce.
  • The brigade should make sure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.
  • The brigade should make sure it takes timely action in response to staff feedback or concerns and that actions are communicated to staff.
  • The brigade should make sure all fire stations have suitable facilities for women.

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

Not all staff have confidence in feedback mechanisms

The brigade is making significant changes to the way it operates, which it accounts for in its TDP. Progress is regularly reported to senior leaders and the Mayor of London. However, some staff we spoke to felt there was too much change, and that it is sometimes not well communicated. The brigade should make sure it clearly communicates the changes it is making, so staff are kept up to date.

The brigade uses several methods to gather feedback from staff. These include using news bulletins and holding staff briefings chaired by the commissioner. Staff can submit anonymous feedback through a brigade social media channel.

Staff have limited confidence in the brigade’s feedback mechanisms and don’t think they are effective. This was reflected in our survey with 57 percent (756 out of 1,319) of respondents not confident in the mechanisms for providing feedback at all levels of the brigade. We were surprised to find the brigade hasn’t carried out a staff survey since 2018. Staff we spoke to couldn’t give an example of any changes made as a result of the last survey.

In our 2019 inspection almost two thirds of those who responded to our survey were not confident to speak up and raise concerns. It was worrying to find some staff we spoke to were still not confident raising concerns. Fifty-one percent (679 out of 1,319) of respondents to our survey felt they couldn’t challenge ideas without detriment as to how they would be treated. This was mainly out of fear of reprisal or because they felt they would not be listened to.

The brigade has introduced a Safe to Speak Up scheme. Staff can raise concerns with Safe to Speak Up champions in confidence and without fear of reprisal. The brigade should put measures in place to evaluate whether this is effective.

Effective action is needed to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination

We found the brigade has some policies and procedures in place, including harassment and whistleblowing, although its grievance policy is out of date.

Staff have limited confidence in the brigade’s ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment, discrimination, grievances and discipline. Staff told us the grievance process was inconsistent and sometimes took too long. Informal solutions to grievances are tried in the first instance. Informal grievances aren’t recorded. This means the brigade doesn’t know how many informal grievances it has, what they are about, or how they are being dealt with.

The brigade should improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their duty to eliminate them. In our staff survey, 15 percent (198 out of 1,319) of staff told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 18 percent (238 out of 1,319) to discrimination over the past 12 months. These figures in our 2019 inspection were both 28 percent.

During our inspection we spoke to staff throughout the brigade. We were concerned to hear examples of discriminatory behaviour and bullying. Some staff we spoke to lacked confidence in challenging unacceptable behaviour or raising concerns, as they felt nothing would happen.

Our staff survey showed that more than half of those who experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination in the last 12 months hadn’t reported it. The two primary reasons for not reporting are the belief that nothing will happen and concern about being seen as a troublemaker.

The brigade is committed to recruiting a more diverse workforce

We are pleased to find the brigade has taken action to improve the recruitment of under-represented groups into the brigade. Positive action is used in recruitment campaigns. There is a dedicated outreach team which works with minority groups in the community and holds outreach days. This is to encourage more individuals from these groups into the brigade.

It is encouraging to see that recent trainee intakes have seen an increase in individuals from under-represented groups. In 2019/20 16.7 percent (46 out of 275) of trainees identified as female and 13.5 percent (37 out of 275) were from ethnic minority backgrounds. In 2020/21 22.8 percent (54 out of 237) of trainees identified as female and 33.3 percent (79 out of 237) were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Not all staff we spoke to understand the benefits of having a more diverse workforce. For example, some staff told us that positive action hadn’t been welcomed at all stations and some staff incorrectly thought that standards were being lowered. The brigade should clearly explain positive action and its benefits to staff.

Since 2017/18, the number of new joiners to the brigade self-declared as being from an ethnic minority background has increased from 22.2 percent to 30.3 percent in 2020/21. For women it has increased from 25.3 percent to 28.9 percent in the same period. For the whole workforce, as of 31 March 2021, 16.7 percent are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 16.9 percent are women.

For firefighter recruitment, the percentage of women has increased from 10.7 percent in 2017/18 to 20.4 percent in 2020/21, and in the same period the percentage of new firefighters self-declared as being from an ethnic minority background has increased from 15.3 percent to 31.8 percent.

But the brigade has more work to do, as it is still not representative of the communities it serves. In 2020/21, 16.7 percent of the brigade’s overall workforce identifies as being from an ethnic minority background, compared to 40.2 percent of the local population.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should identify and overcome barriers to equal opportunity, so that its workforce better represents its community. This includes making sure staff understand the value of positive action and having a diverse workforce.

More work is needed to develop a culture that supports EDI

The brigade introduced its Togetherness Strategy in 2020. This details the brigade’s commitment to inclusion and diversity both within the brigade and the community. We welcome this clear strategic commitment from the brigade.

There are several groups within the brigade that provide support and guidance to diverse communities within the brigade. These groups include Women in the Fire Service and LGBTQ+. We were encouraged to find the views of these groups were used to develop the Togetherness Strategy. The brigade should continue to support these groups so they can continue to influence change and improve practice.

Despite the brigade’s commitment to EDI, its communication and the work it is doing with staff isn’t having the desired effect.

We were concerned to hear examples of discriminatory and unacceptable behaviour and language that staff had witnessed or experienced. Worryingly, some examples of this behaviour were directed at people because of their gender or race. We were also concerned to find that these incidences were often left unchallenged for fear of repercussion.

Not all staff we spoke to understand the importance of EDI, and we found EDI training isn’t consistently given to all staff groups. The brigade has developed an EDI learning package, but at the time of our inspection, it hadn’t yet been made available to all staff.

Although the brigade has a process in place to assess equality impact, we were disappointed to find the equality impact assessment files we inspected were not consistent. Actions that needed to be taken as a result of an assessment aren’t monitored.

There has been limited progress in providing suitable facilities at fire stations

We were encouraged to find the brigade has funded a Privacy for All programme. This is a long-term programme to develop suitable facilities for all of its fire stations. Since our last inspection in 2019, the brigade has allocated £10m in funding to commence this work with a 5-year plan to deliver Privacy for All across all 103 stations.

It was disappointing to find that since our last inspection in 2019 only 1 fire station has been refurbished under this programme. The brigade told us the main reason for this was that contractors were not allowed on fire stations during the pandemic. However, feedback from staff at this station was positive about the improvements made.

Due to these delays, the brigade has made limited progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure that all fire stations have suitable facilities for women.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade should make sure it has an effective system in place to review individual staff performance and development.
  • The brigade should make sure that it selects, develops and promotes staff in an open, accessible and fair way, including temporary promotions.
  • The brigade 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.

There isn’t enough management of individual performance

We were disappointed to find many of the staff we spoke to during our inspection hadn’t recently had a personal development review (PDR). This was reflected by the responses to our survey, where 50 percent (660 out of 1,319) of respondents said that they hadn’t had a PDR in the last 12 months. Not all staff have been set individual objectives. We found limited recording of objectives or training needs. This limits the brigade’s understanding of staff performance and training requirements.

The brigade is developing a new PDR process for all staff, but progress has been slow. The brigade didn’t complete any PDRs in 2019/20 and 2020/21. It has introduced an interim PDR process for senior and middle managers, but there is little in the way of a formal PDR process for other staff.

The brigade has made some progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure it has an effective system in place to review individual staff performance and development.

The brigade needs to build staff confidence in the promotion process

The brigade has a promotion policy in place for non-operational and control staff. However, at the time of our inspection, it didn’t have one for operational staff. Without this we couldn’t clearly see if the brigade is consistent in how it promotes operational staff.

This lack of clarity was reflected by some operational staff we spoke to. They told us that the promotion process wasn’t always clear to them. Sixty percent (794 out of 1,319) of staff responding to our survey disagreed that the promotion process was fair, and 60 percent (480 out of 794) of those who disagreed that the promotion process was fair were firefighters. The need for a consistent promotion framework was also highlighted by an internal audit report in 2020/21. The brigade should develop and implement an operational promotions policy. It should do this quickly.

During our inspection we reviewed a range of promotion files. We were pleased to find these were well-managed, comprehensive records. Files showed an independent person was present at interviews and interview questions are aligned to the brigade’s behavioural framework. The brigade needs to communicate this detail to staff to build trust and understanding in the promotion process.

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

The brigade has made no progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure that it selects, develops and promotes staff in an open, accessible and fair way, including temporary promotions.

The brigade needs to identify and develop high-potential staff at all levels

The brigade is developing a talent management framework to develop leaders and high-potential staff. However, this has yet to be introduced across the organisation. This was an area we identified for improvement from our first inspection.

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

The brigade 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.

The brigade has made some progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

English Cymraeg