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Merseyside 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Good

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

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

The service has a positive working culture. Its values are understood and reflected in the behaviour of most staff, except some middle managers. Staff have access to an excellent range of services to support their physical and mental wellbeing. Effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures are in place. They are readily available and promoted to all staff.

Since our last inspection, the service has improved its workforce planning. However, there is still more to do, as it is only effective for operational roles. Additionally, there is an outstanding action in the people strategy to create a succession planning policy.

The service has introduced a new command strategy with processes to train, develop and assess competence every two years. Training records show that it accurately records training and competence in core skills. However, fire control room staff do not do practical training in fire survival guidance, which is a risk-critical area. This should be addressed.

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service where staff are encouraged to identify areas for learning and development. Most are satisfied with the provision. The service has made significant investments in a new training and development academy, which will further enhance the service’s ability to train its staff.

The service is improving its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion. For example, it has introduced staff network groups for BAME staff, gender equality and LGBT inclusion to help identify issues that affect people with protected characteristics. However, only some staff have received equalities training. This was due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.

At the time of inspection, the service did not have a live recruitment and positive action strategy or equality impact assessment. However, the service is doing more to increase the diversity of its workforce, as it has only taken limited positive action during the pandemic.

The service has a good performance management system in place to effectively develop and assess individual performance. Since our last inspection, it has reduced the number of staff in temporary promotions through permanent recruitment processes. It has a consistent, fair recruitment process.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Merseyside 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.

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

Staff at all levels understand and demonstrate the service’s values

We are pleased the service has responded to the area for improvement identified in our 2018/19 inspection (ensuring its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated by all staff). We found the service has well-defined values that are understood by staff.

Since our last inspection, the service has worked with staff to update its values. 99 percent of respondents to our staff survey said they are aware of the service’s values (215 of 218 respondents).

The service uses its values in recruitment, promotion and appraisal processes. Staff we spoke to said they see behaviours reflective of the values at all levels across the service, except by some middle managers.

The service has started to implement the new national code of ethics but should do more work to ensure that all leaders behave in line with its values.

There is a positive working culture across the service, with staff engaged in decisions that affect them. We heard examples of how senior leaders talk to and listen to staff, give feedback and act on decisions. Staff told us that senior leaders are visible, approachable and act as positive role models. 82 percent of respondents to our staff survey said that senior leaders consistently model and maintain the service’s values (178 of 218 respondents).

Staff have access to a range of services to support their mental and physical health

The service has well understood and effective wellbeing policies in place. Since our last inspection, it has introduced a wellbeing charter.

Staff have access to a range of services to support their physical and mental wellbeing. Services include occupational health, fitness advisers, counselling, physiotherapy, a nutritionist, fast track appointments for health assessments, a 24/7 employee assistance programme, critical incident diffusing and Blue Light Champions. The service continues to adapt its provision in response to COVID-19, offering staff access to online and telephone services.

The majority of the staff we spoke to know how to access these services. They have confidence in the service’s wellbeing support:

  • 96 percent of respondents (210 of 218) to our staff survey told us they were able to access services to support their mental wellbeing; and
  • 81 percent (176 of 218) told us they have had a conversation about their health and wellbeing with their manager.

Staff understand and have confidence in health and safety policies

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. They are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff through notice boards and the intranet.

Staff undertake various health and safety training including first aid, risk assessment and manual handling as part of their induction and through online learning.

The service monitors health and safety trends in various ways, including through local performance monitoring, audits, reporting tools and debriefs.

Our survey showed that 94 percent (204 of 218) of respondents feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work. And representative bodies told us they are involved in health and safety matters.

The service has proactive absence management processes

The human resources (HR) and occupational health team proactively manage sickness absence through regular monitoring and case reviews. They consider interventions, review trends and ensure the completion of return-to-work interviews.

The service altered the triggers for formal absence monitoring in response to the pandemic. Most staff we spoke to knew how to report absence and spoke positively about the support provided.

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through sickness absence. We found that the service has processes in place to manage absences for all staff as per policy.

Overall, the service has seen a decrease in staff absences over the 12 months between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

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

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 assure itself that it has an effective succession planning mechanism in place for all roles.

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

The service has some workforce planning arrangements in place

At the time of inspection, the service did not have a succession planning policy in place for all roles. It is an outstanding action in the people strategy. Its workforce planning policy covers staff on grey book (operational staff) terms and conditions and considers duty systems, retirement profile, station mergers and drivers.

The service training plan considers the skills and capabilities it needs to effectively meet the needs of its integrated risk management plan. However, this is only for operational and fire control room roles.

The service has good workforce planning for some roles. Since our last inspection, the service has reviewed and increased the number of qualified protection officers. More recently, it has undertaken extensive workforce planning for the control room, including considering future retirement and maternity cover.

Also, since our last inspection, the service has introduced a new command strategy with processes to train, develop and assess competence every two years. This is in response to the area for improvement. The service needs to assure itself that all staff are appropriately trained for their role).

We reviewed the training records for some staff and found the service has accurate methods to record training and competence in core skills. However, we found control room staff only undertake eLearning – not practical training – in fire survival guidance, which is a risk-critical area.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need. 87 percent of respondents to our staff survey (190 of 218) said they have received sufficient training to effectively do their role. The service’s training plans ensure they can maintain competence and capability. Plans include:

  • Station-based staff told us they regularly undertake safe person assessments and competency-based training for local risks.
  • Prevention staff have regular continuous professional development days.
  • Protection staff use a competency framework to ensure consistent, professional training of staff.

The service monitors staff competence by planning and tracking activities in a central system. It regularly updates its understanding of staff skills and risk-critical safety capabilities through the service’s performance management meeting, 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.

The service has a range of learning and development resources for staff

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place to develop staff. These include coaching, eLearning, educational funding, and practical and written courses. 80 percent of respondents to our staff survey (175 of 218) told us that they were satisfied with the level of learning and development available to them.

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service where, through value-based appraisals, staff are encouraged to identify areas for learning and development. For example, staff can take part in national projects and share learning with their colleagues. A recent national project was the creation and review of policies during the first waves of the pandemic.

The service has reviewed and changed the firefighter trainee course from NVQ to apprenticeship. This enables it to incorporate its values and national operational guidance, as well as use the apprenticeship levy. Apprenticeship provision is independently evaluated and reviewed by external organisations such as Skills for Justice and OFSTED.

The service has also made significant investments (funding and resources) in a new training and development academy.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Merseyside 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 ensure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.

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 approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

Since our 2018 inspection, the service has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion, to be able to offer the right services to communities and support staff with protected characteristics. However, it does not have an equalities action plan with timescales. Instead, it includes five equality objectives in its service delivery and departmental plans. It reports progress in an annual equality report.

In response to the area for improvement to in our last inspection, the service has introduced staff network groups for BAME staff, gender equality and LGBT inclusion. Through them, it hopes to identify issues that affect different people. The chair of each network group is a member of the strategic equality, diversity and inclusion board, which is led by the chief fire officer. Senior managers act as lead champions for each protected characteristic.

We found that only some staff have received equalities training. The service has given face to face equality, diversity and inclusion training to more than 50 percent of the workforce but paused during the first waves of the pandemic. In addition, it recently created an eLearning training package. Some staff received unconscious bias training in 2020.

Information to build staff awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion can be found on the intranet, in the staff newsletter, on faith and religion handouts and through online events. Such information includes Ramadan, Black History Month, Pride, the menopause and Black Lives Matter. However, some staff we spoke to said that while there have been some improvements in internal communication and awareness, there is a lack of information on how to engage with diverse communities.

In March 2021, the service commissioned an external review of its approach to equality, diversity, and inclusion. It is also reviewing the equality impact assessment process and guidance. However, it could do more. For example:

  • consider more internal and external data;
  • engage with internal and external networks; and
  • improve organisational learning by examining the impact of actions taken in response to an impact assessment.

The service has improved how it seeks and acts on staff feedback and challenge

We heard positive examples of how leaders actively engage with staff to give information and receive feedback. This includes station and departmental visits, virtual briefings and online forums. The service also uses the intranet and staff newsletter to share information.

The service does a staff survey every two years. The last one was in 2020. 73 percent (159 of 218) of respondents to our staff survey said they feel confident in the mechanisms for providing feedback to all levels. They have recently formally been asked for feedback on:

  • ground rules;
  • the new integrated risk management plan; and
  • local issues such as facilities on stations.

Engagement with representative bodies is positive. But we found there have been delays and an impact on some activities, such as approval of policies, because there isn’t a trade union official in post. The service should consider this.

The service does not use information from exit interviews to inform itself on areas for improvement because they are not compulsory and completion rates are low.

The service should do more to improve the diversity of its workforce

The service has made some improvements to increase staff diversity.

In 2017/18, 4.2 percent of all staff self-declared as being from a BAME group and 22.8 percent are women. In 2019/20 this increased to 4.6 percent for BAME and 25.3 percent for women.

In 2019/20 there was an increase in female staff in operational roles: 12.4 percent, from 7.9 percent in 2017/18. BAME staff in operational roles rose from 4.8 percent in 2017/18 to 5.4 percent in 2019/20.

The service has systems to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. These include:

  • using candidate numbers instead of names to remove bias;
  • including someone from HR on all recruitment panels; and
  • inviting independent panel members (to recruitment panels) to improve diversity.

The service makes reasonable adjustments, for example for dyslexia.

At the time of the inspection, the service did not have a live recruitment and positive strategy or equality impact assessment.

The service knows that it should do more to increase the diversity of its workforce. It has taken limited positive action in recent years, for example asking staff network groups to help with community engagement.

The service should encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior level positions.

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.

Through our staff survey conducted as part of this inspection, of the 218 staff that responded:

  • 21 respondents told us they had been subject to harassment; and
  • 29 respondents told us they had been subject to discrimination over the past 12 months.

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

We were told of examples where the staff felt the service was taking an unreasonable time to hear grievances.

We heard from staff that some managers do not understand or promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and that they act inappropriately. The service should address this.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was good 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.

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 procedures to manage individual performance

The service has a good performance management system in place to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. It has a values-based appraisal system to review performance, training needs, and role-specific and aspirational development.

87 percent (190 of 218) of respondents to our staff survey said that they had had an appraisal in the last 12 months. The service’s appraisal policy says that each staff member should have individual goals and objectives, and regular performance assessments. We found that staff have confidence in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

The service has processes to develop leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

Following our previous inspection, we gave the service an area for improvement to put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

We found the service has made significant progress with the introduction of Gateway, a development programme. Staff apply for access to Gateway, which offers opportunities for development and learning, and to gain qualifications:

  • staff on temporary promotion receive development plans and support;
  • supervisory and middle manager operational roles have defined pathways; and
  • other roles have bespoke development plans.

However, support staff were not clear if they can access Gateway. The service should review how it communicates the process with them.

The service has taken steps to reduce the number of staff on temporary promotions through permanent recruitment processes. The service advertises roles externally and internally. During the inspection, we reviewed supervisory, middle, and strategic level roles advertised in the last 12 months. We found the service has a consistent, fair process. It gives feedback to all candidates, as well as development plans to high‑performing candidates.