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Norfolk 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

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

In our last inspection, Norfolk FRS required improvement in how it looks after its people. It hasn’t made enough progress in this area.

The service needs to do more to improve how it treats its staff at all levels. Senior leaders need to be more visible and make sure staff feel appreciated and listened to.

The service now has a new cultural framework, but it hasn’t been well implemented. The framework should implement or align with the Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services England.

Norfolk FRS doesn’t monitor secondary contracts to make sure staff working hours aren’t exceeded.

Some training courses are optional. There is confusion over some mandatory courses, including safeguarding, and equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I). Leadership development isn’t available to all staff, and personal development reviews are carried out inconsistently. This means that the service can’t assure itself that all staff have the capability and competence needed to achieve its IRMP’s objectives.

In our last inspection we found the service didn’t have a talent management programme to help it discover potential leaders. This continues to be the case.

More positively:

  • The service prioritises workforce wellbeing and supports staff wellbeing in various ways.
  • Its absence management is good.
  • It has improved its approach to ED&I.
  • It is effectively addressing disproportionality in recruitment and retention.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

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

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation.
  • 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.

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 do more to improve its culture, behaviours, values and staff interaction with senior leaders

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

The service has a cultural framework with well-defined values and behaviours. It developed this with some staff involvement.

It was introduced in 2020, but its implementation was ineffective. At the time of this inspection the service had held 11 out of a planned 30 cultural framework question‑and-answer sessions with staff teams and plans to visit all teams during 2022. We found a lack of understanding of the cultural framework. We also heard that not all staff were consulted in developing the framework, and most of the staff who were consulted told us that the values defined in it didn’t reflect their suggestions but were Norfolk County Council’s (NCC’s) values.

Additionally, the culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values. We were told about some behaviours that didn’t meet the standards expected. We were also told that staff concerns weren’t always listened to, leaving some staff members feeling under-appreciated.

Our staff survey shows that 39 percent of responded (66 out of 171) feel that senior leaders don’t consistently model and maintain the service’s values. We were told senior leaders didn’t always engage with staff on decisions that affected them, and they didn’t act as positive role models. Staff feel there is a lack of visible senior leadership, and that communication is one way.

More is needed to make sure the newly created national code of ethics is implemented effectively in the service.

The service has improved staff understanding and confidence in the purpose and integrity of health, safety and wellbeing policies

In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that the service should increase staff understanding of and confidence in the purpose and integrity of its health, safety and wellbeing policies. We are pleased to see there has been progress in this area.

The service signed up to the Blue Light Time to Change Pledge, and there are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing.

The range of wellbeing support available for both physical and mental health includes:

  • an effective trauma-focused peer support system (Trauma Risk Management), with trained staff to support colleagues who have experienced a traumatic or potentially traumatic event;
  • a 24/7 counselling service;
  • physiotherapy;
  • debt management advice;
  • access to The Fire Fighters Charity; and
  • help for those with protected characteristics, through peer support (support from a colleague) or equal support (support from a person with the same characteristics).

The service takes a good approach to health and safety. There are clear policies for lone workers, risk assessments and fitness testing. The service gives health and safety training to all its staff as part of their induction.

Staff have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service.

Our staff survey shows that 92 percent of respondents (176 out of 192) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work, while 97 percent (187 out of 192) said the service has clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences. The service also has effective processes for investigating and sharing the learning of accidents and near misses.

The service should monitor secondary contracts

The service has a high proportion of firefighters undertaking secondary employment. As of 31 March 2021, records show the service has the second highest proportion of firefighters nationally on dual contracts within the same fire and rescue service, which is typical of previous years.

The service has a policy enabling firefighters to undertake secondary employment with permission of the chief fire officer (CFO), but we do have concerns. The service doesn’t have a formal process to manage and monitor the hours, health and wellbeing of staff who take on additional hours and secondary employment, and we found members of staff with up to four contracts.

The service absence management is good

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files where staff were absent for more than 28 days. We considered how the service manages and supports staff through absence, including sickness and parental and special leave. We found these cases were managed well – centrally and in accordance with policy.

We found there were clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. Previously this was managed by HR, but it is now the responsibility of service managers. There is clear guidance for the managers, who are generally confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy.

Prior to the pandemic, the service ran one pilot training course on soft skills for managers, which included absence management, but we found inconsistencies in the levels of training in absence management and decision-making. Most managers have the knowledge and skills to conduct absence management, but some feel they haven’t had enough training. For example, they aren’t confident that they could recognise symptoms of poor mental health and wellbeing.

The service records the reasons for all absences, which helps it to monitor any trends. Overall, the service saw a nearly 7 percent increase in overall staff absences for wholetime firefighters, fire control and non-operational staff over the 12 months between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 compared to the previous year.

2

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

Requires improvement

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs), sets out their current and future skills requirements and addresses capability gaps. They should supplement this with a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development throughout the service.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should assure itself that all staff are appropriately trained for their role.

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

The service doesn’t effectively plan its workforce

In our previous inspection, one area for improvement we identified was that the service should put in place a workforce plan that takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities needed to carry out the integrated risk management or to adapt to changing future risk. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows it to fully consider workforce skills or overcome any gaps in capability. It hasn’t developed its workforce plan or workforce management scheme as detailed in its HMICFRS Improvement Plan.

At a local level, the service understands the skills and risk-critical safety capabilities of the workforce necessary to meet current and future organisational needs. There is a system in place to review workforce capabilities, and skills are mapped on an Excel spreadsheet updated by respective supervisors, but this is inconsistently managed and there is limited corporate monitoring.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they needed to be effective in their role. The service’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability. However, the training plans aren’t linked to, or aligned with, workforce plans, financial planning or the IRMP.

The service needs to improve how it considers future needs and succession planning.

The service needs to better understand its workforce’s training needs

The service carries out most of its risk-critical training for operational staff well. We found good systems in place to make sure managers took responsibility for maintaining their team’s critical competencies.

But we were disappointed to find that some staff hadn’t received the appropriate training for their roles. For example, ED&I, leadership and management, and absence management learning are all optional. Some operational staff hadn’t received training in safeguarding or in how to gather risk information. Most managers that we spoke to said they hadn’t received the appropriate training in how to spot workplace stress or how to manage absence. The service rightly recognises this, and some managers are now receiving absence management training

The service must make sure that everyone in the service completes the available training, and help staff maximise the learning and development opportunities. If not, there is a risk staff will lack important skills for the future. This will affect what the service can offer the public.

There are inconsistencies in the way staff undertake learning and development

The service training for the wholetime and on-call staff is the same. However, we found that some support staff felt that the learning and development they were offered wasn’t equal to operational staff opportunities. Operational staff can participate in a wide range of learning and development, but this isn’t always available to support staff. In the staff survey, 35 percent of respondents (67 out of 192) told us they weren’t satisfied with the learning and development available to them.

We found there were no formal development programmes for station managers or above, nor was development needed for promotion. Staff told us there were plans for all managers to take part in formal development programmes in the future. We are interested to see how this develops.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Norfolk 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms.
  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures.

Innovative practice

The service has a comprehensive and measurable equality, diversity and inclusion action plan that links to its strategy that is open to public scrutiny.

The service actively promotes equality and diversity in its strategies. It has a good ED&I action plan and clear objectives of:

  • developing strong, inclusive cultures;
  • understanding the common barriers when accessing fire and rescue services and information; and
  • being an employer of choice.

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

Staff continue not to have confidence in the service’s feedback systems, or to challenge senior leaders

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should make sure that staff are confident using its feedback systems. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

Our staff survey shows that 55 percent of respondents (106 out of 192) said they weren’t confident in the ways for providing feedback at all levels and 45 percent (86 of 192) didn’t think they would be listened to. Staff told us there was a lack of follow up on the service’s own staff survey, and that communication with senior managers was often one way.

We found staff generally no longer used the service’s dedicated ‘ask the CFO’ email address and were being told to approach their direct managers to resolve any problems.

The service needs to do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

Staff told us they weren’t confident in the service’s grievance procedure. Through our staff survey, 16 percent of respondents (31 out of 192) told us they had been subject to harassment, and 15 percent (28 out of 192) had been subject to discrimination over the past 12 months. The main reasons for staff not raising grievances were concern about being labelled as a troublemaker and feeling as though nothing would happen.

Staff told us some senior leaders didn’t try to identify and resolve workforce concerns. They detailed examples of raising concerns with senior managers, with no positive results for staff.

Staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are, and the negative effect they have on both colleagues and the organisation. However, they have limited confidence in the service’s ability to deal with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The service has a whistle blowing process available through NCC, but not all staff are aware of this.

The service is effectively addressing disproportionality in recruitment and retention

The service advertises job opportunities externally. It has taken positive action which has resulted in the number of female applicants doubling, and has encouraged applicants from diverse backgrounds, including for middle and senior management roles.

The service has made some improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. In 2017/18, 0.7 percent of the workforce self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds and 9 percent of the workforce were women. By 2020/2021, 0.9 percent of the workforce self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 14 percent were women.

Firefighter-specific recruitment has also improved in this regard, with the proportion of all firefighters identifying as being from ethnic minority backgrounds having risen from 0.6 percent in 2017/18 to 1 percent in 2020/21, while the proportion of all firefighters who were women rose from 3 percent in 2017/18 to 4.5 percent in 2020/21.

The service has good plans that identify the positive benefits of a more diverse workforce, and it is reviewing the disproportionate selection rates it is experiencing with women and applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds.

For example, it actively tries to recruit more on-call female firefighters. The communication team used a female serving member of staff for a social media campaign, with live question-and-answer sessions and interviews on ITV Anglia to promote job opportunities.

The service has consulted with 35 seldom-heard communities to identify what the barriers are to services and recruitment. It heard from over 200 people and is collecting more research that will be used to reduce barriers to recruitment.

We are pleased to hear that the service recognises it needs to go even further to increase workforce diversity, especially in middle and senior management.

The data shows the Norfolk FRS staff’s non-reporting of ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation is higher than average. In 2020/21, 17 percent of staff were of unknown ethnicity compared to 9 percent nationally, 47 percent of staff were of unknown religion compared to 32 percent nationally, and 48 percent of staff didn’t state their sexual orientation compared to 35 percent nationally.

The service is aware of the high numbers of non-reporting of sexual orientation and ethnicity. It has asked the BBC for advice, as 100 percent of the workforce there report this information.

The service has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity to make its workforce more representative of the local community. The service should make sure diversity and inclusion are well understood, and that they are important values of the service. It has made good progress in this area.

The service actively promotes equality and diversity in its strategies. It has a good ED&I action plan, with clear objectives. These include:

  • developing strong, inclusive cultures;
  • understanding the common barriers when accessing fire and rescue services and information;
  • being an employer of choice; and
  • fostering good community relations.

Senior management is committed to improving diversity within the workplace. The service has a joint commitment to dignity in the workplace, treating people with respect, courtesy and consideration. It is signed by the CFO and staff representation, including the Fire Brigades Union, the Fire and Rescue Services Association, the Fire Officers’ Association and Unison.

It also has a good People Strategic Framework that sets out its commitment to eliminating discrimination, harassment, victimisation and other prohibited conduct; advancing equal opportunities; and fostering good community relations. It has trained more than 60 managers in Public Sector Equality Duty and has carried out 850 equality impact assessments.

The CFO leads the eastern region’s ED&I forum, which is exploring how to bring shared learning and good ways of working to the service and the fire sector. For example, a literature review into the ‘rescue personality’ has been commissioned via the University of East Anglia. This will examine whether a particular personality type (female and male) is drawn to firefighting roles.

The service has an effective process in place for carrying out equality impact assessments and acting based on the results. The ED&I team has carried out over 850 equality impact assessments of policies and procedures to identify the implications for people with protected characteristics. The service reviews this data on a quarterly basis, and a private sector expert audits a sample of it periodically. Senior leaders and Norfolk Fire Authority give good governance and scrutiny of how well the action plan is progressing.

The service has reviewed its fire stations to make sure they have appropriate facilities for all staff. As a result, the service created new changing facilities at Wells Fire Station. Some stations have been prioritised for refurbishment. In our staff survey, 93 percent of respondents (178 out of 192) told us they had access to gender-appropriate workplace facilities.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Norfolk 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 ensure its selection, development and promotion of staff are open, transparent and fair.
  • 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 assure itself it has an effective mechanism in place for succession planning including senior 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 management of individuals’ performance is inconsistent

There is a good performance management system in place that allows the service to effectively record personal development discussions (PDD) and personal development plans (PDP). The service told us the rates of personal development reviews are improving and good: over 90 percent of wholetime, on-call and fire control staff completed personal development reviews in the years 2017/18 to 2020/21 inclusive. The rate of completion for support staff rose from 54 percent in 2017/18 to 94 percent in 2020/21.

Through our staff survey, most respondents reported that they had regular discussions with their manager, and that these discussions were meaningful.

Most staff we spoke to had also received an annual PDD, but not all of them found it meaningful.

We found inconsistencies in the way managers carried out PDDs. Each staff member should have individual goals and objectives, and a regular assessment of their performance, but not all staff have individual goals and organisational objectives set. In the staff survey, 37 percent of respondents (64 out of 192) said they didn’t find the conversation with their manager about their performance useful.

We found some managers hadn’t received the appropriate training in how to conduct the PDD. This may prevent it from being useful.

Not all staff feel the promotion and progression processes is fair

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff are open, clear and fair.

The service has changed its promotions process; promotion now requires an application, an interview and selection following a Potential For Development assessment process – but it hasn’t updated its policy to reflect these changes.

Staff told us they felt the changes were unfair. The staff survey results reflect this feedback: 61 percent of respondents (117 out of 192) said they felt the promotional process was unfair.

The service needs to do more to make sure staff view its promotion and progression processes as fair.

The service isn’t succession planning or developing leadership and high‑potential staff effectively

In our previous inspection, an area for improvement was that the service should have an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

The service doesn’t have an effective succession planning process in place to allow it to manage its staffs’ career pathways. It hasn’t developed the workforce succession planning system detailed within its HMICFRS Improvement Plan.

We also found no clear talent pathway for high-potential staff. The service hasn’t developed the talent management system, or the talent management scheme detailed within its HMICFRS Improvement Plan.

As previously identified in this report, there are no formal development programmes for station managers and above, nor is development needed for promotion.

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

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