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Shropshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

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

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

The chief fire officer and other senior officers in the service have a strong purpose and have shown leadership in prioritising the values and culture in the organisation. This is evident from the effective measures the service has put in place to look after its people.

The service has created a positive working environment where staff feel valued and listened to. Standards of behaviour the service has set through the workplace charter are well understood and demonstrated.

The service seeks to establish a culture of learning and development. It makes courses and opportunities available to all staff, although training arrangements for control staff aren’t robust.

Since our last inspection, positive action awareness and understanding has improved throughout the organisation. Further innovative practices have also been introduced to advance equality, diversity and inclusion, such as the Voices group.

Performance development reviews are now mandatory for staff. And the service has introduced the career progression gateway process to identify staff suitable for progression. The service should consider reviewing these processes as we received mixed feedback from staff about their efficiency and effectiveness.

 

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

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

Shropshire 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 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 make sure that it has effective absence/attendance procedures in place.
  • The service should take early action to monitor working hours (including overtime) to improve staff wellbeing.

Innovative practice

The service has a clear set of values that are supported throughout the organisation.

Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service has a workplace charter that incorporates the Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services in England. It sets out the standards of behaviour expected in the service. It was evident right through our inspection that there was a positive culture in the organisation. Senior leaders have a clear vision for the service. All staff understand that this is a service priority. Positive behaviours are firmly in place, accepted, demonstrated and understood across the whole organisation.

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

Values are accepted throughout the organisation

The service continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. Behaviours that reflect service values are shown at all levels of the service. The service has a new workplace charter, which incorporates the new national Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services. The charter has been extensively communicated throughout the organisation. Of staff who completed our survey, 95 percent (145 of 153) said they were aware of service values. People at all levels of the organisation understand and display service values. Staff described a supportive, welcoming and communicative culture.

Senior leaders act as role models and consistently demonstrate the service values. We heard that leaders were even more visible and open to communication since our last inspection. A high proportion of respondents to the staff survey (125 of 145; 86 percent) said that senior leaders consistently modelled and maintained the service’s values. An even higher proportion of respondents, 94 percent, said the same of line managers (136 of 145).

There is a positive working culture throughout the service, with staff empowered and willing to challenge poor behaviours when they encounter them. This is reinforced in our staff survey, with 94 percent of respondents stating they are treated with dignity and respect, and 95 percent stating that colleagues (138 of 145) model the services values.

Staff have good access to services to support mental and physical health

The service continues to have well understood and effective wellbeing policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health. Staff told us that occupational health was accessible and provided a good service, acting as a gateway to specialist advice and support. Several positive and personal examples were shared with inspectors. We heard that suicide awareness training was provided for staff since incidents in their local communities had increased. Staff feel that the service responds to their needs by providing this training.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing. These include:

  • fitness equipment at fire stations;
  • support for staff after potentially traumatic incidents;
  • trained mental health first aiders; and
  • guidance on matters such as debt management or menopause.

Most staff reported understanding and having a high level of confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. Of the staff who responded to the survey, 74 percent reported having at least one annual conversation with their line manager about wellbeing, and 93 percent of these staff agreed the conversation was useful to them.

Staff understand and have confidence in health and safety policies, but monitoring of secondary employment is ineffective

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. There are robust arrangements in place for reporting and investigating accidents and near misses. The service updates senior managers every month about health and safety, and shares statistics with other fire and rescue services in the region to identify accident trends. The service provides safety campaigns to target identified safety concerns.

Staff and representative bodies have confidence in how the service manages health and safety. In our survey, 94 percent of respondents state they feel safety at work is treated seriously. The three representative body surveys also agree that health and safety is well managed.

The service has robust arrangements in place using an external provider to carry out all fitness testing for operational staff. The service hasn’t yet implemented the national firefighter fitness standards but has plans to do so in early 2022. All fire stations now have provisions for firefighters to maintain their fitness.

However, we found the service has made limited progress with an area for improvement identified in our last inspection. It doesn’t effectively monitor staff who have secondary employment to make sure they don’t work excessive hours. The service puts the onus on staff to manage their working time, with limited oversight to check whether staff with secondary employment are fit for duty.

Absence management procedures aren’t effectively adhered to

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service managed and supported staff through absence.

The service has an absence policy, but we found inconsistencies in the way staff absence was managed. Policy isn’t always followed. For example, return-to-work interviews don’t always happen on time and communications with absent staff aren’t always recorded.

And the service doesn’t monitor sickness trends and data effectively. It has a monthly meeting to review formal cases, but analysis of short-term sickness cases is limited.

From 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, the service saw an increase in short-term staff absences for wholetime firefighters of 4 percent. But in the same period for control staff and non-operational staff there were 6 percent and 56 percent reductions, respectively.

2

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

Good

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

Shropshire 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 assure itself that control 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.

Workforce planning means the required skills and capabilities are available

The service has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively implement the CRMP. The service has a range of effective plans (People Strategy 2021–25, Workforce and Resourcing Plan 2021–25, and Organisational Development Plan 2021–25) that address current and future requirements.

Workforce and succession planning is subject to consistent scrutiny in the form of regular meetings to discuss requirements. This includes the people management meeting where heads of department review retirements and succession planning.

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 effectively. Of staff who responded to our survey, 92 percent stated they had enough training to effectively do their job.

The service monitors operational staff competence on an electronic training recording system. This provides managers with a dashboard and traffic light system to review staff compliance. During our inspection we found the training records for operational personnel were accurate and up to date, and staff were competent in their roles.

The service has effective arrangements for accrediting the competence of incident commanders. All 195 incident commanders in the service were accredited within the required timeframe in 2020/21.

But there has been limited progress in addressing the area for improvement we identified in 2018 about recording and monitoring control staff competence. The service has implemented a new recording system linked to national occupational standards. But the training plan for control staff is unclear and control staff competencies aren’t consistently recorded.

The service promotes continuous learning and improvement

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, new wholetime and on-call firefighters have structured training and development programmes. Protection staff undertake continuous professional development and use the virtual learning environment provided by the National Fire Chiefs Council.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include extensive training packages and videos available on the service’s online learning system.

Most staff told us that they could access a range of learning and development resources. Of staff who responded to our survey, 87 percent stated they were satisfied with the learning and development available to them. This allows them to do their job effectively.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 make improvements to the way it collects equality data to better understand its workforce demographic and needs.

Innovative practice

The service has demonstrated clear commitment and put in place effective measures to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion across the organisation, which has resulted in high levels of awareness in its workforce.

This includes:

  • developing an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) steering group and an overarching Voices group, to provide robust strategic governance and support collaborative working across key teams;
  • providing a wide range of training and information across multi-media highlighting key issues affecting different protected characteristics groups (such as mental health, neurodiversity and Black history month); and
  • introducing a programme of work to address gender-related issues that raised awareness of menopause, updated female uniforms (maternity/menopause), and introduced free sanitary welfare packs across work areas.

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 effective at seeking and acting on staff feedback

Since our last inspection the service has acted effectively to improve how it engages with staff on issues and decisions that affect them. This includes methods to build all‑staff awareness of fairness and diversity, as well as targeted engagement to identify matters that affect different staff groups. The service uses an external company to carry out staff surveys. Staff are encouraged to submit feedback and ideas for improvement via a suggestions scheme. The service also provides ‘open seat’ opportunities at senior management meetings, which staff can attend to observe the discussions, ask questions, and provide their opinion.

The actions being taken to address matters raised are communicated effectively to staff. Measures include posters displayed in workplaces that highlight the service response to the staff surveys using a ‘you said, we did’ approach. Eighty-one percent of survey respondents (124 of 153) stated they had confidence in ways of providing feedback at all levels. Representative bodies and staff associations reported that the service engaged with them well.

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 their negative effect on colleagues and the organisation.

In this inspection, less than 5 out of 153 respondents to the staff survey told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment, and 11 respondents told us they had been subject to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of those who experienced bullying and harassment, most didn’t report it. The reasons cited include concerns about confidentiality or that nothing would happen.

Most staff who responded to they survey are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters. The service has made sure all staff are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. Service leaders have put in place several ways for staff to give feedback and have improved how they respond to feedback, so that staff, including those from diverse backgrounds and under-represented groups, have a better experience.

Survey respondents told us they would be confident reporting problems to their line managers and that they would take the right action. The service has made sure all staff are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. We also heard that staff would feel comfortable challenging colleagues if required.

The service is addressing disproportionality in recruitment but needs to improve workforce monitoring

There is an open, fair, and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service. The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by applicants. Comprehensive information is provided on the website and the service runs taster days for people interested in becoming a firefighter.

The recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised both internally and externally, which has encouraged applicants from diverse backgrounds, including into middle and senior management roles.

The service has acted positively to improve diversity. For recruitment campaigns, the service has instated positive action to encourage applicants from under-represented groups. The service engaged with staff about positive action, which we found was understood and supported by the workforce.

The service has made limited improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. However, it knows it needs to go further to increase workforce diversity. Since 2017/18, the proportion of staff across the organisation from an ethnic minority background has increased from 1.5 percent to 2.4 percent in 2021, and for women it has increased from 12.2 percent to 17 percent in the same period. For firefighters, the percentage of women has increased from 6 percent in 2017/18 to 7.1 percent in 2020/21, and from 0.8 percent to 2.1 percent for staff from an ethnic minority background in the same timeframe. Of the whole workforce, as of 31 March 2021, 2.4 percent (11) are from an ethnic minority background and 17 percent (103) are women.

However, it is evident that the service has a low level of disclosure rates about the makeup of the service establishment. In 2020/21 the service held no ethnicity data for 23.6 percent of its staff. The rate for fire and rescue services in England is 9.1 percent. This limits the service’s ability to effectively identify and address disproportionality.

The service has effective measures to improve EDI

The service has improved its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. For example, the service introduced the Voices group in early 2021 to give under‑represented employees the chance to actively contribute to the organisation. The group’s members represent a range of experiences, including:

  • Black, Asian and ethnic minorities;
  • disability;
  • mental health problems;
  • dyslexia;
  • LGBT+; and
  • women and the menopause.

The representatives act as the main contacts for colleagues throughout the service. The Voices group works with the service’s EDI team to further improve the EDI culture of the organisation. Staff we spoke to were very positive about the Voices group and we look forward to reviewing its future impact.

The service operates an EDI steering group, chaired by an assistant chief fire officer, which representative bodies and staff throughout the organisation support. The strategic intent to improve and embed EDI throughout the service is clear. The group has developed a robust EDI strategic improvement plan (2021–2025) with an associated set of actions, which is actively managed and monitored so that EDI improves.

The service has developed several effective ways to raise awareness and communicate with staff about EDI. This includes some notable work with staff members producing videos on dyslexia and mental health. The service has an informative EDI section on the staff intranet. It has awareness campaigns about, for example, Black history month and menopause.

The service also supplies sanitary welfare packs in fire engines and workplaces. It has provided operational fire kit and workwear for women. Maternity uniforms have been introduced and the service is trialling different workwear and materials for people with symptoms of the menopause.

Although the service has a process in place to assess equality impact, not all policies and procedures had been assessed at the time of inspection. More could be done to improve organisational learning and embed this in the service.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have robust and meaningful performance management arrangements in place for their staff. All staff should be supported to meet their potential, and there should be a focus on developing staff and improving diversity into leadership roles.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.
  • The service should improve all staff understanding and application of the performance development review process.

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

Completion rates have increased for individual performance reviews

In 2020/21 the service updated its annual performance review process from a voluntary basis for staff. Completion rates have significantly increased now the process is no longer voluntary. The performance management system in place should help the service to develop and assess the individual performance of all staff more effectively. But many members of staff think the new process is too complex. The service should review the roll out of the revised process and ask staff how it could be improved.

Through our staff survey, most respondents reported that they had received regular performance discussions with their manager. Of these staff, 90 percent (132 of 146) stated that these discussions were meaningful.

Each staff member has individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of performance. Staff feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place. However, several members of staff told us the process was more relevant for wholetime staff seeking promotion.

Open and consistent processes are in place for promotion

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. The promotion policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in operational roles up to area manager level.

The service now uses the career progression gateway (CPG) process to evaluate an individual’s performance and provide eligibility to apply for a promotional process. The CPG tests are conducted by external assessors that have no affiliation to the service. After a successful CPG, staff can apply for the promotions processes (interviews and command assessments) at the right level. Unsuccessful candidates are offered feedback on identified areas for development and must wait 12 months before reapplying.

Selection processes are managed consistently, with a member from the human resources team present on interview panels and unconscious bias training provided for interviewers.

The results from our staff survey show most respondents agree or tend to agree (106 of 153; 69 percent) that the service’s promotion process is fair. But several staff members we spoke to didn’t have confidence in the career progression gateway process. We were told that elements of the tests didn’t reflect the skills or attributes of the role applied for.

The service has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills. We found that temporary promotions were used appropriately to fill short-term resourcing gaps.

The service could do more to develop leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

The service has updated its performance development review process and introduced the career progression gateway. But staff still feel there isn’t a clear process for talent management or identifying high potential.

We were pleased to see that people who were successful at the CPG process got development advice before taking up the role. This helps people get relevant knowledge before appointment and is more efficient in easing their transition to the higher-level position.

However, the service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders and actively manage the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and for leadership roles. This was highlighted as an area for improvement in our last inspection and limited progress has been made.

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