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Staffordshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

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

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

We were disappointed to see a deterioration since our last inspection in the way the service looks after its people. We saw examples of behaviours that were inconsistent with the service’s values and the service has not placed enough priority on making the service more inclusive and diverse.

The service isn’t communicating effectively with staff on those things that matter to them. But it has recognised that it needs to improve and is working to identify where and how it needs to improve.

Although the service is good at identifying the skills its staff need, we found there aren’t always enough training courses available. We also found the service doesn’t fill vacancies quickly enough and doesn’t have a clear plan for how it will deal with the large number of staff who are expected to leave the service in the next few years.

We did find the service to be good at how it looks after the health, safety and wellbeing of its staff and it has put in place arrangements to identify and support those staff who have the potential to develop into leadership roles.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

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

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service was outstanding 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 all staff understand and demonstrate its values.
  • The service should assure itself that senior managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours.
  • The service should monitor secondary contracts and overtime 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.

There is evidence of behaviours that aren’t in line with the service’s culture and values

The service has a long-established cultural message and framework in place that explains what exceptional, expected, and inappropriate behaviours are. The service’s values are grouped under the headings: Honesty, openness, and trust; Always wanting to get better; Wellbeing of our communities; and Treating each other with respect.

The service recently held a series of cultural workshops with all staff across the service, which was generally well received. We are pleased that it has also incorporated the new national Core Code of Ethics into its cultural framework.

Most staff we spoke to, and most of those who responded to the staff survey, knew about the values. And at a local level, teams support each other. But the culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values.

We were told of several examples of behaviours that didn’t meet the standards expected. For example, managers aren’t always supported in tackling inappropriate behaviours. We were told about examples of discriminatory behaviour that had been reported but no action was taken. We also heard about several examples of bullying behaviour or inappropriate comments being made in front of managers but no action was taken. And some staff groups told us they don’t feel respected or valued. During the inspection we heard language that was inappropriate or outdated being used. We also heard about a level of complacency about the service’s culture that means negative behaviours can be overlooked. Nearly half of the staff who responded to our survey didn’t feel that they could challenge ideas without detriment and some staff told us they were scared to speak out.

Some of the staff we spoke to were positive about senior leaders and feel they are approachable. But half of those we spoke to don’t feel that senior leaders are visible enough or model the service’s values. We also found that staff aren’t always involved in the decisions that affect them.

The service has good wellbeing provisions in place for the workforce

The service continues to have well understood and effective wellbeing arrangements in place for staff. There is a significant range of wellbeing support for both physical and mental health. For example, there is an occupational health service where managers can refer staff or staff can refer themselves; an employee assistance programme where staff can access support and information 24/7; and the service trains staff in mental health first aid.

The service offers good support for staff who have been involved in traumatic incidents. This includes specialist support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.

The service carried out an audit in 2020 to better understand the wellbeing needs of staff. It also has a wellbeing group for physical and mental health and it reviews data and information on stress and wellbeing in the workplace monthly.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing. This includes information on the service’s website about managing stress and anxiety. At stations, we saw information about wellbeing on noticeboards and policies available for staff to access. Most staff survey respondents reported they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. But nearly half of those staff who responded to the survey said that they had discussed health, safety and wellbeing with their manager only once a year or less.

The service manages health and safety well

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place.

These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. All policies, procedures and risk assessments are available on the service’s intranet, and changes or updates to policy are communicated to staff by safety flash notices. Station-based staff understand the procedures they need to follow for reporting defects to equipment, and these are quickly resolved.

We found that health and safety risk assessments are systematically conducted and reviewed across the service and there is a regular programme of station audits. The service investigates, records and monitors accidents and near misses.

We also found there is a good system in place to protect the safety of lone workers.

The service regularly tests the fitness of firefighters and there is good support for those who don’t meet the standard.

But we found the service doesn’t monitor the working hours of staff to make sure they aren’t excessive.

Most staff who responded to our survey and the representative body survey consider that the service manages health, safety and welfare well.

The service manages staff absences well

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence, including sickness, parental and special leave.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who have confidence in the process and consistently use it. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. Timescales are adhered to, individuals are well communicated with, and appropriate support is offered.

The service works with occupational health to support people to return to work after a period of absence. There is also a detailed return-to-work form to assess whether the individual needs any continuing support on their return to the workplace.

Most of the staff we spoke to were positive about their experiences during and after periods of absence.

But half of those who responded to the staff survey said the service doesn’t offer reasonable adjustments or monitor those it puts in place.

Overall, in the year ending March 2021, the service has seen a decrease in short-term staff absences but an increase in long-term staff absences. Long-term absences account for around three quarters of total absences.

2

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

Good

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

Staffordshire 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 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 service needs to review its reliance on overtime to consider whether there are more effective arrangements to provide its core service.

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 good at identifying what skills and capabilities it needs but should make sure it can deliver these

The service has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively meet the IRMP. It has a learning and development strategy that aligns to the IRMP. The service considers the skills requirements that it needs annually, based on foreseeable risks identified in the IRMP. This information is used to forecast the training courses needed for the year.

But we heard that there aren’t always enough training courses available. There aren’t enough courses for drivers, which means sometimes an engine won’t be available because there isn’t a qualified driver available.

The service is changing the way it trains on-call staff by offering more training at local stations than at its headquarters. This is to make it easier for staff to attend courses and maintain their competence. It will also mean that on-call staff will be available to crew the engines more often. The service will need to make sure it maintains accurate records of locally delivered training.

We also found that the service doesn’t fill vacancies quickly enough. But the service has plans for more firefighter recruitment to address this.

The service also needs to do more to improve how it considers future needs and succession planning. Although it has identified that around 50 operational staff will leave the service over the next 5 years, it isn’t clear how the service is using this information to forecast its long-term skills and capabilities requirements.

Most staff told us they can access the training they need to be effective in their role. The service’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability effectively. But support staff told us that training opportunities for them are limited.

The service monitors staff competence. It has a system to record individual training records which show whether staff are up to date with their risk-critical training. As part of the inspection we reviewed several training records and found they were accurate and up to date.

The service trains its incident commanders well, including in dealing with marauding terrorist attacks. But we found the arrangements for strategic commanders to record their maintenance of competence need is not consistent with other commanders.

We found that staff haven’t been trained in making risk familiarisation visits of buildings, or in dealing with fires in a high-rise building. We also found that the service’s breathing apparatus training doesn’t follow the timescales set out in national operational guidance.

The service promotes learning and improvement

The service has some good arrangements in place to promote a culture of continuous improvement. For example, the service identifies some themes from operational incidents which it uses as case studies for staff to learn from. The service also reviews organisational learning from health and safety events and shares them with staff to drive improvement. But the service should do more to engage staff in learning from operational incidents.

All staff can explore development opportunities through the annual appraisal process. But we found that the process was operationally focused with not enough consideration for non-risk-critical learning and development opportunities, such as work shadowing, mentoring and leadership development. And 40 percent of staff who responded to the staff survey don’t think that the service allows opportunities for personal development.

We were pleased that 80 percent of respondents to the staff survey carried out by the service said that they use the cultural framework as a reference point for their appraisal discussion.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Staffordshire 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 assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms.
  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should make sure diversity and inclusion are a priority and become important values of the service.
  • The service should review how effective its policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination is in reducing unacceptable behaviour towards its staff.
  • The service should make sure HR policy is consistently applied in the management of employment cases.

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

The service isn’t effective at seeking and acting on staff feedback and challenge

Although the service has some means of gathering staff feedback, they aren’t consistent or wide ranging.

At the time of our inspection the service had, for data security reasons, stopped on‑call staff from accessing the weekly news bulletin on their mobile phones. This means that on-call staff may not be kept up to date with information about the service. We were told that the service intends to talk to on-call staff about the impact of this on them.

The service is taking action to improve the way it communicates with staff. It has introduced a tool called ‘Say so’ which allows staff to report concerns anonymously to senior management. But there were mixed views from staff on this. Some staff felt that it encouraged them to speak up; others felt it had been put in place because the culture didn’t allow staff to speak up.

We heard examples of staff and managers not being consulted about decisions that affected them, or of their views not being listened to.

Managers have confidence in the service’s feedback mechanisms, but non‑managerial staff have less confidence and don’t think the mechanisms are effective. More than half of staff survey respondents (112 of 216 staff that responded) don’t feel confident in the mechanisms for feedback. And representative bodies and staff associations reported that they would like to see improved engagement from the service.

The service needs to improve its approach to EDI

The service hasn’t given enough priority to EDI and there is a lack of direction in the service to make improvements.

The service doesn’t use data about the diversity of its communities to make sure that it engages with them appropriately in its prevention and protection work. Nor does it use data and information from its workforce, for example from exit interviews, to make improvements.

Staff we spoke to told us that EDI isn’t understood in the service and that it should do more to promote it. The service has recently re-established network groups for staff who are under-represented in the workforce, but some staff are cynical about them.

The service has an effective process in place for assessing equality impact and acting on these assessments. The impact assessments we reviewed were detailed, comprehensive and had considered the service’s duties under the Equality Act. But the service doesn’t monitor the effect of the actions taken in response to the impact assessment, so it isn’t learning from them.

The service needs to do more to increase the diversity of its workforce

More is needed to increase staff diversity. There has been limited progress to improve ethnic background and gender diversity across all staff in the service. In 2019/20, 1.4 percent of new joiners self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds. For the whole workforce at 31 March 2020, 2.5 percent are from ethnic minority backgrounds, below the England rate of 5.1 percent. And 18.0 percent are women and 8.5 percent of firefighters at the service are women. This is slightly above the England rate of 7.0 percent.

The service needs to encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior level positions. These positions tend to be advertised and filled internally, meaning the service isn’t making the most of opportunities to make its workforce more representative.

Although we heard about the service’s plans to direct recruitment campaigns at under‑represented groups, it isn’t doing enough to increase the diversity of its workforce. Positive action has been limited and staff don’t understand what it means. The service hasn’t evaluated the outcomes of previous recruitment campaigns, so it doesn’t know if there are any barriers to people from under-represented groups applying for roles in the service.

The service has robust policies and procedures in place to resolve workforce concerns, but these aren’t applied consistently and staff don’t have confidence in them

The service has appropriate policies and procedures in place to identify and resolve workforce concerns. But the grievance procedure hasn’t been reviewed since it was issued in 2010 and there is no reference to any considerations related to EDI.

The service has had a significant number of workforce concerns. In the year ending 31 March 2021, it had 16 grievances and 38 disciplinary cases. As part of our inspection we reviewed some of the case files. We found that the service dealt well with poor behaviours where workplace concerns were reported. The cases we reviewed were fully investigated in line with service policy and processes and in most cases timescales were adhered to or, if not, there were explanations for delays.

The service has shown that in certain cases it is prepared to take firm action when necessary and to maintain appropriate standards of conduct and behaviour.

Despite this, managers told us they are reluctant to tackle poor performance or inappropriate behaviours. And some managers told us they feel unsupported in dealing with discipline and grievance cases, resulting in them being less likely to challenge staff.

Although the service has clear policies and procedures in place, staff have little confidence in the service’s ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The service could go further to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including encouraging staff to take responsibility for eliminating it. Through our staff survey,16 percent of respondents (34 staff) told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 21 percent (45 staff) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of these staff, over 80 percent didn’t think that the action taken would make a difference.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

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

Staffordshire 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 staff and improving diversity into leadership roles.

Areas for improvement

The service should aim to diversify the pool of future and current leaders.

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

The service manages individuals’ performance well

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. The service’s appraisal policy is up to date and encourages managers to link personal objectives to organisational objectives.

Most respondents to our survey and staff we spoke to during the inspection reported that they have a regular and meaningful appraisal with their manager. Each staff member has goals and objectives and regular performance assessments. Most staff survey respondents feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place, although some feel that it is a tick-box exercise.

The service is good at developing leadership and high potential staff at all levels

The service has effective processes in place which allows it to manage the career pathways of staff, including into leadership roles and roles requiring specialist skills.

We heard that there are mentoring arrangements in place to help staff with their development.

There is a structured, modular training programme for new supervisory managers.

The service has introduced two pathways for firefighter recruitment to better recognise the skills of recruits who already have some experience as a firefighter. This is also helping to speed up the process of new staff joining the service.

The service makes good use of apprenticeships to support the development of future leaders. It led the development of the firefighter apprenticeship standard and is also using leadership and management apprenticeships to give staff broad skills.

There are talent management schemes to develop staff. The service has introduced a high-potential programme for staff. Most staff spoke positively about this programme. It was advertised openly for all staff to apply but some staff we spoke to weren’t aware of it.

The service acknowledges that it has a traditional approach for selecting into senior leadership roles and that it should consider direct entry into such roles to give the best chance of increasing the diversity of its leaders.

Managers involved in recruitment and promotion processes are trained and human resources staff support most interview panels.

But the service needs to do more to make sure its recruitment and promotion processes are fair. For example, there hasn’t been any change in the pool of candidates eligible for promotion in nearly three years. This means staff who have developed in the meantime are excluded from applying for promotion. This isn’t in line with the service’s own policy. Staff told us they feel the promotion panels operate inconsistently. And less than half of the staff who responded to the staff survey (127 of 216 staff who responded) feel the promotion process is fair.

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