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Surrey 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

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

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

The service’s integrated risk management plan (IRMP), the Making Surrey Safer Plan (MSSP), has led to a period of significant change since our last inspection. Although the service has implemented the changes in the MSSP, relationships between senior leaders and operational staff remain challenging. The service is aware of this and is trying new ways to improve discussion and feedback. It is also using an external provider to create a cultural change programme.

Since our first inspection the service has recognised that it needs to do more to improve its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It has appointed a lead for EDI and is introducing improved governance and ways of working. However, more needs to be done to improve diversity in the workforce and at all levels of management. Recent recruitment hasn’t improved the diversity of the organisation.

The service has recently updated its performance management procedures. It needs to make sure these are understood by all staff, and should develop more robust succession planning and talent management processes. We found that the service managed absence well and provided a good range of health and wellbeing support. We are pleased to see that the service manages overtime more effectively than when we last inspected.

In our previous inspection, we saw that grievance procedures weren’t being used effectively. Since then the service has improved its procedures and governance, and is starting to introduce training. However, it needs to do more to understand and address bullying and harassment.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

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

Surrey 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 effectively promoted, 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 assure itself that senior managers are visible and model service values through their behaviours.

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

While staff at all levels understand the values, these aren’t always demonstrated

The service has made some progress in this area since our last inspection. This has been during a period of significant change, which has led to tension in industrial relations. However, there is still more to do. The service now has a clearly defined set of values. In response to our staff survey, 97 percent of respondents said they were aware of the service’s values (179 out of 185). However, while 90 percent of respondents felt that their colleagues consistently modelled and maintained these values, only 35 percent said that senior managers did so. Senior leaders always need to make sure that they act as role models for a service’s values.

The staff we spoke to were proud of the service. But they told us that they didn’t always feel engaged in decisions that affect them. Many operational staff told us they didn’t feel part of the transformation process. Engagement between senior leaders and many station-based staff is challenging. The service is aware of this and has increased contact between management and staff. Members of the senior team visit fire stations each week to understand their concerns and help to improve working relationships. However, staff told us that they didn’t always receive feedback on the problems they raised during these visits.

The service is aware of the new national code of ethics and needs to consider how this will be implemented across the organisation.

Staff have access to services that support their mental and physical health

The service’s wellbeing policies for staff continue to be well understood and effective. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health, including occupational health services, external counsellors, and traumatic incident support.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing. This includes closer monitoring of staff overtime, which we highlighted in the last inspection as an area for improvement. Following the introduction of new staffing arrangements, there is less reliance on overtime to maintain fire engine availability. Most staff told us that they understood and had confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. In response to our staff survey, 78 percent of respondents (145 out of 185) agreed or tended to agree that they could access services to support their mental health.

However, the staff survey also indicated that 57 percent of staff discussed their wellbeing with managers only twice a year or less (105 out of 185). The service could do more to engage with the workforce to understand and support individual needs.

Since our last inspection there have been improvements in processes for monitoring and managing staff who have secondary employment.

Health and safety policies and procedures are well understood across the service

The service’s health and safety policies and procedures continue to be effective and well understood. Our survey showed that 95 percent (176 out of 185) of respondents felt that the service had clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences. Health and safety training is provided predominantly through online training packages.

The service has a comprehensive reporting and monitoring system in place to identify and address any trends in accidents. Accidents, near misses and hazards are flagged to the duty officer who assigns an appropriate level of investigation. The health and safety team and representative bodies are also notified. The occupational health, safety and wellbeing working group monitors accident information to improve performance. For example, due to an increasing number of incidents involving working-at-height training, a decision was made to change the training, which reduced the number of incidents without affecting the service’s operational ability.

The service manages absence well

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service managed and supported staff through their absences, 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 and support is available from the human resources team. Absences are managed well and in line with policy. Although managers told us that they hadn’t received formal training in managing absence, they were confident in the process. The staff we spoke to also understood the process and their responsibilities when absent from work.

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

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have workforce plans in place that are linked to their IRMPs, 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 ensure operational officers use its competence recording system and e-learning platform effectively.

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

Workforce planning makes sure that the required skills and capabilities are available

The service has good workforce planning in place, which ensures that skills and capabilities align with its IRMP, the Making Surrey Safer Plan (MSSP). The recruitment strategy for 2020–24 focuses on how the service should attract, select and retain staff in a way that is in line with the MSSP. The strategy is supported by updates, which are given in regular meetings to provide an accurate picture of the current workforce and future requirements.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they needed to be effective in their role. Our survey showed that 72 percent of respondents, (133 out of 185) agreed that they had received the training they needed to allow them to do their job effectively. However, most operational staff told us that they would like more prevention training to improve the way they did this work.

The service’s training plans ensure it can maintain the competence and capabilities of its staff effectively. The service regularly monitors and assesses the competence of its firefighters, crew commanders and watch commanders. This is overseen by a central team using an electronic recording system. This team books those staff on appropriate training courses and reports which of them need to complete assessments to maintain their competence. This approach means that the service can identify gaps in workforce capabilities and resilience, and can make sound and long-term financial decisions about current and future needs.

However, while operational officers (station managers and above) are supposed to maintain their own competency records, this isn’t monitored. We also noted that the training wasn’t recorded for non-operational staff. They are supposed to follow county council policy – although most staff we spoke to couldn’t explain how this worked.

Having a very small team to maintain the system for recording training means that this function has limited resilience.

The service is improving its approach to learning and development but needs to extend this to all staff

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, the service has invested in making sure that the training of the protection team is in line with the national competency framework.

The provision of learning and development has been adapted for the pandemic, with more being done virtually. However, some staff felt that the level of learning and development available to them had decreased during this time.

Most staff survey respondents told us that they were able to access a range of learning and development resources. This includes 64 percent (119 out of 185 respondents) who were satisfied with the learning and development available to them. However, staff told us that learning and development opportunities weren’t as good for non-operational staff. Non-operational staff told us that they joined the service in specific roles and that most of these roles had no chance of career progression.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Surrey 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 takes timely action in response to feedback or concerns from its staff.
  • The service should ensure that all staff understand the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and their role in promoting it.

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 improving the way it seeks and acts on staff feedback, but it needs to do more

The service is improving its means of gathering staff feedback. For example, each senior manager works one day a week at a fire station. During that day they speak with the firefighters to understand their views and concerns. The service then updates the staff using a fortnightly email newsletter that is sent to every member of the service.

However, we found that many staff had limited confidence in the ways the service gathered feedback and didn’t think these were effective. Our staff survey found that only 26 percent of respondents (48 out of 185) felt confident in the ways for providing feedback to all levels.

The service is making slow progress in implementing its plans to improve EDI

Since our last inspection the service has recruited a lead for EDI. This has resulted in more activity in this area. However, the service needs to make sure its plans for EDI are clear to all staff. We found that many staff were unaware of EDI issues.

Although the service has a process in place to carry out equality impact assessments, the impact on each of the protected characteristics isn’t being properly assessed or dealt with. More could be done to engage with both internal and external networks to inform this.

During our inspection, a new equality impact assessment process was introduced, which appeared to be more robust than the previous process. The new process has a clear governance structure to make sure that it works effectively, and that the impact of the process is understood and reviewed. The service needs to make sure that the new process is having a positive effect.

Alongside the new equality impact assessment process, the service has introduced a fairness and respect network to improve the way it works with under-represented groups. This is in its early stages and is supported by senior managers. The service has started to use informal ‘lunch and learn’ sessions to improve staff awareness of EDI issues. The subjects covered include race, gender and sexuality, as well as issues such as domestic abuse. The sessions are given by internal and external staff.

Staff are starting to work with external EDI organisations, such as the Asian Fire Service Association, but this is currently led by individuals rather than being a part of any systematic approach by the service.

The service needs to make sure it understands the needs of its workforce. For example, 8 percent of respondents (14 out of 185) to our staff survey stated that they didn’t have access to gender-appropriate workplace facilities.

The promotion process lacks fairness and transparency

The promotion process has been reviewed since our last inspection and is now more open and transparent. However, there is still more to be done, because there is a lack of transparency at the final stage.

We reviewed three recent promotion processes for different operational roles and found assessment centres were open and fair. The service maintains a record of how staff perform at the assessment centres and feeds this information back to the individuals. Staff from human resources often support the process and provide independent scrutiny. However, we found no independent scrutiny of the subsequent process used to appoint a person to a role.

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

More needs to be done to increase staff diversity. There has been limited progress to improve both BAME and female representation across all staff in the service. Between 2017/18 and 2019/20, 0.7 percent (1 out of 140) of new joiners self-declared as being from a BAME group (7 percent chose not to state their ethnicity), and 14 percent (20 out of 140) were female. For firefighter recruitment specifically, 3 percent (3 out of 97) of all new recruits were female and none were from a BAME background (7 percent chose not to state their ethnicity). In relation to the whole service’s workforce, 2 percent are BAME and 12 percent are female (based on figures from 2019/20).

Since our last inspection the service has regularly recruited wholetime and on-call firefighters, but this hasn’t been used as an opportunity to increase diversity of operational staff.

The service is aware of the lack of diversity in its workforce and is starting to introduce new ways of working. For the first time, the service is examining whether there are particular ‘fail points’ in the recruitment process that are disadvantaging underrepresented groups. If there are, it intends to offer more support to people from those groups through those parts of the process.

The service needs to do more to improve the way it tackles bullying, harassment and discrimination

The service could do more to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their responsibility for eliminating it. Through our staff survey, 29 percent of staff (53 out of 185 respondents) told us they had been subject to harassment, and 30 percent to discrimination (56 out of 185) over the past 12 months. Of these staff, only 4 percent thought their concerns had been properly dealt with.

Although the service does have clear and up-to-date policies and procedures in place, staff have limited confidence in its ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and grievances and discipline. In the staff survey, 54 percent of the respondents who stated they had experienced bullying or harassment (14 out of 26) told us they didn’t report it as they felt nothing would happen as a result. The service needs to consider how to improve staff awareness and training in this area.

Since our last inspection the service has improved its approach to investigating and recording grievances. In our last inspection we identified as an area for improvement that the service should make sure it has effective grievance procedures that include clearly documented actions and end results. It has published a new grievance policy and staff are starting to be trained in its use. A senior manager now oversees the procedure and informal and formal end results are recorded.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Surrey 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 high-potential staff and improving diversity in 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 put in place a system to actively manage staff careers, with the aim of diversifying the pool of future and current leaders.
  • The service should assure itself it has an effective way in place for succession planning including senior leadership roles.
  • 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.

The service is inconsistent at managing individuals’ performance

The service’s process for performance and development is still inconsistent. The staff survey highlighted that only 69 percent of staff (127 out of 185 respondents) had received a personal development review in the previous 12 months. Few staff reported that they had regular, meaningful discussions with their manager. Of the respondents, 34 percent said they had performance meetings with their line manager monthly or more frequently (62 out of 185). But 64 percent (113 out of 176) found the meetings useful when they did happen. Nine respondents told us that they never had performance discussions with their manager.

The service introduced an updated performance management system for staff during our inspection. The intention is that this will make sure all staff objectives are linked to the MSSP.

The service isn’t effective at developing leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

This was highlighted as an area for improvement in our last inspection and limited progress has been made.

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

The service doesn’t have a talent management scheme to develop leaders and high‑potential staff. It is improving the openness and fairness of its promotion processes, but there are still areas where more independent scrutiny would help.

The service 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. The service is aware of this and is developing plans to make improvements. But currently the only process it has in place is the promotion process for operational staff – it has nothing for non-operational staff.