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Tyne and Wear 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

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

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

The service has made good improvements with skills and training and building trust in the promotion process.

For most people, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is a positive place to work. Although some members of staff have said that they feel unheard and under‑represented.

The service needs to do more to promote fairness and diversity, especially in attracting staff from ethnic minority backgrounds, to be more inclusive/reflective of the local community.

The service also needs to do more to support and develop leaders at all levels.

 

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

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

Tyne and Wear 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 review monitoring arrangements for operational fitness testing to make sure testing is carried out safely and the results are reliable.

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

Service culture and values are good but there are still areas for improvement

The service has well-defined values that are understood and demonstrated by most staff. This was reflected in our staff survey where 95 percent of respondents told us they are aware of the service values.

Behaviours that reflect service values are shown at all levels of the service. This was reflected in our staff survey where 92 percent of respondents (209 staff) stated that service values are constantly modelled and maintained by colleagues and 85 percent (194 staff) for line managers.

Staff are proud to work for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and most staff told us how their workplace is a safe place to work. During inspection, we saw how the service is working to implement the new national Core Code of Ethics through a newly created plan for people and organisational development. We look forward to seeing progress with this at our next inspection.

Senior leaders act as role models. For example, 73 percent of respondents (166 staff) to our staff survey told us senior leaders constantly model and maintain service values. This was reflected through our inspection.

However, while most staff spoke positively of senior managers, we also heard from staff who didn’t trust the process for challenging senior leaders.

Our staff survey supported this view. For example, 38 percent of respondents (91 staff) told us they are not confident in feedback mechanisms at all levels and 39 percent (92 staff) do not feel able to challenge without fear of detriment.

There is a positive working culture, but not all staff are engaged in decisions that affect them. Staff told us that formal consultation through representative bodies is good, but too often direct communication and updates from senior managers left people feeling uncertain about the personal impact of changes. Some staff felt communication could have been better with recent contract changes, known as the Grey to Green project. But examples weren’t limited to this area alone.

The service should consider how it can improve engagement with all staff members, during periods of formal consultation, to promote an inclusive and supported workforce.

There is good support for workforce mental and physical wellbeing

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 for both physical and mental health. For example, most staff told us their line manager and peer group are their greatest area for immediate support. For more challenging situations, staff told us they have immediate access to specialist trauma support. Additional support is available through occupational health, who provide a good service, and act as a gateway to specialist advice and support. Several positive and personal examples were shared with inspectors.

Most staff reported they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. 70 percent of respondents reported talking to their line manager about wellbeing at least once a year; of these staff, 84 percent (158 staff) agreed that they found the conversation useful.

There is a positive health and safety culture, but fitness monitoring needs to improve

The service continues to have effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. We saw examples of improvements having been made to risk assessments and procedures as a direct result of the reporting of accidents and near-misses, including on lone working and working at height.

These policies and procedures are readily available and are effectively promoted to all staff. Staff and representative bodies have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service, with 96 percent of respondents (228 staff) to our staff survey agreeing they can work safely. And two representative bodies agreed the service looked after the health and safety of staff well.

Effective arrangements are in place to protect wellbeing of staff who have both wholetime and on-call contracts.

During inspection, we saw the policy and procedure for the routine fitness testing of operational staff wasn’t always followed. Staff reported inconsistent use of medical safety checks before fitness testing and poor-quality assurance for monitoring results. These allegations are supported by test results that recorded just 1 failure of 1,034 tests in 2020/21. We look forward to seeing how the introduction of a new fitness advisor will support staff with maintaining their physical fitness.

There is room to improve in managing absence

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 are confident in the process. Absences are mostly managed well and in accordance with policy, including return-to-work interviews. But there is room for improvement. We found that in some cases of long-term absence, contact with staff wasn’t consistent with local procedures and outcomes weren’t always recorded.

Overall, the service has seen a decrease of 59 percent in staff absences in 2020/21 compared to the previous year. In 2020/21, the service lost 4,410 shifts to sickness absence.

2

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

Good

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

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 it has effective arrangements in place to manage staff turnover while continuing to provide its core service to the public.

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

Workforce planning needs to consider the impact of changes

The service does some workforce planning but hasn’t taken full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to be able to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. We found evidence that the service’s planning allows them to consider workforce skills in most areas but that it didn’t consider the impact of changes to staff contracts. For example, we saw how staff turnover in prevention and protection has resulted in problems recruiting and retaining staff in these areas. We were told these problems reflected local and national challenges, with protection staff often lost to the private sector.

These factors should be considered during workforce scenario planning.

Skills and training are recorded and monitored well

The service has improved how it records and monitors staff competence, an area identified in our previous inspection. The service uses a training database and uses it to regularly update its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities. This allows staff and local managers to plan training and spot any gaps that will arise in 30 days. A review of training records showed 100 percent of staff had up-to-date incident command assessments and over 90 percent had up-to-date blue light driving assessments.

This approach means the service can identify gaps in workforce capabilities and resilience and can make sound and financially sustainable decisions about current and future needs.

More evaluation of training and learning and development could drive improvements

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, our staff survey identified that 89 percent of respondents (213 staff) had talked to their line manager about their personal development in the past 12 months. Of the staff who responded to our survey, 73 percent (166 staff) found the conversation useful. General feedback from staff supported the view that learning across the service is good.

Most staff told us that they can access a range of learning and development resources. These include online learning resources and access to external learning providers. This allows them to do their job effectively.

But we saw only a few examples of how evaluation is included in the training and learning cycle. Integrating evaluation into the continuous training cycle will support the service with further improvements and help drive efficiencies.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Tyne and Wear 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 all staff are confident using feedback mechanisms to understand how effective engagement is.
  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should make sure that equality, diversity, inclusion and fairness are well understood throughout the workforce.

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

Not all staff trust the service’s mechanisms for feedback and challenge

The service has a range of means for gathering staff feedback, including network groups, listening events and engagement sessions with members of the senior leadership team.

Staff representative bodies report positive engagement with senior managers, describing it as always meaningful.

But staff have limited confidence in the service’s feedback mechanisms and don’t think they are effective. Of respondents to our survey, 38 percent (91 staff) feel they can’t challenge ideas without possible detriment to themselves. Our inspection supported this view. While the majority of staff do feel safe to challenge, some feel that feedback mechanisms lack confidentiality or could lead to personal detriment.

Since our last inspection, the confidential whistle blowing service, Safe Call, has been used four times. The formal grievance process was used 5 times in 2020/21.

The service needs to build trust and confidence in its formal feedback mechanisms to create a safe environment for appropriate challenge.

Identifying and tackling discrimination needs to improve

The service could go further to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination and their responsibilities for eliminating them. Through our staff survey, 15 percent of respondents (36 staff) told us they had been subject to discrimination, and 7.6 percent (18 staff) to bullying and/or harassment over the past 12 months. Of these staff, nobody thought their concerns had been properly dealt with, or that it was too early to tell.

The service has clear policies and procedures in place to deal with staff grievances. But staff and managers told us they prefer to resolve problems informally. We also found that local managers are not reporting back to the service on problems they have found, and how they have been resolved. This means the service is not able to identify and tackle any trends or patterns of bullying, harassment or discrimination effectively.

The service has improved its recruitment process but should do more to address diversity

The service needs to do more to target and promote its recruitment processes to under-represented groups. Staff told us they had more trust and confidence in the new promotion process, but this was a pilot scheme and isn’t reflected in service policy at the time of inspection.

Recruitment campaigns above the role of wholetime firefighter aren’t directed to under-represented groups and the service isn’t leading change in this area to increase the diversity of its workforce. For example, more is needed to increase diversity of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds.

There has been some progress to improve both ethnic background and gender diversity for all staff in the service. In 2017/18, 2.9 percent of new joiners were from ethnic minority backgrounds. This remained the same in 2020/21, where 2.9 percent of new joiners were from ethnic minority backgrounds. In the same years, women made up 44.7 percent and 25.3 percent of new joiners, respectively. The number of female firefighters increased from 7.6 percent in 2017/18 to 9.5 percent in 2020/21, and from 1.7 percent to 2.5 percent for firefighters from ethnic minority backgrounds. On 31 March 2021, 2.5 percent of the workforce were from ethnic minority backgrounds and 23.7 percent were women.

The service needs to encourage applicants from different backgrounds into middle and senior level positions. We saw that positive action is limited to wholetime firefighter recruitment and under-represented groups aren’t actively encouraged to apply for senior positions.

There has been limited progress in promoting EDI

The service needs to continue to improve its approach to EDI. We heard how the role of the inclusion manager was vacant and work in this area had stalled as a result. At the time of inspection, the service plan for positive action recorded only one completed action, with other actions yet to start or be completed.

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 engage with both internal and external networks to inform this approach.

We noted the service has made inclusion a central part of its strategy for service development to 2025. We look forward to seeing how this supports the promotion of EDI.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Tyne and Wear 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.

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

Formal methods for managing individuals’ performance can improve

There is a good performance management system in place, which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. For example, 93 percent of wholetime firefighters have an appraisal recorded in 2020/21, although this drops to 70 percent for support staff.

But our inspection identified that staff don’t find the formal process for reviewing staff performance as meaningful as other conversations with line managers. This was reflected in our staff survey, where 59 percent of respondents (133 staff) stated their appraisal was useful, while 73 percent (166 staff) found conversations with their line manager about learning and development as being useful.

The service should make sure all discussions about personal development are meaningful for staff from all roles.

Promotion processes have improved, but temporary promotions need to be managed better

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. We saw how the service uses a range of methods to assess the suitability of candidates. Measures are now in place to improve fairness, such as blind sifting at the application stage of the process, and the use of objective online assessments to test for aptitude. Staff we spoke to welcome the changes made by the service, but service policy needs to align with the new promotion procedures, which no longer reflect current practice.

Selection processes are managed consistently by staff from the human resources department, who showed us how the process is evaluated after each application of the process.

However, we found an absence of clear policy and procedure for managing temporary promotions. The service should clearly set out its policy for managing temporary promotions fairly, to further improve staff confidence.

Improvement is still needed to develop leadership and high-potential staff

The service still needs to get better at actively managing the career paths 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 gap in its succession planning.

The service has limited talent management schemes in place to develop leaders and high-potential staff. These are limited to access and support with the promotion process.

It was disappointing to see that the previous development programme for staff, called Engage, is no longer in use and hasn’t been replaced with a suitable alternative. The service needs a structured framework and clear pathways for staff to develop into senior leadership roles.

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