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Warwickshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 12/01/2022
Requires improvement

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

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

Since we last inspected Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2018 it has put a greater emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion, which is to its credit. But we found that its approach isn’t always proportionate and it has left its workforce disengaged.

The service has a set of values but we didn’t find these shown consistently.

Staff value the service’s wellbeing support. But we found that the service still doesn’t have a wellbeing plan or evaluate its provision.

There are some areas of health and safety that need improvement. We found that the service doesn’t monitor the working time of its staff to make sure they are fit for duty.

The service provides good risk-critical training for its staff but other training is inconsistent. Staff still feel that the promotion processes aren’t fair.

 

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

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

Warwickshire 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 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 ensure it has a robust system in place to review and update its risk assessments.
  • The service should ensure that recommendations from workplace accidents are monitored and actioned appropriately and in a timely manner.
  • The service should monitor overtime and secondary contracts to ensure working hours are not exceeded.
  • The service should develop a wellbeing strategy and a system to improve understanding of health, safety and wellbeing.

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 consistently demonstrate the right culture, behaviours and values

The service has a clearly defined set of values, and most staff agree that they are aware of them.

But the service’s culture doesn’t always align with its values. Staff told us that the service’s values aren’t demonstrated at all levels. We heard that staff seeking promotion were reluctant to challenge for fear this might affect their chances. We also heard that the open culture promoted by senior leaders sometimes had a negative effect, with staff bypassing their line managers.

Staff told us that despite on-call firefighters playing an important role and having similar responsibilities they are not given the same recognition or opportunities as wholetime staff. This has created a cultural divide.

Most staff we spoke to did say that senior leaders are approachable and demonstrate the service’s values well.

Workforce wellbeing provision is good but the service needs to engage more with its staff to understand their individual needs

The service has some wellbeing provisions to support the mental and physical health of staff. This includes occupational health, post-incident support, wellbeing ambassadors and a wellbeing portal where staff can access information on the support and services available. Staff were positive about the occupational health service and all staff reported they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. But we found that some of these roles are carried out on a voluntary basis and rely on the goodwill of staff. There is no occupational health plan and the service doesn’t monitor the uptake of the wellbeing services or review its provision to understand if it is meeting individual needs.

Although the service states that line managers are required to meet their staff monthly to discuss their wellbeing, nearly half of the respondents to the staff survey said they were having wellbeing conversations once a year or less.

Some aspects of health and safety are not being monitored effectively by the service

The service continues to have sufficient governance arrangements to review and report on health and safety. A committee meets every eight weeks to review the measures that ensure the health, safety and wellbeing at work of staff. The service reports health and safety to the leadership team at the county council, which has oversight. The representative bodies are fully involved in this committee.

But we heard that the service doesn’t always communicate changes to health and safety policy effectively to staff. It emails risk-critical information to staff in a bulletin, which they have to sign to say they have read. But staff told us there is no other way to communicate health and safety matters.

We were told that the service doesn’t monitor or review the results of investigations into accidents and near misses. As such, they cannot be sure that the improvements identified by investigations have been made. We also heard that although risk assessments are carried out at station level there is no oversight of these. So, the service is not effectively monitoring risk assessments in a way which will assure both quality and consistency.

We found that the service was not effectively managing the working hours of staff. Some staff work additional or excessive hours from overtime and secondary employment. The service puts the onus on staff to manage their working time. So there is no oversight or scrutiny to check whether staff are fit for duty.

The service manages absence 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 the service has clear and consistent processes to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who get information on staff absences from the county council. Although managers told us that they hadn’t received formal training in managing absence, they were confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. The staff we spoke to also understood the process and their responsibilities when absent from work.

Overall, the service saw no significant difference in staff absences over the 12 months between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

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

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

Fire and rescue services should have workforce plans in place that are linked to their integrated risk management plans, 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 that it is able to record and monitor the training and competence of all its staff.
  • The service should ensure it has the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.

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 improve its workforce planning so it can fully understand the skills and capabilities of its workforce

Although there is some workforce planning, the service doesn’t effectively take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to meet the requirements of its IRMP.

We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows it to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. For example, a monthly meeting is held to review the operational resourcing, but this is reactive and based on known absences.

The service uses a system to monitor the operational competence of its workforce. But this doesn’t inform a longer-term workforce plan and doesn’t routinely include information on other training.

The service provides good training for risk-critical skills including incident command. It also has effective processes to monitor this training. And it uses a robust resource management system to manage the availability and skills of operational staff.

But we found significant gaps and inconsistencies when considering other training provision. This includes training on safeguarding, health and safety, and equality, diversity and inclusion. We also found that operational staff were not adequately trained in prevention and protection work.

We are concerned to find that the service still doesn’t have a system to monitor the competence of its control room staff.

The service needs to offer staff learning and development that goes beyond risk-critical training

Although the service provides learning and development, this is focused on risk-critical skills and it doesn’t meet the needs of all staff or the organisation. The staff we spoke to were positive about the learning after operational incidents. Most staff who responded to the survey agreed that the service listens to feedback from operational incidents and acts on what it has learned.

Most staff told us that they received enough training to do their job and were satisfied with the learning and development opportunities available. But some staff told us that they haven’t received enough training in prevention and protection to allow them to do their job effectively. The service plans to introduce training in business fire safety but this had not been implemented at the time of our inspection.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Warwickshire 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.

Cause of concern

The service isn’t taking a proportionate approach to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace.

Recommendations

By 31 August 2021, the service should make sure that:

  • its actions to promote EDI don’t compromise the integrity of other policies, including health and safety and performance management;
  • senior leaders respond appropriately and quickly to EDI feedback or concerns from its staff;
  • its approach to positive action is appropriate and proportionate and is understood by staff; and
  • it understands the diversity of its workforce and has the right provisions in place to support their individual needs.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place mechanisms to engage with all staff and monitor how effective the mechanisms are.
  • Staff survey outcomes and progress on actions should be regularly communicated to the workforce.
  • The service should review how effective its policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination is in reducing unacceptable behaviour towards its staff.

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

The service needs to improve its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). In a small number of cases, the present approach has a detrimental impact on health and safety and as a result is not credible with staff. Staff feel disconnected from EDI and the ways of addressing their concerns are ineffective.

Since our last inspection the service has placed greater focus on EDI, which is positive, but its actions are not always proportionate. Many staff told us that the service’s approach was forceful rather than educational and this was having a negative impact on the workforce. It has also compromised on other important areas such as health and safety, which had a negative impact on the credibility of the actions the service was taking. Some of the workforce feel that some actions taken by the service do not uphold the required standards of operational competence in some cases for those with protected characteristics. As a result, the workforce has become even more sceptical about the benefits of diversity. The service explained that its actions were legitimate in this area, but staff told us that the service had not explained the reasons for this to the workforce.

Although the service does have some means of gathering staff feedback, these are inconsistent and do not have the desired impact. For example, the inclusion network has only met three times and is only accessible to those staff that are at work between 9.00am and 5.00pm. The service has also set up six-weekly meetings called ‘mission and purpose’, and staff based at headquarters were aware of these and their purpose. But the staff we spoke to at stations weren’t aware of these meetings.

There is also a service improvement network, which is intended to include people from underrepresented groups, but staff told us that they didn’t know how people were selected for it. And staff we spoke to did not know the purpose of this network.

Staff have limited confidence in the service’s feedback methods and don’t think they are effective. Staff told us that the service uses surveys to get feedback. But the findings are not discussed and staff don’t see any meaningful actions as a result. We heard that staff feel less confident to challenge on issues relating to EDI than they do with other areas.

The service has a process for equality impact assessments, but there is not enough scrutiny of them. So the impacts on each of the protected characteristics may not be adequately assessed. Nor does the service know if it is acting on its findings. And it does not know if such action is appropriate.

More work is needed to increase staff diversity. There has been limited progress to improve both BAME and gender diversity across all staff in the service. Since 2017/18, the percentage of staff who have self-declared as being from a BAME group has fallen from 3.4 percent to 2.7 percent (this represents 12 and 11 members of staff respectively). Eighteen percent of the workforce don’t declare their ethnicity. In the same period the percentage of female staff has increased slightly from 81 to 85 members of staff, but this included one additional wholetime member of staff and one fewer on-call member of staff. The overall percentage of women firefighters is 7 percent, which is the England average.

The service has made some progress in encouraging applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior level positions. Some of these positions are advertised without the need for an operational background and are advertised externally.

The service also does some work to encourage underrepresented groups to apply for roles in the service through offering taster days. We look forward to seeing whether this will have a positive effect in its forthcoming wholetime recruitment campaign.

The service needs to do more to address disproportionality in recruitment, promotion and progression processes

The service needs to do more to make sure its recruitment and promotion and progression processes are fair. It does not have a clear plan on how it will do this and it doesn’t evaluate its activity. There is a lack of service oversight of recruitment processes to make sure they are fair and consistent.

We heard how staff viewed the recruitment process as a tick-box exercise to increase diversity. We reviewed promotion processes and found that the service didn’t consistently follow its own policy. This led to a grievance. We note that the service is reviewing its promotion policy.

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

The service could go further to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their responsibilities for eliminating it. Through our staff survey, 32 members of staff told us they had been subject to harassment or discrimination over the previous 12 months. Of these staff, the majority stated that no action had been taken as a result of them reporting the incidents.

Although the service does have clear policies and procedures, staff have limited confidence in the service’s ability to deal effectively with disciplinary and grievance cases. A significant proportion of the staff we spoke to told us they would not feel comfortable reporting confidential matters. We heard some staff say that they would not feel comfortable in challenging inappropriate behaviour. We saw that the service does not monitor results of grievance processes or use them to inform organisational learning and improvements.

Read the cause of concern progress letter

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Warwickshire 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 make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open and fair.
  • The service should make sure it has mechanisms in place to manage and develop talent within the organisation.

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 has a performance management system, but we heard that the effectiveness of this depended on the skills of the line manager doing the review. We also heard that the process is more effective for those staff in development or seeking promotion.

In our staff survey, 75 percent of respondents (116 of 154) reported that they had a personal development review or appraisal in the last 12 months and most of these staff (90) stated that these were meaningful. Less than half of all staff were recorded to have had a performance appraisal in the year ending 31 March 2020, with only 23 percent of support staff having one.

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

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

The service doesn’t have a formal talent management scheme to develop leaders and high-potential staff. Its promotion processes aren’t managed in a way that ensures it offers progression and development opportunities in an open and fair way. For example, we saw inconsistencies in the advertising and filling of promotion opportunities. This undermines staff perception of fairness in the process.

The service hasn’t made enough progress since our last inspection to make sure that its promotion processes are seen as fair by staff. In the staff survey that we carried out more than half of those who responded said that they didn’t think the promotion process was fair and a third said that they weren’t given the same opportunities as other staff to develop.

The service should consider more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders. There is a significant gap in succession planning at present. The service has not set out how it will identify high-performing staff and develop them. The only process it has is the promotion process.