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Buckinghamshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 17/12/2019

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service takes the welfare of its workforce seriously. It offers a wide range of services including counselling and trauma support. Its health and safety policy defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels and is effectively communicated across the service. Staff feel proud to work for the service to keep their communities safe. The senior management team works to build a positive and inclusive culture.

The service is good at providing a range of training and learning opportunities to its staff and is effective in monitoring and recording staff competency. It is effective in quality assuring the training provided to operational staff and continually reviews what training has been completed. It has a varied programme of training exercises, both within the service and with other blue light partners. Staff spoke positively about how operational learning is shared throughout the service.

The service is making efforts to be a more inclusive employer with the introduction of apprentices. But it can do more to reflect the communities it serves. The service is good at providing opportunities for the workforce to feed back their views and opinions. It effectively communicates to staff using a variety of methods including senior leaders visiting stations and weekly blogs.

The service has arrangements to assess and develop staff performance. But not all appraisals were being completed. It needs to do more to ensure every member of staff gets appraised. We couldn’t consider how the service identifies high-potential staff as it has no set process. But staff felt that promotion opportunities across the service were fair and open.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


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

Workforce wellbeing

Buckinghamshire FRS fully understands the wellbeing needs of its workforce and is extremely proactive in providing a range of services to support its employees. The service enables staff members to access counselling and physio sessions after any mental health issue or physical injury. Staff can also access a helpline which promotes advice on problems outside work that may affect personal wellbeing.

The service recognises the need to meet the psychological requirements of staff members when attending operational incidents. It carries out critical incident stress debriefing, which is well received by operational staff. Operational personnel told us they felt confident they would receive debriefing if they requested it.

Health and safety

The service recognises the challenge of providing a safe place, safe process and safe person to its employees. Its health and safety policy clearly states the responsibilities of its staff at all levels.

Health and safety information is effectively communicated across the service.This includes regular bulletins and overview of incidents. The service also holds internal safety events.

Operational staff complete bi-annual fitness tests. In the year to 31 March 2019, the service saw a 99.6 percent pass rate. The service provides gym equipment in all fire stations and station physical training supervisors administer the fitness testing and provide support.

Culture and values

Buckinghamshire FRS staff stated that they were proud to work for the fire service to keep their communities safe.

We found the service’s leadership encourages interaction and promotes a positive culture in different ways. The chief fire officer hosts birthday forums each month. He invites staff members with a birthday in that month to join him for an informal discussion about what is going on in the service. The leadership team publishes a weekly blog via the service’s intranet and responds to service personnel, contacting them via email. Senior leaders visit stations and engage with staff members in a positive manner. Of the 160 respondents to our staff survey, 88.8 percent felt they were treated with respect and dignity. Additionally, of the 160 respondents, 16.3 percent reported feeling harassed and bullied within the last 12 months and 20 percent felt discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

During inspection, we saw posters encouraging staff to nominate colleagues for the service ‘safe awards 2019’ which recognise hard work and achievement throughout the year.

Following on from the service’s last cultural survey, the service has adopted a “you said, we did” initiative. It has instigated several ideas raised by service personnel. An example of this is roadshows around the service to highlight employee development, promotion processes and maintenance of competency recording. Staff felt that the face-to-face engagement was effective.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place an achievable succession plan, for 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.

Workforce planning

Buckinghamshire FRS’s current workforce planning model runs from 2015-20. The model sets out how the service ensures it has the right number of operational staff with the appropriate skillsets to meet the requirements of its public safety plan. As at 31 March 2018, the service’s operational firefighters (full-time equivalent) are 71 percent wholetime. The total full-time equivalent workforce has been steadily decreasing since peaking as at 31 March 2011. Several personnel have left the organisation to join other fire and rescue services, or the private sector, for financial reasons. But we found the service does not test the accuracy of its workforce planning assumptions. So, it cannot be assured that its planning is accurately modelled.

The service has 20 mixed fire stations as at 31 March 2018, with both wholetime and on-call firefighters. It utilises flexible firefighters to cover operational shortfalls across the service. The service is effective in training its staff and undertakes annual validation in core skills such as operational firefighting and wearing breathing apparatus. The service also runs thematic monthly training such as firefighting, road traffic collision training, working at height, and water safety. The service is good at recording this training and showed records detailing operational firefighters’ maintenance of competence. Of the 160 respondents to our staff survey, 74.4 percent felt they had received enough training to enable them to do their job effectively.

As mentioned previously, the service operates a risk-based demand-led model which requires on-call staff and flexible-duty firefighters to take additional shifts to ensure the service has 12 wholetime fire engines available on any given day as stated in its public safety plan. The service is effective at providing additional training for on-call staff. They go on a two-week course where they are assessed in operational firefighting and rescue. The service also trains on-call staff in prevention and protection training so that they can assist in site inspections, and fire and wellness visits.

The service is good at identifying the skills and capabilities the service needs to
be effective. The service analyses training needs for each area of the service and then allocates training against operational and non-operational requirements to carry out an effective public safety plan.

Learning and improvement

Buckinghamshire FRS provides a good range of training and learning opportunities for its staff. This includes practical and incident command training as well as e-learning theory-based assessment. Of the 160 respondents to our staff survey, 71.3 percent were satisfied with the current level of learning and development.

The service monitors the competency levels of staff using a computer-based system. The training records we inspected were up to date. The HEAT system reflects national standards for operational competence. These include national operational guidance, the fire professional framework and associated national occupational standards.

The training assurance team monitors the quality of training to ensure competency is maintained. This is overseen by seven area trainers. The training strategy group meets every quarter and reviews the level of training completed.

We heard the service regularly carries out training exercises within the service area. It also does cross-border exercises and attends multi-agency exercises at the Fire Service College. It effectively shares learning across the service following incidents, through its robust operational assurance process. Staff spoke positively about how the service learns from operational incidents. Learning is shared via on-call weekly bulletins and an operational assurance newsletter.

On-call firefighters train one night per week. They have further opportunity to maintain competence by working bank shifts with wholetime crews. We found the resourcing model is developing the competency of on-call staff. We also heard how it is promoting inclusivity between wholetime and on-call firefighters.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?


Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should plan to be more ambitious in its efforts to attract a more diverse workforce which better reflects the community it serves.

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

Seeking and acting on staff feedback

Buckinghamshire FRS seeks feedback through station visits, chief fire officer birthday forums and senior management team blogs. It encourages all staff to contact senior leaders via the service’s intranet. The service communicates to its staff via weekly bulletins and newsletters and the service tracks the number of staff who access the information electronically.

The service responded to feedback from their last cultural survey in 2017 by launching a “you said, we did” campaign to highlight changes it had made. One example was identifying some underspend and using it to purchase Velcro badges. These have been applied to new fire kit so that members of the public know they are being served by service personnel.

Staff highlighted several areas where they felt the service could do better. These included providing better management training and supporting future leaders.

Of the 160 staff who responded to our staff survey, 79.4 percent stated there were opportunities for them to feed their views upwards in the service and 61.3 percent were confident that those suggestions were listened to.

The service engages openly with its representative bodies and holds regular structured meetings. Staff representatives overall felt their opinions were valued and consultation on policy was constructive.

The service receives very few formal grievances, but those it does receive are handled fairly, in line with service policy. It reaches resolutions within
reasonable timescales.


The service workforce does not reflect the community it serves. But it is taking steps to recruit a more diverse workforce. As at 31 March 2018, 2.4 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares to 15.6 percent of the residential population. And 4.8 percent of firefighters were female.

The service has launched a successful apprentice recruitment programme, employing 37 apprentices as of 31 March 2018, according to the service’s data. The service offers familiarisation days and female firefighter days to encourage community members from diverse backgrounds to apply. Of the 14 apprentices who joined in 2018/19, 35 percent were female, and 14 percent were from BAME backgrounds.

An initiative with a media company allowed the service to develop digital audio recruitment advertising. This allows adverts about joining the service to be streamed to people listening to local radio, targeting a specific demographic within Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. This has not made any significant changes to the workforce, but we recognise this as a positive step to recruit a workforce that reflects the communities it serves.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

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.

Managing performance

Buckinghamshire FRS has arrangements to assess and develop staff performance. Every member of staff has an annual appraisal with a review of objectives set by
their line manager mid-year. This allows staff to review the previous year’s performance and to set new objectives for the coming year. Staff spoke positively about the process. But as at 31 March 2019, the service showed varying and low levels of all appraisals being completed.

We heard that the service was not completing all appraisals in a timely manner. And we heard that objectives were not always clear. The service is addressing issues relating to managing performance through its “you said, we did” campaign. We found the service has begun to provide specific training for managers so that they are competent in undertaking appraisals. This training programme will support middle managers and ensure the process is applied consistently across all staff groups. The service provides an aspirational leadership programme. It allows staff to develop leadership skills that will enable them to manage teams and departments across the service.

The service also offers additional support to individuals to improve service performance. A member of staff has been supported to undertake a specific qualification to help complete departmental plans. Another is undertaking a NEBOSH diploma in health and safety to allow the service to solve its health and safety issues in-house, rather than paying for external advice.

Developing leaders

Buckinghamshire FRS does not have a process for identifying and developing staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future. We found that its promotion process relies on multiple documents for guidance. It is not easy for candidates to understand. But following the “you said, we did” campaign, the service has started a programme to recognise and develop potential senior leaders. We found the promotion process to be structured and fair, and all candidates were offered feedback and development plans.