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Cambridgeshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018

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

The service promotes the right values and culture among its staff and leaders. It puts its people’s wellbeing first. Staff use and appreciate its support services.

The service’s health and safety policy is clear. It is backed up by dedicated health and safety specialists. We are confident that staff understand and comply with their responsibilities.

A stated set of values underpins the service’s culture. Staff respect leaders and their efforts to improve workplace culture. The service commissioned an action plan to improve the culture. But it has made slow progress against the plan in some respects. There is limited evidence of bullying and harassment. But staff are not confident in reporting such incidents, should they occur. It needs to do more to make staff feel comfortable reporting bullying and harassment if it occurs.

The service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. Its workforce planning is sophisticated and robust enough to prevent current and future skills gaps. The service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. Leaders look for feedback. The service is keen to engage better with staff.

The service knows its workforce is less diverse than the population it serves. It is working to change that.

Cambridgeshire FRS could improve the way it manages staff performance. It reviews staff performance in a clear and structured way. But some staff weren’t confident about the process and didn’t engage with it.

The service expects its new career management process will help it find and develop high-potential staff. But many staff didn’t know about or understand the process. Some staff said the promotion process was not fair and transparent enough. The service should to do more to help staff better understand the promotion process.

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

Both the physical and mental wellbeing of staff are a clear priority for the service.

The service has a well-resourced occupational health department. It provides a variety of support including health and wellbeing advice, health screening, medicals and fitness testing. It also offers an externally-provided employee assistance programme and a Healthshield medical plan. These two programmes provide staff with services such as legal and financial advice, counselling, physiotherapy and hospital investigations.

The service has an effective trauma risk management (TRiM) process with trained staff to support colleagues after a traumatic incident. The service has plans in place to improve this process in collaboration with Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

The charity Mind runs the Blue Light programme to give mental health support to emergency service staff and volunteers. Blue Light champions throughout the service provide additional mental health support.

We found that staff and representative bodies felt that health and wellbeing support is very good. Many staff told us how they had used the services, describing how helpful they had found the support they received.

Health and safety

The service has a clear health and safety policy, which sets out its purpose and scope. It clearly defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels to promote health and safety. The service has dedicated health and safety specialists who provide support and guidance to all employees. They ensure that all staff understand and comply with their health and safety responsibilities.

Culture and values

Staff at all levels understand and demonstrate the service’s ‘one team behaviours’:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Results
  • Commitment
  • Honesty.

Staff see senior leaders as role models and respect them for improving the culture within the service. This is particularly since the current senior team have been in place. Some staff did, however, express concerns that not all managers have embraced the new culture. We heard about small pockets of ‘old-style autocratic management’ within the service.

The employee engagement survey identified a lack of confidence among staff in reporting bullying and harassment. The service commissioned research from external consultants to address areas of concern. The resulting ‘Respect’ action plan provides additional support to staff. The action plan covers:

  • support for staff;
  • personal responsibility and development;
  • leadership responsibility and development;
  • process; and
  • transparency.

Progress against this action plan has been slow.

While we saw no evidence of bullying and harassment, it is important that staff feel confident in reporting it, should it occur. The service should improve delivery against its ‘Respect’ action plan, to ensure that staff feel confident to report bullying and harassment, should it occur.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


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

Workforce planning

The service has a good understanding of current and future skills requirements. It has introduced a resource management unit board (RMUB). This is a group that meet to forecast and plan for future workforce needs. The board uses predicted leaving dates for current workforce and balances this against predicted future demand and skills requirements. It uses the ‘Understanding risk in Cambridgeshire’ document to identify these requirements.

The board also regularly reviews ‘single point of failure’ to identify individuals who are critical to service delivery. It calculates the risk of them leaving or being unavailable for an extended period. The board then puts measures in place to mitigate the risk. This includes building in resilience and succession planning.

The service’s effective performance management system ensures it has competent staff with the right skills and capabilities. It is easy for the service to identify gaps in competence and then to plan additional training and assessments. Risk-critical and core competency training, such as use of breathing apparatus, fire behaviour, driving and incident command are provided at the service’s training centre.

The service quickly identifies gaps in skills and capabilities through its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) process and ‘excellence groups’. These groups are responsible for implementing each element of the IRMP and for reporting on progress to the senior leadership team. We saw an example of this. The service identified an increase in the number of high structures such as wind turbines and high-level power cables. It responded by putting together a rope rescue team, which is now in training.

Learning and improvement

There is an established culture of learning and improvement across the service. All staff are generally well trained in risk-critical areas. We did identify some inconsistency in prevention and protection training. Not all staff have received the training in this area. The service is aware of this and has plans in place to deliver the training to all operational staff.

The service has an effective risk-critical training programme. It produces an annual training plan that covers all risk-critical and core competencies. This is then amended by local managers to take account of individual needs.

The service uses an electronic integrated personal development system database to record and monitor competencies. A ‘traffic light’ system alerts supervisory officers to any gaps in competence. We sampled the core competencies of firefighters from across the service and found them to be generally up to date. We identified some anomalies; however, these appeared to be caused by the recording system. A new system is due to be introduced in January 2019, which is intended to improve the ease of recording and accuracy of the records. We will be interested to see what improvements occur once the system launches.

We observed firefighters testing equipment, including breathing apparatus. It was very positive to see that they carried this out confidently and effectively.

We saw examples of on-call staff attending exercises organised and facilitated by their wholetime colleagues. Staff also provided examples of the benefits of having an on-call workforce that are also wholetime staff. This provides the opportunity to share learning and experiences directly.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?


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

Senior leaders are visible, approachable, open to challenge and support and demonstrate the ‘one team behaviours’ of the service.

The service undertook an employee engagement survey in 2015. It has recently undertaken a ‘pulse check’ that has highlighted an increase in engagement from 58 percent to 60 percent. Work is ongoing to further improve engagement.

The service introduced a social media application, Workplace, to improve engagement. Workplace provides a fully interactive source of service news and information and includes a ‘chief’s chatter’ group. The chief fire officer submits regular blog posts and staff can comment and feedback directly. We found that staff have mixed views about this method of communication. Some staff have fully embraced it and use it regularly, while others say they registered but have not used it since.

‘Back to the floor’ engagement visits by senior leaders are well-received by staff. The service’s staff see them as a good opportunity to engage, feedback and challenge. Leaders started to include support departments in these visits, which staff welcomed. This is a good opportunity to make these visits fully inclusive across the whole workforce.

The service has a generally positive relationship with representative bodies and staff associations. These organisations engage regularly with senior leadership. Staff told us that relationships have improved since the current leadership team took over.

We saw evidence of effective engagement and negotiation to resolve concerns. One example occurred during recent change from a five- to a four-watch system.

The service also engages with representatives of the on-call workforce through the 20:20 staff working group. We found evidence of feedback from this group influencing changes within the service. Examples include changes to standby policy, and equipment choices for new fire engines.


The service’s workforce does not fully reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. As at 31 March 2018 3 percent of staff in Cambridgeshire FRS were from black, Asian, or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, compared to a 9.7 percent BAME population in the service area.

As at 31 March 2018 6.3 percent of firefighters in Cambridgeshire were female. This is slightly more than the England rate of 5.7 percent.

The service is fully aware of this and is acting to overcome some of the barriers to recruiting underrepresented groups.

A newly recruited positive action officer is targeting hard-to-reach groups. The service cannot yet quantify the value of this role, as the appointment only took place in February 2018. We did see evidence of an early impact in one community. The service ran an information event at a community centre which had refused such offers in the past.

A recent recruitment campaign included myth-busting sessions, have-a go sessions and women-only events. The campaign provided information across a variety of platforms including Asian and Polish radio stations. As these activities are still in their infancy, the service has not yet been able to evaluate any benefits.

The service has worked with partners from the community cohesion group. They have helped to improve recruitment processes by identifying and challenging unconscious bias. The service changed its recruitment panels. They are more representative, with a more proportionate split between uniformed and non-uniformed, and male and female panel members.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should improve understanding and application of the new performance development review process among all staff.
  • The service should improve the awareness and understanding of its career management process among all staff.

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

Managing performance

The service has a clear and structured process for carrying out performance development reviews. An update in May 2018, in response to staff feedback, simplified recording and standardised the process for all staff. It now includes clear references to a new career management process.

But we found that staff have little confidence in the new process. Many of them see it as a ‘tick-box exercise’. We saw limited evidence of the setting of personal goals or continuing professional development objectives.

The service should improve understanding of the new performance development review process among staff and managers. It needs to ensure that its use leads to meaningful performance assessment, against clear, personal and specific goals and objectives.

Developing leaders

The service introduced a career management process in April 2018 to manage the career pathways of all staff. The process is intended to ensure that there is the right mix of skills and capabilities across the workforce. It should also help the service to identify and develop high-potential staff.

We saw evidence that many staff were unaware of the process. Those who were aware of it were unclear about how to access it and did not understand its outcomes.

The service should improve the awareness and understanding of its career management process among all staff, to ensure that it becomes embedded within the service and achieves its desired outcome of fairly identifying high-potential members of the workforce.

We found that staff think that the recruitment process is fair and transparent. There were, however, mixed levels of understanding of the promotion process.

This led to some staff suggesting that it may not be perceived as fair and transparent. The service should address this by improving staff’s understanding of the process. The service has invested in both leadership development and personal development. It has set up two programmes, ‘insight’ and ‘aspire’. One is for supervisors and managers wishing to develop further. The other is for aspiring leaders looking to move into their first supervisory role. While these are encouraging developments, there is as yet limited evidence to demonstrate the outcomes of these programmes.