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Cornwall 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018

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

The service prioritises the wellbeing and fitness of its staff. It works hard to promote mental health awareness and support. Staff appreciate the support the occupational health team gives. We found effective help for staff handling traumatic incidents. But some staff are unaware of the service’s values, or how these should inform their daily work.

The service analyses training needs each year. Quarterly training plans help operational staff keep their skills up to date. But the service needs to improve its workforce planning. Some important responsibilities are being carried out by staff who have other main roles. On-call firefighter recruitment and retention are problems. However, the planned increase in tri-service safety officers should help.

The service conducts a staff survey every two years. But some staff are not confident to raise a grievance. Training for managers in this area is inconsistent. Leaders recognise they need to do more to recruit a workforce that reflects the community. But recent firefighter recruitment was more successful in relation to gender diversity.

Staff see the promotion process as fair and open. Support staff view the appraisal system positively. But many operational staff see this as an administrative exercise. Also, the service has no process for talent management or identifying high-potential staff.

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

The promotion of wellbeing is a clear priority for the service and the workforce recognises this. The staff have a positive view of the occupational health department’s work in promoting health and wellbeing. Staff gave us many examples of how the department had supported them appropriately.

Mental health awareness and its promotion is a specific priority for the service. Staff receive information and training about how to identify mental health problems, and how to get support. In addition, the service has an established process that provides support to staff who have attended, or been involved in the response to, a traumatic incident, for example an incident where someone has died. Staff are generally positive about this process and the way that it signposts or refers staff for further support, such as counselling.

The service uses an attendance management policy to monitor repeat cases of sickness, and provides appropriate support or action when required.

Health and safety

The service has a people, workforce and wellbeing strategy which aims to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of the staff. We found an established culture of promoting this at all levels of the workforce. The service had previously identified a problem with its system for dealing with reportable accidents. There are now checks and balances in place to encourage staff to use appropriate procedures.

All firefighters can use fitness equipment in gyms at stations. The service reported that significant numbers of on-call staff failed their initial fitness test during 2017 and 2018, resulting in the service setting action plans for improvement. Since then two thirds of those who failed have now passed.

Culture and values

The staff we spoke to had an inconsistent awareness and understanding of the service’s values. Staff struggled to describe what difference the values make in their day-to-day roles. Staff generally recognised the term CEED (community, engagement, equality and diversity) which sets out the values of the service. We found CEED posters in many stations.

Many staff mentioned the lack of visibility of senior leaders, and staff spoke about the decrease in the number of visits to stations by senior leaders over the last 12 months. At present, senior officers visit each station every year. This has been supplemented for on-call staff with a series of centrally organised seminars. Chief officers intend to increase the number of their visits to stations before January 2019.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


Cornwall 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 ensure its workforce plan takes full account of 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.

Workforce planning

The service has limited workforce planning processes. Some important responsibilities are being carried out by staff with other main roles. They have limited time to make improvements in these areas. Examples include operational assurance, health and safety, and national resilience. The lack of capacity of staff to do these activities has adversely affected work. However, the service recognises that it needs to do more about workforce and succession planning, and recently convened the first meeting of the workforce planning group for over a year.

The service has recently agreed to appoint additional tri-service officers with funding support from the council and the police and crime commissioner. This aims to address an identified need in the more remote communities.

The service carries out an annual training-needs analysis to ensure that it allocates resources to maintain the core competencies of operational staff. Although the central training team co-ordinates this, the analysis is carried out in conjunction with heads of service. The service creates quarterly training plans which show local staff which skills they should train for and conduct exercises in.

The service recognises the problems with retaining, recruiting and training on-call staff. The limited time available to conduct training on the weekly drill nights puts pressure on staff and resources. We received consistent feedback about the lack of computer terminals which make the completion of computer-based training and the updating of the record system particularly problematic.

Learning and improvement

We found that training staff do not form an integral part of organisational learning. The training department should be more involved with significant learning from operational debriefs. The service has a learning tracker system to record and disseminate learning. This process would benefit from greater focus on problems and trends.

Operational staff are well-trained and maintain their operational competence through the maintenance of skills process.

We did identify problems about the way the service records skills and competencies. It uses one system to record this information and another one to provide computer-based training or information. Staff consistently expressed frustration about the inability of the systems to link to one another. This means that staff must update the records system manually with any work they had completed on the training system. Positively, the service has introduced advocates skilled in the records system who support station-based staff to work on computer-based systems. This gives these staff a greater understanding of the training and competence requirements.

The central training team has recently been supplemented by four new group training instructors. They work locally and are also responsible for supporting local training and skills development. These staff are specifically responsible for training on-call staff. We received positive feedback about the introduction of this role and the benefits which the new staff have brought to training and the maintenance of required competencies.

Although wholetime and on-call staff are generally trained separately, the service has started to run more training courses which are open to both groups.

Fire safety staff receive accredited training with continued professional development to enable them to fulfil their roles in relation to higher-risk premises and enforcement work. Fire safety staff brief operational staff, who then visit lower-risk premises. Operational staff have said that they are confident in carrying out this role and can get specialist advice if they need it. The service has expressed a long-term aim to have several operational staff trained to a foundation level which will provide greater capacity for protection work.

Support staff are positive about access to learning and development opportunities such as management courses, through Cornwall Council. We noted that operational staff, including supervisors, do not appear to access these opportunities.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?


Cornwall 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 assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.

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

The service conducts a staff survey every two years as part of a Cornwall Council engagement process. The service ran its most recent survey in 2017. It covered health, safety and wellbeing. The service received 170 responses from a workforce of 700. This is a smaller number than in previous staff surveys. The service published the results.

Following the survey, the service established an ’employees’ voice’ group to consider problems which the survey had identified. This group included staff representatives from across the organisation. The service tackled some of the problems, and published updates in the service’s magazine, Beyond Cover.

We found mixed opinions about whether senior leaders are sufficiently visible to staff. Many staff value visits as an opportunity to talk to senior leaders. In the past, the leadership team had made more visits to on-call stations, but the feedback was that these adversely affected the limited training time. The service has scaled back the visits. It has introduced annual visits and organised seminars for briefings.

Staff in non-watch-based roles also said that they feel remote and isolated from senior management. They would welcome the opportunity to engage and be briefed in the same way as watch-based staff.

The service works with employee representative bodies who generally feel that it listens to them and responds to any concerns. The service holds regular meetings, and consults staff about new projects that affect the workforce.

The service has a grievance procedure which sets out timescales for action. Some staff said that the service does not always respond positively to grievances and does not escalate grievances to the appropriate management level; they added that problems had remained unresolved for some time. We found an inconsistent approach to training managers about grievance and discipline procedures. Newer managers have been trained, but existing managers have not. The service prides itself on being a close-knit community, but it should make sure that when staff do highlight concerns there are effective processes to deal with these, and staff should feel that the service is supporting them.


Cornwall Council has a policy that covers equality, diversity and inclusion. The council and the service recognise that the fire and rescue service’s problems differ from Cornwall Council’s problems.

Service leaders recognise that they need to do more about equality, diversity and inclusion, and that they should try to recruit a workforce which reflects the community. They have organised a series of positive action days and taster events aimed specifically at attracting female and black, Asian and minority ethnic recruits. They have also targeted communications at gyms and on social media. As a result of the most recent wholetime recruitment process, 14 new recruits joined the service.

The recruitment and retention of on-call staff is a problem for the service. The service has conducted research which indicates the importance of more flexible contract working and good communication with employees. The service believes the recruitment of tri-service safety officers will address some gaps in service. It has also started work to identify how flexible contracts could help to create a more diverse workforce, especially in relation to women.


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

We found that the service has a staff appraisal process, known as the personal development system (PDS). Staff should have monthly meetings with line managers, six-monthly and annual reviews and managers should set objectives. For operational staff, these objectives are drawn from a corporately agreed list. Support staff’s objectives are tailored to their specific roles. Staff said that the process had become more structured over the last three years.

There is a clear division between support and operational roles in how effective staff find the system. Many operational staff see it as an administrative exercise rather than an individual development tool, whereas the majority of support staff were positive about the process. They value a structured process where they talk to line managers about their performance.

The service has identified a need to improve the quality of the data that the PDS system can provide and this should, combined with a new planned system replacement, support the service to gain more from the appraisal process.

Several supervisors expressed a lack of confidence about initiating performance management procedures. They cited the size of the service and its close-knit culture as a potential barrier. The service is aware of the need to tackle this problem and is presently testing a training package with some line managers. This aims to provide greater knowledge and confidence to tackle unsatisfactory conduct and performance.

Developing leaders

The service does not have a process to identify and develop members of staff who have high potential. The service has recognised the need to establish a new talent management workstream to address career development and succession planning. We did find evidence that some senior leaders are being developed on council-led programmes.

Staff across the service feel that the promotion process is fair and open.