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Hereford and Worcester 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service needs to improve how it promotes the right values and culture. It particularly needs to improve how senior leaders communicate with the workforce. It is making changes to make the workforce more adaptable and take on different work. Staff do not fully understand the reasons for these changes. The service should address this, so that it can improve trust and move forward with its plans.

The service is good at making sure staff wellbeing is a priority. Staff can access a range of support services. The service could consider the benefits of letting staff from all roles work more flexibly. Operational staff maintain their fitness levels. The new policy for responding to incidents focuses on both public and firefighter safety.

The service is good at getting the right people with the right skills and makes sure they are well trained. It is working on a charter for on-call firefighters to improve their experience and increase numbers. The service would also benefit from finding out about the wider skills and experience of on-call staff.

The service needs to improve how it ensures fairness and promotes diversity. We found that some staff do not understand the importance of diversity. The service should focus on developing this understanding, so that the workforce can build trust and confidence with its community.

The service should improve how it manages performance and develops leaders. Managers with specialist skills should continue to be included in leadership team meetings, to support decision making. All staff need to understand and use the appraisal system, to assist workforce development. The service should do more to make sure staff are confident in the promotion process. It is not as open as it could be.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place a regular and effective system to measure and monitor staff engagement (across the whole service). It needs to improve its two-way communication channels with staff, and its face-to-face communication by and with senior leaders.

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 service sees wellbeing as a priority. There are good examples of appropriate and timely wellbeing provision. These include early intervention after traumatic incidents, counselling, therapy, and services provided by occupational health. Access to wellbeing services is good and managers and staff clearly understand how to do this. On-call staff told us that welfare support received through the critical incident support team is good, and there is an emphasis on mental health and dementia awareness.

Managers have a very good understanding of the wellbeing needs of the workforce and gave us examples of where they had been proactive in identifying and seeking assistance for staff. Sickness is monitored and the reasons for absence are investigated. Following every period of absence, a return-to-work interview is held.

The service provided us with examples of flexible working. It should continue to consider requests for flexible working across all its roles, to meet its people strategy. On-call staff told us they would welcome more flexibility in the contracts for on-call staff, which they said would aid recruitment and retention. The service believes there is sufficient flexibility but recognise it needs to do more to promote opportunities more widely.

Health and safety

The service carries out annual fitness testing for operational staff. This is done independently by a fitness instructor from the University of Worcester, who is also an on-call firefighter. All staff are expected to achieve the national standard for a person’s individual aerobic capacity. Staff are given three months to achieve this standard if they underperform. The service has just raised the fitness standard from a lower level. It is thought that just over 100 members of staff are still below the new level. They have been given 12 months to reach the new standard. If a person fails to achieve the lower level of fitness, they are taken off active duty and given a programme for improvement.

The service introduced a graded response policy just before our inspection. This followed a health and safety review of all driving activity. Fire control now puts a grade of response on to the call sheet for the fire crews, based on the information given by the caller and the type of incident. The three grades of response are emergency, prompt and non-emergency. The officer in charge can alter the response based on their judgement of any other facts, such as distance or traffic congestion. The prompt response allows crews to use audible warnings and blue lights if necessary; otherwise, they should proceed at normal road speed. The policy allows for a flexible response, but recognises the service’s duty of care to the public.

Culture and values

The service management team wants to move the service into new areas and develop an adaptable workforce that can cope with the new roles. We saw a lot of evidence of the more recent change initiatives. This included changes to crewing and the change in role for watch managers to become more flexible and responsible for wider change.

Negotiation between the service and representative bodies has taken a considerable amount of time and effort, but has not yet achieved an agreed outcome. Staff told us that they had not understood the change process and felt it was being imposed on them. The senior manager with responsibility for frontline operational teams made regular visits to watches and stations to discuss the proposed changes with affected staff. Staff told us, however, that they felt senior management were not sufficiently visible and had only communicated through the union.

Staff from a range of roles and levels across the organisation said they thought that challenge wasn’t welcomed and that the service does not listen to them. They believe there is no proper project management, “just people running with their own ideas”. Several members of staff described Hereford as remote and forgotten about.

The senior management board has recognised some of these problems. In early 2018, it hired independent consultants to carry out a cultural survey of the senior management board. Those who were consulted within the service were station and group managers or non-uniformed manager equivalents.

After receiving the report, the chief fire officer proposed forming a managers’ group to improve the culture, whose members would be selected from among their peers. This aimed to encourage the change proposals from managers who had been part of the survey. It was also intended to represent a team approach, as the survey’s results indicated that the leadership was viewed as high-handed.

While senior and middle managers received a copy of the report and other staff groups were aware of the review, staff members reported they had not been told any details. In the absence of information, staff have drawn their own conclusions.

It is clear that improvements need to be made in communications and openness between senior leaders and the workforce. Senior leaders showed us plans that are in place to re-commence visits across the service. We would encourage this at the earliest opportunity, to tackle these communication problems.


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 published people strategy, while an action plan has been drafted but not yet published. A workforce planning meeting is held quarterly, with data provided in respect of workforce numbers and anticipated moves or retirements.

A quarterly meeting for an operational assurance report takes place, at which the senior management board discusses training activity. Statistics are produced that include the number of training courses run and how many staff have completed them. This is a robust system, which shows that the service is tracking training activity across the service. It plays an important part in ensuring that the service can identify and act on any gaps it finds.

The service has introduced an additional crew manager development post to each crew. It created these new posts from existing firefighter posts to:

  • provide additional resilience;
  • maintain appropriate supervisory management; and
  • create opportunities to identify, develop and support staff aspiring to become managers.

Each of these new staff must pass a five-day incident command course and assessment. We were told of several occasions when engines had relatively new crew managers in charge. While this is not unusual across fire and rescue services, the service will need to ensure that these new managers are supported during their operational development, especially at incidents.

We were told that the low numbers of on-call staff willing to take on crew manager management roles is a principal reason why fire engines are unavailable. The reasons given for this reluctance are the extra responsibility and time required, balanced against the reward offered. The service is publishing an on-call charter and will be surveying on-call staff. We look forward to seeing the progress of the on-call charter.

On-call staff told us that the service doesn’t audit the skills that staff have gained from working in other jobs, to understand how these may benefit the service. These staff work in roles outside the fire service, as business owners, project managers or IT workers, for example. The service should consider what wider skills could be gained from its on-call workforce.

Learning and improvement

Staff are well trained. A comprehensive training and competency records system is maintained and monitored by managers. This allows the service to deploy staff with the right skills and level of competence to incidents. We saw this across wholetime firefighters, on-call firefighters and control. All records we reviewed were up to date except for one, and the reasons for it not being current were recorded. Areas checked included:

  • breathing apparatus;
  • water rescue;
  • health and safety;
  • incident command;
  • equality and diversity; and
  • safeguarding.

The system for supporting operational staff carrying out business fire safety checks is well developed and is supported by those operational fire inspectors we spoke to. Training and development of fire protection staff is also at a high level. All level one to four incident commanders are re-assessed every two years, to make sure they remain competent to command at incidents. As part of this, they undergo a virtual-reality assessment to test their abilities.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms.
  • The service should ensure any change processes it proposes are visible to all staff.

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

Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has various groups and methods of communication within the service.

An organisational development group meets every two months and has terms of reference. Its remit is to consider and address problems outlined in the people strategy 2017–2020. There is a two-way feedback process between the group and the senior management board, via an area manager. There is also a joint consultative committee, chaired by the assistant chief fire officer. This includes senior managers and all representative bodies. It is designed to look at problems and address areas of concern. The service also issues to all staff a weekly bulletin with a range of information, and a fortnightly chief fire officer briefing.

We have already discussed some of the concerns about engagement from senior leaders under the ‘Culture and values’ section. Work is underway to address this and we look forward to reviewing the results of this at a later date.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service recorded a low number of grievances. We reviewed these and found that the majority did not meet the timescales laid down in the policy. In some cases, an explanation was given for the delay. However, support was not offered to the staff members, despite the potential of these delays to cause stress. This was the case even when a grievance was subsequently upheld.


As at 31 March 2018, the percentage of firefighters who were female in Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service was slightly above the England rate (6.7 percent, compared with 5.7 percent). However, when considering all staff groups, the service had a slightly smaller percentage of female staff (14.8 percent, compared with 15.9 percent). Also, the percentage of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds was below the England rate (3.2 percent, compared with 4.1 percent); however, this should be seen in the context of the service area’s BAME population (3.6 percent, compared with 14.6 percent in England).

During its most recent wholetime recruitment campaign, the service informed us that it undertook positive action to increase the pool of applicants. It is developing a positive action strategy for the next recruitment campaign, planned for January 2019.

Senior leaders understand the need for a diverse workforce, but staff at lower levels are not as clear and do not understand its relevance. The service provides diversity training for staff. However, staff referred to ‘diversity issues’ in the 1990s, which they said had made them wary of having a female firefighter on their station. Overall, staff told us there is too much emphasis on diversity and the service is already doing all it can in this field. This again indicates the importance of more effective communication between the service and its workforce.


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

The service has an individual personal development review (IPDR) or appraisal process in place. We found that all operational staff use it to maintain their continual professional development, for which they receive a payment. However, some staff have not had an IPDR for several years. We were also told others have been emailed their review without having a face-to-face meeting with their manager. By not ensuring that staff understand the IPDR process, and by not using the information to assist workforce development, the service is missing out on wider benefits.

We were informed that the service manages any failure of on-call staff to respond to incidents. This will usually involve an investigation into the reasons for the failure, such as traffic conditions or a pager not working. The service’s policy states that when six failures to respond occur within six months, management intervention is required. During our inspection the lack of evidence meant that no conclusion could be drawn about whether this happens uniformly across the service.

Processes are in place for the use of exit interviews when staff leave the service, but their use does not appear to be consistent. The service would benefit from using these interviews in all cases, where possible, as important information can be obtained that will assist with future improvements.

Developing leaders

The service does not have a process throughout the organisation to identify future leaders. It has recently allowed group managers to apply for the national executive leadership programme. Two have since been successful.

The senior management board includes specialist staff. The board invites managers with specialist skills to participate in some discussions and decisions. To support its understanding of issues and allow more informed decision making, the service should consider how this could be expanded. It could also consider using these skills more in wider senior management meetings.

Staff at many levels informed us that the promotion procedure is not open and clear. At roles up to watch manager, we noted a lack of defined selection criteria, and that the procedure has changed several times. The perception is common that staff will only be promoted to station manager and above if they have sponsorship from more senior managers. The service’s process for promotions should be clear and open.

The service has recognised this perception, which the cultural review mentioned previously also highlighted. An independent person took part in its recent middle-manager promotions, to encourage a more open process. We highlighted this change to the staff we spoke to. They told us they were aware of it, but felt it was only a start. More needs to be done to build confidence in the process.

We were told that that some staff have been in temporary management positions for years, and have not been substantively promoted, despite having applied for it. Staff members gave us various examples of this, each with different explanations as to why this might be the case. This situation may result in some individuals being in long-term temporary management positions with little or no management training, though they are experienced operational commanders. The service should ensure that it is confident in the skills of its managers and supports them in these roles.

The people strategy action plan includes a number of proposed changes. This is still to be agreed. It is important that the service uses this opportunity to include staff in the process, so that they are aware of what is being proposed.