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Isles of Scilly 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

Overall, Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

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, Isles of Scilly 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 uses the local authority’s workplace health guidelines. The chief fire officer understands how these policies translate to the fire service. But crews cannot access the policies and other welfare information because of technical problems. The service is addressing this with new computers.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has trained the service’s staff in equality, diversity and inclusivity.

The service tests staff for physical fitness every year. But the chief fire officer was reluctant to enforce too high a standard of fitness in case he lost staff.

Staff have little confidence in the grievance process and do not know how to use it. They find it hard to raise grievances because the service is so closely tied to the community. There were no formal grievances between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2018.

The service’s culture and values are based on the local authority’s code of conduct and whistle-blowing policy.

The service should improve how it ensures fairness and promotes diversity, although it is taking steps to improve the diversity of its workforce.

It acts on staff feedback in some areas, but not others. The service is less diverse than the population it serves, however, it is being more proactive in promoting diversity.

The service must improve how it gets the right people with the right skills.

Once recruited, firefighters complete a training programme. But the service has no training planner. It uses retained firefighter development folders but does not update or review them.

The service does not understand its responsibility to maintain core firefighting functions. We saw outdated guidance in use. The service does not state which procedures it follows.

The service will share Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s system for recording competencies. It has also taken on a tactical advisor, and now has a prioritised plan to improve its training. We hope to see that this results in safety-critical improvements by March 2019.

The service must improve the way it manages performance and develops leaders. Its firefighters have very high levels of community responsibility, so, the service assumes they can assure their own training. It pays Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service for a part-time station manager, who, among other things, analyses skills gaps and provides training.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure staff have access to electronic systems that hold up-to date policies, procedures and values statements.

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 Council of the Isles of Scilly has given the service its healthy workplace statement, eye-care policy and stress policy. The stress policy sets out the expectations of all levels of employees, and of the overall leaders of the organisation.

The healthy workplace statement refers to physical and mental wellbeing. It also notes:

“The Council will develop and run a range of health promotion initiatives designed to raise awareness of health and lifestyle issues affecting both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“Budget resource is limited, meaning activities must offer clear outcomes and good value for money. Health and Wellbeing professionals from the Active Scilly and Learning and Library teams will have primary responsibility for leading these programmes, but line managers and employees will be encouraged to support and participate.”

The statement refers to roles and responsibilities at all levels, as does the procedure for managing mental health in the workplace.

The chief fire officer showed us how the council policies translate to the service. But the crews cannot access the information on the Council of the Isles of Scilly intranet due to technical problems with the internet. During our inspection we saw that the service was installing new computers. It aims to give station-based personnel access to council information. We did not see any other examples of council information being given to the service’s staff.

Policies exist for staff, but council managers did not think the service’s staff would view them, due to ICT problems. A member of staff is trained in critical de-briefing. The new computers coming to fire stations should resolve this.

Staff could not tell us what post-incident welfare provision the council and the service offered. And they did not know how to access the information. The service does not regularly access or test this information due to the limited number of calls that it attends.

We found a mixed response from staff about counselling, wellbeing at work and mental health provision. Some, but not all, staff could tell us how they would refer themselves or colleagues to these services.

The service had given some staff mental health awareness training within the last five years. But this did not appear to be consistent across the entire service and it was not up to date.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service HR has trained crew and watch managers at the service in equality, diversity and inclusivity.

The service has referral schemes for occupational health and uses an external company to provide a confidential phone service for counselling. Staff also have access to Cornwall Council’s occupational health provision and we saw how people are shown how to access a psychological therapy service for counselling.

The service assesses the physical fitness of staff. It reported that it uses the shuttle run bleep test for operational staff. This is a speed and distance test which gets progressively harder. The aim is to get to as high a level as you can. The service states that the test is done every year; however, data indicates that no staff were tested in the 12 months to 31 March 2018.

Health and safety

We found inconsistent evidence of the fitness standard for staff medical checks. The chief fire officer feared that enforcing too high a standard would mean that he would lose staff.

The service has processes to support staff through welfare arrangements. But we found evidence that staff do not know about them because they cannot access computer systems.

Staff are not confident in the grievance procedure. They do not feel that the service will deal appropriately with grievances. We could not find evidence that the service would use a mediation process to deal with grievances.

Culture and values

The service uses a council-wide code of conduct for local government employees as well as a council-wide whistle blowing policy.

The service’s structure is such that the next rank after watch manager is an operational level officer. The next level of management is the chief fire officer, which is the most senior manager within the service. There is no middle manager in between. This means that problems and issues are taken directly to the chief fire officer, which affects the chief’s ability to operate at the right level for his job.

The service’s values are not well known, and staff could not say what they were.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure staff are appropriately trained in safety-critical skills, such as breathing apparatus and incident command.
  • The service should ensure it has a system to record and monitor operational staff competence which is accurate and accessible.

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 operational service is completely on-call. So, it is very difficult for Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service to give leaders opportunities to develop through promotion.

Learning and improvement

The service did not have a clear understanding of maintenance of competence or how to record this.

Some aspects of training are out of date. Staff could not tell us the last time they conducted breathing apparatus training and development They thought it was around 2014. The service is still using old guidance about working in confined spaces with breathing apparatus. This was replaced nationally a few years ago and it has since been replaced with a new guidance document that includes new standards and procedures. The service can’t be sure that staff are working in as safe a way as they should be.

Newly recruited firefighters do complete a structured development training programme to achieve their ‘Approval to Ride’ qualification. But there is no evidence of an effective training planner. A good training planner would ensure that all operational staff get regular training to keep up the skills and competencies the service needs.

The service does not properly understand the need to maintain core firefighting functions. Crews are not well enough trained in incident command, first aid or trauma management.

Firefighter development is based on retained firefighter development folders. The service shows limited understanding of where the development elements are derived from or how they are measured against national standards. There is no process to update or review these folders.

Staff use significantly out of date guidance books. The service does not state clearly which operation procedures it follows, and it does not indicate where staff can find guidance.

The service lacks formalised recording systems to monitor staff competence against the national role maps. The service showed us that it does have a plan to address this. It will be sharing Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s maintenance of competence electronic recording system, which is still being rolled out.

In February 2018, as part of the agreement with Cornwall, the service established a tactical advisor role. This officer reviewed the state of operational and training delivery and recording. Within four months the service had written and implemented a progressive short-to-medium-term operational training improvement action plan. The action plan uses a red, amber, green risk rating system to prioritise activity. It suggests that the service can make all safety-critical improvements by March 2019.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and improve fairness and diversity in the whole organisation, by training all staff in the organisational core values and training supervisors in how to manage 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

The service acts on staff feedback in some areas. An example is a request from staff for the introduction of staff medical checks, which are supported by the local authority policies on attendance management. We also found examples where staff felt that their requests and concerns were not listened to. For instance, a request for new batteries for operational equipment was not acted upon.

We found that the service does not survey staff to gather feedback.

Diversity

As at 31 March 2018, two firefighters in Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service were female. This represents 5.4 percent of firefighters in the service. The service is running a campaign to recruit new on-call firefighters. It could not show us any activities aimed at recruiting women or people from under-represented groups in the community.

As at 31 March 2018, no firefighters in Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service were from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds; however, 1.2 percent of the residential population of the Isles of Scilly are from BAME backgrounds.

We found that most staff were not aware of the grievance procedure and did not know how to raise a complaint.

The communities on each island are close knit. This means that firefighters know other members of the community on first-name terms, which is good in many ways. But it makes it difficult for some staff to raise grievances about inappropriate behaviour and outdated practices on stations.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has an effective system in place to manage staff development, performance and productivity.

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 new joiners receive development programmes or folders. All training is self-assessed and relies on a high level of community responsibility and commitment along with dedication to do the best they can do, however, we found there is a lack of structured assessment and quality assurance.

There is no appreciation of the national occupational standards or incident command scenarios, such as operational discretion. This is because current policy is not adhered to or followed strictly.

In February and March 2018, the service gave crew and watch managers some line management training. This training centred on people management and policy awareness. Those who attended gave positive feedback. There has also been incident command training over a weekend on St Mary’s attended by 30 firefighters, including those from the off-islands.

Developing leaders

Under the agreement with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, the service pays for 25 percent of a station manager, who provides support to the Isles of Scilly. Examples of what the station manager does include a skills gap analysis of a crew’s competence, and support in training activity.

Uniformed positions are restricted to firefighter through to watch manager. Recruitment is done as and when vacancies arise.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, two staff members (including firefighters) left Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service. This represents 5.4 percent of the total workforce.