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Surrey 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

Overall, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service requires improvement in promoting the right values and culture. It has the facilities to support staff wellbeing. But it needs to assure itself that managers know how to support staff as needed. Staff understand their role in keeping each other safe. They consider the processes for raising safety concerns effective. A staff survey conducted by the service in 2017 told it that leaders need to do more to model service values. The service is working on this. It launched a new set of values and behaviour in 2017 and involved staff in this. But staff do not show great awareness of the new values in their use of language at work. The service needs to assure itself that staff adopt the new values and forms of behaviour. Staff are proud of their work but find the increasing workloads hard to bear.

The service requires improvement at getting the right people with the right skills. Its 2017 people strategy describes its future workforce needs and possible performance difficulties. But it is not clear how this strategy relates to the savings planned in the service’s medium-term financial plan. The service relies heavily on overtime. But it does not have enough controls to manage staff working hours. It recently removed overtime limits. This could have an impact on staff welfare.

The service has a system for recording staff training. Only managers can access it. The competency recording system can make it difficult for managers to check whether standby moves and staff working overtime on a watch need training. The service’s dedicated training team maintains core competencies and manages staff development. The learning opportunities are good for frontline staff, but less so for support and control staff. The service offers some courses via an e-learning system. Not all learners complete the assigned activities when they are told to. The service should monitor e-learning completion rates.

The service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. It surveys staff each year, but the response rates are falling. We asked staff about this and they told us that the service did not explain, or act on, the outcomes of previous surveys. Staff know how to use the service’s grievance policy. But we found that many grievances get resolved locally with little or no documentation. This is not the service’s policy. The service engages with the largest union, but not with all the other representative bodies. Engagement with all unions should give the workforce a voice and help the service to achieve the level of engagement it aspires to.

The service recognises that the diversity of its workforce does not reflect that of the community it serves. It has an inclusion strategy and intends to improve this. It could do more to engage people from underrepresented groups in its workforce.

The service requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders. Staff use the service’s appraisal process to access development opportunities. But we couldn’t see how the service uses the process to manage performance. We could see no evidence that the service has trained managers in the appraisal process. This may result in missed opportunities to manage underperformance or nurture talent. The service has processes for promotion, but needs to explain these better to staff. Frontline staff have a formalised development process, but this is not so much the case for support staff. The service acknowledges that it has no formal process for managing talent.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation.

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 has facilities to support the wellbeing of its staff. They include an occupational health services department, which has recently merged with that of Surrey Police. The service should ensure it tells staff about the potential benefits of this merger.

Staff recognise the benefit of specially trained service personnel who provide critical debriefs following traumatic incidents. This year, staff will receive Mind’s Blue Light training, which supports the mental health of emergency service staff. Managers have a crucial role in supporting staff welfare. The service needs to assure itself that managers have the skills to do this.

Health and safety

The service has a positive health and safety culture. Staff are well trained and understand their role in keeping each other safe. There is a well-established service-wide framework. It includes health and safety representatives and committees that deal with health and safety issues. Staff can raise and address any concerns about health and safety. Staff think this is effective. An example of this is the ongoing work to reduce the health impacts of exhaust fumes at fire stations.

Culture and values

The last service staff survey in 2017 highlighted that senior leaders need to do more to model service values. The service has plans to improve this. For example, the service engaged a management development company to help senior leaders to develop a more inclusive leadership style.

The service has an initiative called Brew with the boss, which is a more informal way for senior managers to meet staff. The service has yet to assess the effectiveness of this initiative.

In 2017, after talking with the workforce, the service launched a new set of values and behaviour. They include professionalism, leadership, fairness and respect, honesty and integrity, responsibility and openness. We didn’t find much awareness of these among staff. We observed consistent use of non-inclusive language in the workplace. The service needs to assure itself that these values and behaviours help to shape and develop an inclusive culture.

The service communicates with staff through email newsletters, face-to-face briefings and with . We found that use of Yammer was inconsistent across the workforce. The service needs to assure itself that staff receive key messages across its communication channels.

Staff we spoke to were proud to serve their communities and wanted to do their best. But people across the service told us that increased workloads and too few staff were making this increasingly difficult.

Senior leaders should ensure the new value and behaviour statements create a culture that helps the staff to achieve the service’s vision. The culture should also support staff in putting the public at the heart of everything they do.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has clear and robust processes to manage staff overtime.
  • The service should ensure staff and managers use its competence recording system and e-learning platform effectively.

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 describes its workforce difficulties in its IRMP. In 2017, it published a people strategy that details future workforce needs and the performance difficulties it faces.

The service’s medium-term financial plan (MTFP) highlights the savings it needs to make. For example, it needs to reduce staff across the middle-management level of the workforce. It is not clear how the people strategy is linked to the MTFP. This means the service may not have the funding available to achieve the aspirations set out in the people strategy. Nor was it clear how the service will maintain service levels while reducing middle-manager numbers.

We found that the service relies on staff working overtime. There is a need for a properly managed system to support how the service responds to fires and other emergencies. The service must make sure it uses all its resources in the most efficient way. We found that the service doesn’t have enough controls to manage the working hours of wholetime staff. The service has a reduced workforce, no clear policy on managing overtime and has recently removed overtime limits. It needs to monitor overtime closely. We found managers’ approach to overtime to be inconsistent and retrospective. It could have an impact on the welfare of staff.

A system is in place to manage shortfalls in crewing numbers, but this is localised. The service suffers from a shortage of firefighters to crew fire engines. Day-to-day crewing decisions lie with the senior duty manager, who uses the dynamic cover tool and a degradation policy. This policy considers the impact of reduced staffing levels and resulting reduction in appliances. The senior duty manager decides which stations are temporarily closed and which fire engines are unavailable during that time. This provides some consistency and control in managing operational resources.

The service does not keep an accurate record of staff with secondary employment. It has a policy that says it should collect this information. But we didn’t find any evidence to show how the service manages this to create a clear workforce picture. This could limit effective planning and the safe deployment of staff.

Learning and improvement

The service recognises the benefits of a well-trained workforce. It has a dedicated training team that supports core competencies and staff development. One example of this is the level of fire protection training given to staff. Another is the accreditation for managers through nationally recognised health and safety bodies. The service brings in external companies to supplement skills training, for example, in training in higher levels of incident command for operational managers. The service also sends its staff to external providers for training in skills that it cannot deliver in-house. Examples include emergency planning and management training.

The service’s managers use a recording system for staff training called Fire Watch. Only managers can access this system. We found little evidence to show how the service reviews records on the system to ensure they are accurate. The service uses an e-learning system. But there is little quality assurance to ensure e-learning packages have been completed and understood. Operational managers can access the training records of staff working overtime or standing by on their watch. However, we found managers were not always aware of how to do this, which limits their ability to plan appropriate training for staff to cover shifts through standby or overtime.

The service’s training team assesses core skills for operational staff at set frequencies. The service maintains these skills at a station level through local training. We found that staff cannot always book risk-critical training courses because of their limited availability or course cancellations. This was evident in risk-critical breathing apparatus and hot fire training. When this happens, the line manager assesses and records the individual’s skill. A senior manager then signs it off until the individual can attend a course. The learning and development team monitors this centrally.

While there is a good system for learning in place for operational staff, this was less evident with support and control staff. The service supports the learning of its staff with an e-learning system, which uses videos and online questions and answers to support staff competencies. E-learning content ranges from operational knowledge to safeguarding. Staff can access it from any computer. We found use of the e-learning system to be inconsistent. Not all learners completed the activities assigned to them within the given timeframes. The service should clearly explain the e-learning part of its learning and development offer. It should then ensure it has a robust system to monitor completion rates.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures which include clearly documented actions and outcomes.

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 seeks the views of its staff through an annual survey. The service informed us that over the last two years the response rate has fallen from 43 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2017 despite the service’s aspiration for a 100-percent return rate. Staff told us that the service did not share the outcomes of previous surveys with them. Staff also did not recognise any changes made because of their feedback. The service should do more to increase the engagement of staff with the survey. It must also ensure that it acts on outcomes and tells staff about this.

There is a grievance policy that staff know how to access. But we found little evidence to show that the service follows the policy. Staff described resolving grievances informally at a local level with limited or no documentation to explain resolutions. This is contrary to organisational policy. The service must do more to document what it does when staff raise a grievance and what the result is.

The service engages well with the largest staff representative body. Well-established lines of communication allow the representative body to raise concerns on behalf of their members. This group also forms part of the workforce reform team and is a co-designer of new service initiatives. The Fire Brigades Union writes a chapter of the IRMP. Engagement with other representative bodies is less well established. The service needs to ensure that its whole workforce has a voice and representation in any change. The service’s people strategy says the service aspires to have an engaged workforce. Giving the entire workforce a voice should help the service achieve this aspiration.


The service workforce does not reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. As at 31 March 2018, only 4.2 percent (25) of firefighters were female and 2.5 percent (13) were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background (the BAME residental population is 9.6 percent). The service recognises this and has produced an inclusion strategy setting out how it intends to improve. It acknowledges this is still at an early stage.

In 2018, the service launched its first recruitment campaign for wholetime firefighters in seven years. The service has worked closely with the Surrey police force to locate and overcome the barriers preventing the recruitment of a more diverse workforce, although positive outcomes from this are yet to become apparent.

The service could do more to engage and consult with people from under-represented groups already in the organisation. We found no use of engagement groups or staff networks in developing service strategies to increase diversity and inclusion.


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

All staff complete an annual appraisal process annually which is reviewed every six months. This is a county council system, completed electronically by the line manager. It covers work-related goals and personal objectives. Staff told us appraisals were a good place to access development opportunities, for example technical or management courses. It was less clear how the service uses the appraisal process to support and manage staff. And we couldn’t see how it linked to any performance management targets.

Staff felt the benefits and value of the appraisal system relied on the skills of the manager completing it. Some described it as serving a valuable purpose. Others felt it was a tick box exercise, done inconsistently. Staff see the process as a means to support development rather than manage performance.

There was little evidence to show how the service had trained its managers to do appraisals. We didn’t learn what the service hoped to achieve from them. Managers explained this was particularly important with the introduction of a new appraisal system in 2017. This could limit the value the service gets from its appraisals. The service may be missing opportunities to record underperformance or nurture talent in the workforce.

Developing leaders

The service has processes to promote its staff. These include formalised assessment centres. But it needs to ensure that it effectively communicates the pathways for these. We found that operational staff could access development through the appraisal process, which led to formalised development programmes. This was less evident for support staff.

The service does not have a process to manage staff with high potential. It acknowledges the importance of this within the people strategy. Currently, the service leaves identification of talent to individuals or to their line managers.