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Warwickshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018
Requires improvement

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

The service takes its responsibility for staff wellbeing seriously. It has procedures in place for monitoring and supporting those who are off work sick. The ‘one service programme’ has improved communication and staff engagement. However, the service needs to engage with support staff as well as operational staff and improve its staff engagement network.

Training for operational roles is generally good, although the central training team should be able to access information about which staff are due for training. The service needs to improve its training for control staff, who lack knowledge about important areas such as breathing apparatus emergency.

The service shows a willingness to learn and improve – for example, it audited all buildings with four floors or more in Warwickshire after the Grenfell Tower fire, and put measures in place as a result. However, it could do more to disseminate the findings of its evaluations throughout the service.

There needs to be a real improvement in equality and diversity from the perspective of ensuring a diverse mix of staff. The service is overwhelmingly white and male. Service staff do not have a good understanding of the importance of diversity, and there is a perception that the service has already done what it can to recruit a more diverse mix of staff. Staff from minority groups told us that they haven’t been consulted about what more the service could do in this area, and they do not hold forums such as the equality and diversity group in high regard.

The service also needs to improve the way it manages staff performance. The appraisal system isn’t working well, and there is no coaching or mentoring in place to develop future leaders, though we saw examples of limited informal mentoring. As a result there is a lack of clarity around requirements for progression which has led to a widespread perception that career progression depends on ‘who you know’.

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 service has a well-developed system for looking after staff wellbeing. Staff across the organisation spoke in very positive terms about the wellbeing provision, and know how to access it.

Occupational health (OH) staff monitor those who have been off for more than a tour of duty via a weekly report. OH staff will call them to see how they are and to find out if there are any reasonable adjustments that could be put in place to support them back to work. There is also a monthly report, which tells HR and OH who is off sick and why. They use this to target their resources. The OH team has also trained managers across the service to develop healthy teams in the workplace.

All operational staff take an annual fitness test, and staff are also tested on watch by their physical training instructor (PTI). Any that fail are given an improvement programme and re-tested by the service fitness adviser. In the service’s own data for the 12 months up to 31 March 2018, the service had a 99 percent pass rate for staff up to station manager and 100 percent from group manager upwards. The service should assess whether the watch-based PTIs face a conflict of interest when staff based on the same watch assess each other.

Health and safety

The service has a health and safety policy, which was last reviewed in February 2018. The policy covers the responsibilities of the service, managers and individuals. It sets out the role of the health, safety and welfare committee, which is chaired by the deputy chief fire officer. The committee reviews performance and health and safety policies across the organisation and staff representatives can review or raise issues. A health and safety practitioners’ group supports the health and safety adviser to put in place the agreed changes. 

Culture and values

The chief fire officer recently introduced an internal communications initiative called the one service programme (OSP), which aims to improve staff engagement, communication and service culture. Although not all staff we spoke to understand the OSP, it was clear that they had seen a change in the openness of communication and engagement. Staff all spoke highly of the chief and deputy chief fire officer. They told us that they regularly see the principal officers on visits and they feel supported. We heard examples of principal officers writing to staff, supporting them in their use of operational discretion.

Support staff, however, told us in their view that the management’s focus is on operational staff. They feel that leaders in the organisation don’t listen to them. For example, when they raised issues over new equipment, the roll-out went ahead anyway.

There are other concerns over culture and values. For example, staff members told us that senior leaders brief them in service-wide groups, but their message isn’t consistent with that of local managers at stations. The service should make sure briefings to staff are consistent.

The staff engagement network was set up to help the organisation engage with staff. The idea was that anyone could attend and raise issues or ideas. However, it developed into more of a briefing forum, and some staff now feel it is dominated by middle and senior managers. The service has recognised this and intends to reinvigorate the group.

Staff on the on-call duty system feel supported and part of the service. They are positive about the new personal protective equipment the service has just issued. They told us that the service supported them to take the Institution of Fire Engineers exams.

The main means of communicating to staff across the service is the Fire Matters bulletin. Staff are well aware of Fire Matters, but there is a lot of information in each publication, and currently no way of assessing whether staff read it and take it in.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to assure itself that it trains all staff properly for their roles. It needs to ensure flexible duty officers keep their skills up to date consistently, put in place a training plan for officers and have a consistent method of recording when they have received training (either classroom or at incidents).

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

Workforce planning

We found that the training for operational roles from firefighter to watch manager is good. The online records system for training was up to date or had entries to support why someone was not up to date in a certain area. The service should, however, make sure the central training team can access information about which staff are due for training. The central training team don’t have an up-to-date, service-wide picture of training and exercises.

On-call staff follow an eight-week planner that managers understand and follow. This allows neighbouring stations to combine training, as they are all following the same subjects. On-call staff are given three hours’ training a week, which allows for practical and theoretical sessions during the weekly drill night.

Staff told us they would like better facilities for realistic training, as hot-fire training now consists of a container fire unit at Coventry airport. The service is reviewing its approach to training facilities as part of its collaboration with West Midlands FRS.

We identified a lack of training for control staff, operational station managers and above. Control staff have been focusing on learning about the updated command and control system. They lack knowledge about certain important areas, such as breathing apparatus emergency – which is a procedure firefighters use if they become trapped inside a fire – and rely instead on the prompts from the mobilising system. They told us that maintenance of skills for control staff has been minimal. 

There is also a lack of consistency in maintaining the competencies for flexible-duty officers, except for incident command training. There is no training plan for officers, and no consistent system of recording when they have received training either in sessions or at incidents. Several managers told us that they themselves decide what training they need.

Training for support staff is recorded on the county council system. The county council provides several online courses for all service staff. This includes management courses like the personal leadership programme, which all levels of management from watch manager upwards have taken.

Learning and improvement

Operational assurance is the process the service uses to test its training procedures in real incidents. The service has developed its capacity in this area. While some of its evaluation methods are still developing, they have real potential.

However, the service needs to focus on disseminating its findings throughout the service. We saw examples where lessons had clearly been learned, but the service had only communicated them to those crews who attended the incident.

The service is managing several large-scale projects as part of its collaboration plans with West Midlands FRS. It is aware that it will struggle to resource the projects with its current capacity and skills. The service needs to make sure its staff have the right skills to manage these projects. Processes for monitoring and evaluating the projects also need to be set up from the outset, so that the service can be clear as to the benefits it expects to gain from each project and how it will measure success.

Several on-call staff told us that the skills they have from outside the service – such as management, HR and training – are under-used. The service should consider the benefits of these skills to determine how they could potentially be used.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the service did good work in auditing all buildings with four floors or more in Warwickshire. None were identified as having combustible cladding, but other problems were found that the service acted on in partnership with local building control. 


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to assure itself that its mechanisms to engage and seek feedback from staff enable it to understand staff needs. It needs to make sure the forums it creates, such as the staff engagement network and the equality and diversity group, are achieving their set purpose, and regularly review their terms of reference.
  • The service needs to assure itself that its understanding and appreciation of what diversity means will lead to change. It needs to implement an equality strategy and staff training that are based on national best practice and local engagement.

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

Staff told us that the senior managers have become more visible. In particular, they acknowledge that the chief fire officer and the deputy chief fire officer are approachable and resolve problems quickly.

Staff are aware of the various ways that feedback is passed up through the service. The staff engagement network is seen as more of a technical group, and the service is considering how to reinvigorate it (see the above, ‘culture and values’ section).

Some staff from minority groups told us they haven’t been asked for their ideas on how the service might promote a more diverse workforce. There is an equality, diversity and inclusion group, but it isn’t held in high regard by staff. The service should consider how to draw on the ideas and expertise of these staff.

The joint consultative committee includes senior managers as well as representatives of the relevant trade unions. It meets regularly, and its meetings are minuted, with actions allocated. Trade union representatives see this as a positive process, although they told us they would like service managers to engage more fully with the meetings.

The service has carried out several staff surveys, including those issued by the county council. In fact, several staff told us they had ‘survey fatigue’. The chief fire officer created the OSP which led to the service’s staff-focused survey in 2017. Previously surveys had gone out to all council staff. The OSP used the findings of the 2017 survey to effect change. 

We reviewed grievance procedures, and found that they met the timescales the service had set or gave reasons why deadlines hadn’t been met.


We found that staff do not have a good understanding of diversity. There is a generally held perception that the service has done what it can; if women or people from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background don’t want to join, there isn’t much more the service can do. It needs to tackle this attitude. It relies on the county council for support within these areas.

The service has taken certain measures to address the situation. It has recognised the need to engage with BAME communities and has recruited a community engagement officer. This person hadn’t taken up their post at the time of the inspection.

During the 2017 recruitment campaign, the service arranged taster days in an effort to attract women and BAME candidates. However, more could be done in this area. The service and the county council have worked on this together previously, but difficulties were encountered that need to be overcome. They need to work together effectively to recruit a more diverse mix of staff.

The service has developed a dedicated on-call action support team. This helps potential on-call applicants overcome any obstacles to successful recruitment by devising bespoke training plans. These range from upper-body strength-training programmes to improving handwriting skills. It is run by on-call staff and was positively received by those who had been through the programme.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair.

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 uses an appraisal system which is used across all county council departments. The system has recently been expanded to include staff behaviours, although staff told us they aren’t sure how to complete the expanded section. Most of those we spoke to feel that the appraisal is a paper exercise. Several staff had been sent their appraisal via email and hadn’t had a face-to-face meeting with their line manager. Some staff told us they hadn’t had an appraisal in over 12 months.

We were informed by the service that poor performance is managed by the appraisal system. However, staff told us that they don’t know how to do this. There was little evidence to show how the service identifies staff development needs through the appraisal process. The service should use appraisals more effectively to manage staff performance and development.

Senior leaders told us that, in a relatively small service like this, talent management and succession planning is a challenge. With the number of different duty systems, it can be difficult for staff to move between departments.

There is no formal coaching or mentoring process in place to develop future leaders, but there were examples of limited informal mentoring.

Developing leaders

Service staff have taken part in the county council leadership training programme for managers, known as the personal leadership programme. A number of staff feel the promotion process lacks openness and it is perceived as unfair. The service has had a new promotions policy, which has been in draft since 2017. Many staff told us they feel the promotion process changes each time to allow the preferred management candidates to succeed. The lack of clarity about what the requirements are for progression has caused a widespread perception that the process is dependent on ‘who you know’.

The service has made recent changes by including an independent service member on interview panels. However, the lack of a clear agreed procedure will continue to feed the perception of unfairness and bias. The service should make it a priority to change staff perceptions, by showing that the selection and promotion procedure is fair and open.