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West Yorkshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 17/12/2019

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, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

It has recently introduced several new policies. While it is too early to assess their effectiveness, the senior leadership team is clearly committed to developing its workforce.

The service promotes health, safety and wellbeing. A range of initiatives supports wellbeing and staff talked positively about this. The service needs to raise awareness of the support that is available after traumatic incidents. It is good at looking after its staff’s health and safety. It learns from accidents and makes changes when necessary.

The senior leadership team promote the behaviours it expects from staff well. But we were disappointed to find examples of people using inappropriate, gender-specific language.

The service understands its staffing needs. It is good at matching resources with demand.

It makes sure safe and well visits are done well. These are quality-checked regularly. And staff are given more support if needed. Inspections by the fire protection team are also quality assured.

West Yorkshire FRS makes sure staff competency levels are maintained through training.

It is working hard to improve the diversity of its workforce. This includes changing its recruitment process.

It has improved its personal development review (PDR) process. But the service needs to make sure all managers are trained in this area to avoid inconsistencies.

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 culture of promoting health, safety and wellbeing at all levels. It has various wellbeing initiatives which staff are positive about, understand and use.

These include access to physiotherapy, mental health counselling and ‘lunch and learn’ drop-in sessions about mental health.

Managers are trained how to discuss concerns with staff, provide simple steps to manage issues and to signpost where to get more help.

There is a wellbeing fund to which staff can submit a business case for £500 towards projects to improve mental health. Examples included a wellbeing garden, yoga sessions and improving the working environment at an older station.

Trained welfare officers support people going through discipline, grievance or sickness providing an empathetic link between the individual and the organisation.

In response to feedback from staff, the service has improved the way it monitors the working patterns and demands of operational staff. It is also working with those staff to improve their wellbeing.

The service offers support to crews after traumatic incidents. It is the supervising manager’s role to arrange this. There was evidence that these managers often called in to see if staff needed more support. But not everyone knew this was available. The service should address this.

Health and safety

The service monitors accidents to identify trends. The health and safety committee makes changes if necessary. An example of this is related to injuries caused by not warming up before exercising. As a result, physical training instructors now include warm-up and cool-down exercises. Data supplied by the service during fieldwork shows this approach has reduced injuries by 57 percent since their peak in 2009/10.

All managers are trained to manage their staff’s health and safety. And the workforce is trained on its responsibilities. Operational staff must maintain this continuously.

Culture and values

Staff were very positive about the senior leadership team. They felt it promoted the service’s behaviours well. The team visits fire stations and other areas of the organisation on a regular basis. But this wasn’t always obvious in all departments. And we spoke to support staff who felt their line manager didn’t uphold the service’s values.

Since 2018, the service has changed its approach to leadership. This includes holding focus groups with staff to find out how well they feel they are led. This approach has identified that staff would like more freedom to manage at a local level, while being supported and coached by their leaders.

The organisation recently updated its corporate values. These five values reflect the expected behaviours for staff and managers and include advice on how to deal with unwanted behaviours.

During our visit, there was some evidence of staff using gender-exclusive language such as ‘fireman’. This can suggest a culture that isn’t fully inclusive. However, senior leaders are clearly committed to eradicating outdated language in the service.


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 robust workforce planning process to understand its staffing need. The workforce plan identifies the difference between the skills required and those in place. The service tracks expected and unplanned departures. This helps it address workforce gaps and make succession plans. It also helps to identify training requirements for operational, leadership and managerial skills.

Managers regularly review the operational skills required against the existing skills of its workforce. This has helped assess whether there were enough staff available with the skills needed. For example, fire investigation and specialist hazardous materials advisers. Managers also review the impact of retirements and promotions on the number of people available with these skills.

The service moves staff to address shortfalls. We found examples of staff being moved to balance the number of firefighters with skills such as driving and aerial appliance operation if training staff locally wasn’t possible.

Staff in critical areas are assessed centrally. This makes sure that they are suitably skilled.

There is an over-reliance on e-learning. Managers we spoke to didn’t feel assured that staff fully understood all the information they had been given. The service should consider if it is the most effective tool.

Learning and improvement

The service is good at learning and improving. There was evidence of established systems for checking the quality of work. For example, it has an effective quality assurance programme for safe and well visits. Each district quality assures visits and associated paperwork. Feedback is given and themes identified. This approach is then used to help develop and improve the training programme for all frontline staff.

The service has quality assurance in place within the fire protection department. Team members perform random spot checks to make sure inspections meet the necessary standards. Officers check one or two inspections each month and discuss any issues with inspectors. The central team is improving consistency by providing guidance documents and using National Fire Chiefs Council guidance in communications.

Managers use a service-wide training plan to maintain staff skills. It is good at making sure individuals’ skills are kept up to date by using an electronic system to record when staff have shown competence. This system has recently been updated. And while staff still find it hard to use, they are aware of its value.

Samples of calls handled by control room operators are quality assured regularly. Operators then get individual feedback and have the opportunity to reflect on how they could improve.

An assurance visit takes place at each station every year. District commanders spend a day with a watch to check that standards, processes and training are up to date and of a sufficient standard.


How well does the FRS ensure 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 recently carried out a staff survey and was running another during our inspection. The results have been published, and the feedback is being addressed. For example, staff felt that decisions were made before they had the opportunity to give their feedback. As a result, when the service considered the best way to move watch managers on to a new duty system, it discussed it with the managers involved to get their views.

Senior managers are available to talk to staff at stations. Watch-based staff can give feedback to senior managers and feel listened to. But we found many on-call staff don’t have regular face-to-face contact with station or group managers.

Of the 261 staff who responded to our staff survey, 15.7 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 14.5 percent feeling discriminated against at work in the past 12 months.

There was evidence that staff follow grievance processes, but supervisory managers haven’t had training in handling grievances. A new development process for managers includes this training.

Following the last staff survey, feedback was that referring to them as green/grey book (non-operational or operational) was divisive. The service is deciding on the terms staff want to use.


The service is improving diversity within its workforce. It is doing this by changing the recruitment processes to remove potential barriers. It also improved its recruitment campaign for wholetime staff. Changes include using ‘champions’ to work with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, and promoting female and BAME role models. The service ran ‘boot camps’ to encourage fitness training and ‘keep in touch’ days for under-represented groups. It attracted applications from diverse groups. But these didn’t result in offers of employment. The service is reviewing its processes and improving how it works with diverse communities.

As at 31 March 2018, 4 percent of firefighters were from a BAME background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 18.2 percent. And 5 percent of firefighters were female.

The service plans to refurbish and improve facilities across the service. But these appear to be driven by the state of the existing properties. Providing suitable rest facilities for female firefighters hasn’t been prioritised across the service.

There are four staff network groups. They report into the diversity and inclusion board. The groups are gender, disability and wellbeing, race and religion, and LGBT. The chairs of each network group attend the diversity and inclusion group to put forward staff views.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?


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 recently redesigned its personal development review (PDR) process. As a result, it is less bureaucratic, and staff prefer this version. This new approach is being used well to address training needs.

As part of the PDR process staff complete a pro-forma. This includes their achievements within the service, values and behaviours, alongside supporting evidence.

They then have a review meeting with their manager who scores performance and sets objectives for the next year. Some managers said they hadn’t had training in this. This meant there were inconsistencies throughout the service.

There were examples of managers supporting training after PDR meetings. For example, staff were encouraged to complete professional qualifications. These include the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply. But some staff didn’t think this was relevant unless they were going for promotion.

Requests for a coach or mentor are now incorporated into the PDR. Until recently, mentoring support was informal. With the new PDR system, the learning and development team now know who has asked for mentoring support. The team can then match 12 mentors and 30 coaches to those who need them.

The service is working with Humberside, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire FRSs to introduce mentors for female staff. The aim is to encourage women in the fire service to apply for more senior positions. The services have trained 38 people to act as mentors across the region for women. So far, 12 people have been identified to receive this support. And an exercise to identify mentors for them is underway.

There is no direct link between PDRs and training needs, as this needs to be done manually. But the service informed us that a new HR system, which incorporates a PDR module, will streamline this.

Developing leaders

The service has a well-publicised promotion process, which staff understand and which we found to be fair. Assessors are trained in unconscious bias and behavioural interviewing.

The service published a leadership development strategy in November 2018, but it is too early to assess its effectiveness. It is aimed at station managers or support staff equivalent. It has eight modules and leads to a CMI Level 5 Diploma in Management and Leadership. The plan is for eight groups of mixed operational and non-operational staff to take part until January 2021. It involves 360-degree feedback and self-assessment tools. Similar systems are in place for staff moving from firefighter to crew manager, and for aspiring watch managers.

The service recently introduced a new talent management policy. It is designed to support those with potential to be senior leaders of the future. But it is too early for us to judge its impact.