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Cambridgeshire 2021/22


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

Last updated 15/12/2021

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service has created a positive working culture where staff feel valued and listened to. The behaviours it expects and the values it promotes are understood and demonstrated by all.

The service seeks to establish a culture of learning and development. It makes courses and opportunities available to all staff. And it seeks to learn as an organisation, for example, working with external companies, the British Safety Council, and a listening event, to get evaluation and feedback on how it can improve working practices and support for staff.

Since our last inspection, it has improved the awareness and understanding of its career management process among all staff.

However, many courses are optional. For example, leadership development. There is confusion over some mandatory courses, including
safeguarding; equality diversity and inclusion; and health and safety. And the personal development review process lacks assurance. It is applied inconsistently. This means that the service cannot assure itself that all staff have the required capability and competence to deliver the objectives of the integrated risk management plan (IRMP).


Additionally, more could be done to:

  • ensure that mandatory courses are completed on time and kept up to date;
  • increase staff diversity; and
  • improve the consistency and quality of equality impact assessments.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have positive and inclusive cultures, modelled by the behaviours of their senior leaders. Health and safety should be effectively promoted, and staff should have access to a range of wellbeing support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

Innovative practice

The service commissioned the British Safety Council to undertake an assurance assessment of its response to keeping its staff safe from COVID-19.

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

The service has a positive working culture, where staff understand values and required behaviours

The service continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. Behaviours that reflect service values are shown at all levels across the service. Our staff survey, conducted as part of this inspection, indicates that 98.3 percent of respondents (284 of 289) are aware of the service’s statement of values.

The leadership team is visible. For example, throughout the 2020/21 lockdowns senior leaders communicated regularly with staff via vlogs (on Workplace) and engagement visits when safe to do so. Senior managers are accessible and approachable. Staff told us that they feel they are listened to.

Senior leaders act as role models. For example, the senior leadership team volunteers to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

There is a positive working culture across the service, with staff engaged in decisions that affect them. Eighty-four percent (244 of 289) of staff responding to our survey said they are confident their ideas or suggestions will be listened to.

The service prioritises mental and physical health and wellbeing

The service continues to have well understood and effective wellbeing policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example, the service has/offers:

  • a well-resourced occupational health department that offers health and wellbeing advice, health screening, medicals and fitness testing (among other things);
  • an effective trauma-focused peer support system – Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) with trained staff to support colleagues who have experienced a traumatic, or potentially traumatic event; and
  • 24/7 access for all staff to an employee assistance programme (from an external health provider).

There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing, including:

  • a dedicated Wellbeing Matters Hub on Workplace;
  • contributions to private health insurance;
  • Employee Assistance Programme; and
  • signposting to provisions such as MIND mental health charity.

All staff we spoke to understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. Our survey indicates that 94 percent of staff feel the service is effective at ensuring their wellbeing is supported. Many told us they had used the wellbeing services and described how helpful they found the support they had received.

The service was one of the first to purchase and introduce lateral flow testing for its staff.

It exceeds expectations in supporting mental health. For example, it recently conducted a staff mental health survey to understand their concerns and where (additional) provisions are needed.

The service’s wellbeing strategy focuses on preventing, protecting and responding to mental health and wellbeing needs. It is clearly linked to the integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It was clear to us that developing and improving the ways in which it can support staff mental health and wellbeing is a priority for the service.

It promotes a coaching culture and has started to encourage regular conversations between line managers and staff about wellbeing, performance and development. We are interested to see how this develops.

The service manages health and safety effectively

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place, including:

  • the service uses a service transformation and efficiency programme (STEP) to record and manage reporting and investigations;
  • the health and safety committee and chief officer advisory group monitor and report on remedial actions; and
  • staff are kept informed via health and safety bulletins and Workplace.

The assistant chief fire officer provides oversight.

The staff survey indicates that:

  • 9 percent (283 of 289) of respondents understand the policies and procedures the service has in place; and
  • 5 percent (273 of 289) of respondents feel that they have been provided appropriate, and properly-fitting, personal protective equipment to make sure they can work safely.

There is an organisational culture of continual learning and seeking to improve workable practice. For example, the service commissioned the British Safety Council to assure and assess its actions to keep staff safe from COVID-19 while maintaining operational response.

Staff we spoke to have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service.

The service has good absence processes, but more could be done to ensure they are applied fairly and consistently

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence including sickness, parental and special leave.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Staff we spoke to have a clear understanding of the service’s absence reporting processes.

However, we found inconsistencies in the levels of training in absence management and decision making. Most managers had the knowledge and skills to conduct absence management, but some felt insufficiently trained. They weren’t confident that they could recognise symptoms of poor mental health and wellbeing.

In response to staff feedback, the service recently revised its absence management policy to ensure fairness in absence management. Managers are now more closely supported by the service’s occupational health and human resource people partners. We are interested to see how this develops.

The service told us that absence stayed almost the same between 1 April 2020 and 30 March 2021, with 19.71 and 20.07 days lost per person per year, respectively. COVID-19 did not have an impact on absence rates.


How well does the FRS get the right people with the right skills?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have workforce plans in place that are linked to their integrated risk management plans, set out their current and future skills requirements, and address capability gaps. This should be supplemented by a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development across the service.

Areas for improvement

The service should assure itself that all staff are appropriately trained for their role.

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

The service aligns skills and capabilities to its IRMP

The service has good workforce planning processes in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the (IRMP). The workforce plan is monitored by the development advisory board. It includes the service’s approved and actual establishment levels. The plan forecasts future staffing levels, potential impacts and a range of options to reduce the risk of high levels of staff retirement.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role; 91.7 percent (265 of 289) of those who responded to the staff survey agreed that they have received sufficient training to effectively do their job.

The service monitors staff competence through the training, recording and competence system. It regularly updates its understanding of staff skills and risk‑critical safety capabilities through performance management dashboards on the intranet.

This approach means the service can identify gaps in workforce capabilities and resilience and can make sound and financially sustainable decisions about current and future needs.

A culture of continuous learning and improvement is promoted, but many courses are optional and not taken

Through our staff survey, most staff told us that they were able to access a range of learning and development resources. We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include e-learning modules, coaching, mentoring and shadowing.

The service promotes a culture of continuous improvement. Staff are encouraged to be responsible for their own learning and development; and managers accountable for facilitating staff development. The service offers two leadership development programmes, ‘insight’ and ‘aspire’. However, these are optional and not a requirement for promotion.

We did not get a consistent response when we asked staff about mandatory programmes (training and e-learning). For example, we found that many staff had not completed equality, diversity and inclusion training, or it was out of date. Many staff were unsure if it was mandatory, although their managers believed it was. Meanwhile, the people team said it was mandatory, but that staff were responsible for their own compliance.

More rigour is needed to ensure that everyone in the service completes mandatory training, as well as help staff maximise the learning and development opportunities available. If not, there is a risk they may lack important skills for the future. This will affect what the service can offer the public.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Creating a more representative workforce will provide huge benefits for fire and rescue services. This includes greater access to talent and different ways of thinking, and improved understanding of and engagement with their local communities. Each service should make sure that equality, diversity and inclusion are firmly embedded and understood across the organisation. This includes successfully taking steps to remove inequality and making progress to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion at all levels within the service. It should proactively seek and respond to feedback from staff and make sure any action taken is meaningful.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure it has robust processes in place to monitor equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.

Innovative practice

The service commissioned a listening event to better understand the impact on its workforce of the COVID-19 virus and the tragic death of George Floyd.

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

The service proactively seeks, and acts on, staff feedback and challenge

The service has improved the way it manages staff feedback since our last inspection. For example, we saw a dedicated group on an internal communication platform for staff to ask questions and seek feedback, and post incident reporting and equipment reporting forms.

Staff told us that leaders are approachable and open to ideas. They respond in a timely fashion to feedback and challenge, and to resolve workforce concerns. The service’s 2019 staff engagement survey had an 80 percent response rate, which is a ten percentage point increase on the response rate for the 2015 survey.

Most staff felt able to challenge ideas without having to worry about how they would be treated afterwards.

More could be done to ensure that staff see the promotion process as fair, and increase diversity across the organisation

There is an open, fair and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service.

The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment, promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. The promotion and recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities into all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised internally and externally. But there was a perception among some staff we spoke to that there is a culture of networking prior to a promotional process, which made them feel disadvantaged.

Cambridgeshire has the third highest proportion (23.7 percent) of workforce that is female of all fire and rescue services in England. However, this varies greatly by role:

  • on-call firefighters – females make up 5 percent of the workforce;
  • wholetime firefighters – 7 percent;
  • support staff – 54 percent; and
  • fire control – 83 percent.

More should be done to increase staff diversity. Between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2020:

  • 7 percent of new joiners self-declared as being from a BAME background (of those who stated their ethnicity); and
  • 6 percent of new joiners were female.

However, for firefighter recruitment specifically:

  • 6 percent of new recruits were from a BAME background (of those who stated their ethnicity); and
  • 9 percent were female.

At 31 March 2020:

  • 4 percent of the service’s total workforce was from a BAME background (of those who stated their ethnicity) compared to 9.7 percent of the local population; and
  • 7 percent of the workforce was female.

The service has improved the way it tackles bullying, harassment and discrimination

Staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are, and the negative effect they have on both colleagues and the organisation.

Through our survey, 5.5 percent (16 of 289) of staff told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment, and 8.0 percent (23 of 289) to discrimination over the past 12 months.

We are pleased to find that the service did not report any formal bullying, harassment or discriminatory cases since our last inspection.

Most staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters. Staff told us they felt empowered to challenge inappropriate behaviour and that the service would support them.

The service has trained all staff on what steps they should take if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. Service leaders have put in place several mechanisms for feedback from staff, and have improved how they act so that staff, including those from diverse backgrounds and under-represented groups, have a better experience.

Although the service promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion, more could be done to monitor and review equality impact assessments

The service has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with a protected characteristic(s). For example, the service has an Inclusion Steering Group that oversees an equality, diversity and inclusion network. That network includes representatives from the women’s network and representative bodies, and has a range of RESPECT champions, positive action officers and diversity custodians. (RESPECT champions are volunteers from across the organisation who have been trained to listen to, support and direct people who feel they are experiencing bullying or harassing behaviours.)

It has developed several ways to engage with staff on equality, diversity and inclusion. This includes methods to build all staff awareness, as well as targeted engagement to identify issues that affect different staff groups, including to remove disproportionality. The service is a member of several external networks including Women in the Fire Service, and the Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei). There is a dedicated equality and inclusion forum on Workplace.

The service commissioned a listening event to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 and the tragic death of George Floyd on its workforce. An external company conducted group interviews between August and November 2021 and has communicated its findings. We are interested to see how the service builds on the findings.

It has a process in place to assess equality impact. However, we found that the service was not monitoring whether the assessments had been completed, or their quality (if they had). It should ensure that impact assessments are completed to a high standard so that it can use them to improve equality, diversity and inclusion.


How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?


Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have robust and meaningful performance management arrangements in place for their staff. All staff should be supported to meet their potential and there should be a focus on developing high-potential staff and improving diversity in leadership roles.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure the performance development review process is being applied consistently for all staff.

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

More should be done to ensure that all staff have meaningful performance conversations

The service has a good performance management system and a clear policy. It encourages staff to have high quality, regular one-to-one wellbeing and performance conversations with their line managers. Fifty-four percent (157 of 289) of respondents to our staff survey said they have regular discussions with their manager about their performance.

An area for improvement from our last inspection was for the service to improve understanding and application of the new performance development review process among staff. We are disappointed to find that the understanding and application of this process is still inconsistent.

We found staff (of varying levels and through interview, focus group and survey) who had not had a conversation about learning and development, or a personal development review in the last 12 months. Not all staff had specific and individual objectives. And not all had had their performance assessed in the past year – many were only having development conversations.

The service has a system to assure itself that staff have regular, high-quality performance, development and review conversations where specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) objectives (aligned to the IRMP) are recorded. However, we found that not all managers were recording conversations or specific, individual objectives (aligned to the IRMP). Personal development conversation sessions for staff and ‘developing your team’ and ‘objective’ sessions for managers are optional.

The service cannot be assured that all staff are treated fairly as it doesn’t monitor whether conversations happen or ensure managers are competent at having high‑quality performance and development conversations with their staff.

The service has improved awareness and understanding of its career management process among all staff, as well as the development of leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

The service has effective succession planning processes in place which allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of staff, including into leadership roles and roles requiring specialist skills.

To manage talent, the service has:

  • a talent management strategy;
  • a performance and potential framework; and
  • a development advisory board.

The board measures potential and performance using a talent matrix. It helps determine emerging and advancing talent, as well as those ready for promotion.

Staff who have been identified as high potential are offered leadership development opportunities through the aspire and insight programmes. (These programmes are optional.)

The service advertises all talent and leadership opportunities fairly through its internal communication platform for all staff to consider.

Selection processes are managed consistently and fairly by the development and assessment board. Temporary promotions are used appropriately to fill short-term resourcing gaps.

We are pleased that staff had an awareness and understanding of the service’s career management processes.