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Cheshire 2021/22


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

Last updated 15/12/2021

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

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service has well-defined values and an inclusive culture. It offers a range of wellbeing support. And it has made good progress on the areas for improvement identified in our 2018 inspection, as well as its own initiatives. For example:

  • senior managers are perceived to be more visible and approachable by staff;
  • a dedicated mental health officer has been appointed (and positively welcomed by staff) as a result of feedback from the newly established staff engagement forum;
  • the service has introduced robust processes to ensure that staff don’t work excessive overtime;
  • it has improved its absence management processes, and now provides additional guidance and support for staff; and
  • it has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and has a dedicated EDI lead.

However, there is room for improvement. The processes for managing staff performance and development aren’t consistently applied. And although the service has developed its processes for recruitment, promotion and progression, more work is needed to improve opportunities for
non-operational staff and to ensure that promotion processes are fair.

The service should consider putting more formal arrangements in place to identify and support all members of staff to become senior leaders, especially those from under-represented groups. The service would benefit from more female and BAME representation at all levels.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


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

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure all staff are appropriately trained and up to date in relation to health and safety.

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

Staff at all levels understand and demonstrate the service’s values

The service has well-defined values that were recently refreshed in consultation with staff: 98 percent of respondents to our staff survey (362 of 370) said that they are aware of the service’s statement of values. Those we spoke to understand the service’s values. They feel that behaviours reflective of the values are shown at all levels across the service.

We are encouraged by the cultural improvements the service has made since our last inspection. It has made good progress to increase the visibility of senior managers, something that was identified as an area for improvement. In our staff survey, 84 percent of respondents (302 of 362) said that senior leaders consistently model and maintain the service’s values. This increases to over 90 percent for line managers and colleagues.

The staff we spoke to feel that the visibility of senior leaders has improved since 2018. The majority said that they would feel confident approaching a senior manager.

There is a positive working culture throughout the service, with staff engaged in decisions that affect them. Staff also told us that senior managers have visited teams and watches. Following our 2018 inspection, the service introduced an employee engagement forum to focus on staffing issues, suggestions for improvements and necessary change.

Staff have access to services that support their mental and physical health

The service has 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, including occupational health services and trauma risk management practitioners.

Staff told us about mental health awareness days and the ‘tea and talk’ sessions. They spoke positively about the introduction of a dedicated mental health officer and how it has supported their individual wellbeing needs. The service should ensure resilience to provide consistency and availability in this role.

The service has made good progress to improve the way it monitors overtime (this was an area for improvement identified in our 2018 inspection). Staff told us that overtime is closely monitored. We found that they are given guidance and training in relation to fatigue management and work-life balance. The working time group and the health, safety and wellbeing committee provide oversight and scrutiny.

There are good provisions to promote physical wellbeing among staff, including a fitness adviser who is qualified in fitness management and physiology. The service recently reviewed its fitness policy, which aligns with national guidance.

Most staff said that they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. In our staff survey, 92 percent of respondents (339 of 370) told us that they have had a conversation about their health and wellbeing with their manager; and 95 percent (353 of 370) felt able to access services to support their mental wellbeing.

Staff understand and have confidence in health and safety policies

The service continues to have effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. Health and safety notice boards at all premises communicate information and campaigns, and messages are included in internal newsletters and electronic alerts.

Health and safety training is provided to all staff as part of their induction. However, there is limited evidence of regular refresher training.

Our survey showed that 95 percent (352 of 370) of respondents feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work. Additionally, representative bodies agree that the service manages the health and safety of its staff well. Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the service’s approach to health and safety.

The service has good absence management processes that staff understand

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 are toolkits and guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy.

The service has made good progress to assure itself that staff understand and have confidence in wellbeing policies, especially sickness (this was identified as an area for improvement in 2018). It has reviewed and revised its absence management processes and communicated them in a series of events across the service.


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


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

Cheshire 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.

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

Workforce planning ensures that the required skills and capabilities are available

The service has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the integrated risk management plan. The service’s People Strategy 2019-2022 (PDF document) focuses on recruitment, workforce capacity, planning, retention, development and leadership. It helps the service form an accurate picture of its workforce and their future requirements.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role: 88 percent (325 of 370) of respondents to the staff survey agreed that they have received sufficient training to effectively do their job. However, we were told that some training is not always easily accessible to all staff groups and that prevention training could be improved.

The service’s training plans ensure they can maintain competence and capability effectively. Staff told us that their ability to maintain competence is regularly assessed and monitored.

The service monitors staff competence by planning and tracking activities in a central system that highlights what has been completed and what is due. It regularly updates its understanding of staff skills and risk-critical safety capabilities.

Workforce planning is subject to monthly and quarterly management scrutiny, in the form of regular meetings, to discuss requirements. It was highlighted that the service is currently over establishment (that is, it has more staff than it needs) to mitigate the impacts of its retirement profile. 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.

The service provides a range of learning and development resources

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, significant investment has been made in building a new training centre.

Learning and development provision has been adapted to the pandemic, with more being done virtually. However, some staff felt that the level of learning and development available to them decreased during this time.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include support to achieve academic qualifications and a degree sponsorship programme. The service also has mandatory e-learning in place for all staff. Overall, 86 percent (320 of 370) of respondents to our staff survey said that they were able to access a range of learning and development resources. This allows them to undertake their role effectively.

However, feedback from some staff during the inspection indicates that development opportunities aren’t consistent across all staff groups.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?


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

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

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 improved the way it seeks and acts on staff feedback and challenge

The service has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. For example, the service has a dedicated EDI lead; and education and training are available to all staff.

The equality steering group, which is attended by representatives from all areas of the service, meets regularly to review the service’s action plan and monitor progress. It has developed several ways to promote EDI among staff, including:

  • methods to build all staff awareness; and
  • targeted engagement to identify issues that affect different staff groups, including to remove disproportionality.

We are pleased to see that the service has responded to the people-related areas for improvement identified in our 2018 inspection. It has introduced a staff engagement forum, supported by the chief fire officer, that actively progresses and resolves issues. For example, the forum was instrumental in the introduction of a mental health officer role and improving staff communications. This demonstrates that leaders act on and make changes when they listen to staff feedback.

Additionally, the service now has several communication routes designed to improve communication between staff and senior managers.

Activities to create more opportunity to understand and respond to inclusion-related matters include:

  • an equality and diversity steering group, supported by fire authority equality champions; and
  • establishing more formal staff networks.

Staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling 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.

In this inspection, 8 percent of staff survey respondents told us they had been subject to bullying and harassment (31 of 370) and 10 percent to discrimination (37 of 370) over the past 12 months.

For 23 percent of staff who reported an issue relating to bullying, harassment or discrimination, action has been taken (7 of 31). However, during the inspection many staff told us that they are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters.

Representative bodies, such as Unison, the Fire Officers Association, and Fire Brigades Union, feel that the service has put appropriate processes in place and that appropriate action is taken to eliminate bullying and harassment.

The service doesn’t have many grievance cases (there were 7 in 2019/20). In the event, managers are encouraged to resolve them at a local level. Grievances and dignity at work cases are monitored by the monthly attendance management forum, chaired by the assistant chief fire officer.

The service has made sure all staff are trained and clear 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.

The service acts positively to improve diversity within recruitment

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 some effort into developing its recruitment, promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. Evidence (that is, feedback) says that some staff feel recruitment is fair. However, that evidence also highlights a need for greater opportunities for non-operational staff.

The promotion and recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. However, the recruitment policy doesn’t include a plan to target diverse groups as part of middle and senior management level recruitment.

The recruitment policy says that the service will actively participate in positive action activities to encourage people from under-represented groups to apply for jobs, which it does. Cheshire is surrounded by areas of high BAME population, which the service targets for recruitment. It has otherwise acted positively to improve diversity within recruitment. For example, its website includes recruitment information with a focus on female firefighters.

Despite this, the service’s annual equality report recognises a need for further positive action to address the under-representation of female and BAME staff in the workforce. We were advised that work is continuing on a future firefighter recruitment campaign to promote roles via community groups, including those who identify as LGBT and disability charities. It is hoped that this will be extended to include women only, faith based and BAME groups.

Recruitment opportunities are advertised externally. Sometimes, due to operational resilience requirements, they are only open to existing, operationally qualified individuals. This was the case with some recent senior management roles.

The service acknowledges that more needs to be done to support non-operational staff looking for career progression, especially into leadership roles. The service has systems to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. It makes full use of resources to scrutinise policy and procedure. These include:

  • the equality steering group;
  • equality data and equality impact assessments; and
  • the Joint Consultative and Negotiating Panel, attended by representative bodies.

The Equality, diversity and inclusion annual report 2019/20 (PDF document) details the main activities, progress made and issues identified by the service in relation to its public sector equality duty. The report says there is a need for further positive action to address the under-representation of female and BAME staff in the workforce.

The service has made some improvements to increase staff diversity at some levels of the organisation. Figures as of 31 March 2020 show an improvement in female recruitment from previous years:

  • 29 of 93 people who joined the service were women and 1 was from a BAME This represents a 3 percent increase for women in the workforce since 2017/18. BAME is unchanged.
  • For firefighter recruitment, nine new recruits were women. No new recruits were from a BAME background.

The service plans to use its High Potential Development Scheme to further increase workforce diversity, especially in middle and senior management.

The service promotes equality, inclusion and diversity in its workforce

The service actively supports a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion. Staff spoke positively of an inclusive culture.

The service told us that staff non-disclosure rates in relation to diversity data have improved. (This indicates that staff are comfortable to share equality information such as sex and race.) It is recognised as an LGBT inclusive employer and is ranked third in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2020.

It has taken steps to improve inclusivity and build awareness of protected characteristics. (Protected characteristics include gender, marital status, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age.) Examples of its recent work and networking include:

  • a guide to help staff understand and support Muslim colleagues during Ramadan;
  • a guide to build awareness of LGBT+;
  • packs to support staff and develop their understanding of topics including unconscious bias and the menopause;
  • events to mark Windrush Day;
  • using staff networks and equality champions to talk about conditions including dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome and Down’s syndrome; and
  • engagement with charities including the British Dyslexia Association, which worked with the service on a campaign.

Representative bodies reported that the service engages with them well and that they are “completely” engaged in the service work on EDI.

The service has an effective process in place to carry out equality impact assessments and take actions forward. However, it could do more to improve organisational learning. Work is ongoing to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce and communities. Training is also being reviewed pending National Fire Chiefs Council guidance.

The service’s High Potential Development Scheme is designed to attract potential operational middle managers on a fast-track scheme – two women were accepted on a recent intake. However, the current recruitment policy doesn’t include a strategy to recruit into middle and senior level roles through direct entry.


How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

Cheshire 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 improve all staff understanding and application of the performance development review process.
  • The service should put in place a system to actively manage staff careers, with the aim of diversifying the pool of future and current leaders.

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

The service should ensure that it manages performance and development consistently for all staff

The service has a process in place for performance and development. However, not all staff have had their performance assessed in the last year. Through our staff survey, 16 percent (61 of 370) of respondents said that they hadn’t had a personal development review or appraisal in the last 12 months. Data submitted by the service also shows that completion rates of annual appraisals for on-call and non-operational staff are lower than those of wholetime staff.

Some staff told us that they didn’t always find the system to be meaningful, unless seeking development. This reflects the feedback we were given during our 2018 inspection.

The service should improve career progression for non-operational staff and ensure promotion processes are fair

The service should improve how it actively manages career pathways consistently and across all staff groups, including those with specialist skills and for leadership roles.

The service offers a range of talent management schemes to develop leaders and high-potential staff, including:

  • Step In, the service’s attraction strategy. It seeks to reach all interested members of the community with a focus on its core value of being inclusive.
  • Step into Work, a scheme that focuses on youth engagement.
  • Step Forward, various initiatives that focus on management and leadership.
  • Step Up, a scheme for newly promoted staff, who are offered a mentor in the first 100 days of their promotion.
  • Degree sponsorship scheme. This was launched in 2020. Interested staff can apply for support to study for a business management apprenticeship while gaining a bachelor’s degree. Nine members of staff have made successful applications. They have enrolled on their chosen degree and are being supported by mentors within the service.

The service also has a High Potential Development Scheme that it offers to all staff and external candidates. However, non-operational staff told us that there are no or limited promotion opportunities to move into. The service’s promotion policy is focused on operational staff. This has resulted in inconsistency and undermines staff perception of fairness. It has also contributed to non-operational staff feeling less valued than their operational colleagues.

An annual promotion process for operational staff has been introduced to reduce the length of temporary appointments and provide more support for staff who wish to progress. While staff generally feel that this is a positive step, some feel that temporary promotions are inconsistently managed and can be too long. Data submitted by the service shows that the average length of temporary promotions as of 31 March 2020 was 316 days. The longest was 1,475 days. Temporary promotions are used to fill resourcing gaps such as long-term sickness, secondments and temporary deployments into other areas. They are also required for succession planning and in between promotion board processes.

The service reviews its annual promotion process with operational staff and makes information about the process available via the intranet. It has held pre and post‑promotion board workshops since 2019. These intend to give prospective candidates an opportunity to discuss the application process before they apply, as well as receive feedback and training after the process to support future applications. However, 34 percent (125 of 370) of respondents to our staff survey said they don’t feel that the promotion process is fair.

The service should consider putting more formal arrangements in place to identify and support all members of staff to become senior leaders, especially those from under-represented groups. The service would benefit from more female and BAME representation at all levels. Despite the inclusive culture of the organisation, there was a belief the senior-level promotions process needs improvement.