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Cleveland 2021/22


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

Last updated 20/01/2023

Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at looking after its people.

Cleveland Fire Brigade was good in its 2018/19 assessment

Overall, the brigade has made good improvements to how it looks after its people, and we are positive about its future efforts.

The brigade has continued to establish its already recognised values and to improve the culture of the organisation. This has been partly achieved through changes to the way it identifies and develops high-potential staff, including recruiting people from outside Cleveland Fire Brigade.

We also recognise and are encouraged by the effort the brigade has made in the areas for improvement from out last inspection, including tackling barriers to equality to make its workforce more representative of the communities it serves. But we also note that work to attract members of ethnic minority groups has yet to show real results.

The brigade has also made improvements to how it records its staff’s skills and training. But in this area, too, more work is needed to give staff and managers full confidence in the tools used for recording and reporting on training and competence. We look forward to seeing this achieved in our next inspection.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Cleveland Fire Brigade 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 promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of well-being support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

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

Brigade values are established, and its culture continues to improve

The brigade continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. Behaviours that reflect brigade values are shown at all levels of the brigade. According to our staff survey, 92 percent of respondents (149 of 162) agreed that line managers consistently demonstrated the brigade’s values and 93 percent (150 of 162) agreed that colleagues demonstrated values. We are encouraged by the cultural improvements the brigade continues to make. The brigade has carried out an analysis of its values to implement the new national Core Code of Ethics. This work is complete, and the brigade values are now aligned to the national code.

Senior leaders act as role models. For example, in our staff survey 79 percent of respondents (128 of 162) agreed that senior leaders consistently modelled the brigade’s values. This view was supported by staff we spoke with, who reported improved visibility of senior leaders since our last inspection, and a greater willingness by them to listen to staff problems.

There is a positive working culture throughout the brigade, with staff empowered and willing to challenge poor behaviours when they encounter them. Staff told us during inspection that they felt able to challenge and would be listened to, without detriment to themselves. This was reflected in our staff survey where 64 percent of respondents (105 of 164) agreed they could challenge ideas without fear of detriment. While these numbers are encouraging, the brigade still has work to do to continue building staff trust and confidence.

There is good provision of and access to support for workforce well-being

The brigade continues to have well understood and effective well-being policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of well-being support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example, the brigade provides access to the following facilities for staff:

  • occupational health;
  • specialist counselling;
  • peer support;
  • physiotherapy;
  • a 24/7 employee assistance provider;
  • trauma risk management advisors; and
  • a staff-well-being app, which offers advice and signposting and was developed in-house.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. These include fitness advisors, line manager well-being conversations, and access to guidance for menopause, neurodiversity and transgender matters.

Most staff understand and have confidence in the support available for their mental and physical well-being. From our staff survey, 93 percent of respondents (153 of 164) reported they can access services to support their mental well-being and 95 percent of respondents (156 of 164) are confident that well-being services would be offered following a traumatic incident.

While these numbers are encouraging, some staff and managers told us they were frustrated by how difficult it is to access some occupational health services. The brigade is aware of these issues, and we expect it to continue working to resolve these matters with its external provider.

The brigade has a strong health and safety culture, but staff confidence needs rebuilding

The brigade has effective and well-understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. In our staff survey, 98 percent of respondents (160 of 164) agreed they understood the policies and procedures to work safely. These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. Ninety-five percent of survey respondents (155 of 164) agreed they had access to the right equipment to do their job safely.

But staff representative bodies have mixed levels of confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the brigade. The union that represents staff in support roles agreed that the brigade manages health and safety well, but another trade union didn’t.

At the time of inspection, the brigade was under notice of prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive for a serious incident during the preparation phase of a training exercise in 2020. We saw how the brigade has responded to this accident, changing how it carries out live training exercises. But confidence in risk assessments and procedures needs to be rebuilt following this incident.

Plans to improve the safe cleaning of fire kit need to be progressed

During this inspection we found kit worn by firefighters for operational activity (known as fire kit) is mostly laundered at fire stations by staff. The brigade is piloting a managed system at several on-call stations, with plans to change to a fully managed system in the future. The safe and effective laundering of fire kit is a national area of discussion, and the brigade needs to make sure its arrangements are safe and effective.

The brigade has relatively low numbers of staff on secondary and dual contracts

The brigade monitors staff who have secondary employment or dual contracts to make sure they comply with the secondary employment policy and don’t work excessive hours. At the end of March 2021, 8.8 percent of the brigade’s wholetime firefighters (28 of 319) had dual contracts within the brigade. This is one of the lowest rates within England.

External secondary employment was also among the lowest rates in England, at 6.6 percent of wholetime firefighters (21 of 319). Staff who have secondary employment contracts have these reviewed every year during their annual staff appraisal, and consent by the brigade can be withdrawn if required.

Good application of absence management procedures

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

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is also guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are generally managed well and in accordance with policy. Managers receive training in managing staff absence, and this was evident from our review of case of files.

Overall, the brigade has seen an increase in staff absences over the last financial year (2021/22). They rose from an average of 7.9 days absence per member of staff to 11.9 days according to data given to us by the brigade.

But when adjusted for staff absence due to COVID-19, the average number of days of sickness absence in 2021/22 was 9.78 according to data given to us by the brigade during inspection.


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


Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

Cleveland Fire Brigade was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs), sets out their current and future skills requirements and addresses capability gaps. They should supplement this with a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development throughout the service.

Areas for improvement

The brigade should make sure the system to record and monitor operational staff competence is aligned to its policy for maintaining skills and knowledge.

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

The brigade has strong workforce plans in place for skills and capabilities

The brigade has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the community risk management plan (CRMP). The brigade has a detailed workforce plan for 2022 to 2026 called the people plan. This has full details of workforce planning for the duration of the CRMP, and is aligned to the CRMP’s priorities for the next four years.

Workforce and succession planning is subject to consistent scrutiny in the form of monthly and quarterly meetings with the executive leadership team, where progress is monitored and any challenges to the plan are identified.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. The brigade’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability effectively. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents (129 of 164) agreed they had received sufficient training to do their job effectively, while 68 percent of respondents (112 of 164) agreed they are satisfied with the level of learning and development available to them.

The brigade’s recording and monitoring of operational competence needs more improvement

The recording and monitoring of operational competence were identified as areas for improvement in our last full inspection. Although we found how the brigade records and monitors operational competence has since improved, more is needed.

The brigade monitors staff competence through its training database. The database highlights the maintenance of competence through a traffic-light system of red, amber and green (the RAG rating). We found inconsistencies between the RAG rating system and the brigade’s policies for maintenance of competence. We also found inconsistencies between the way the RAG rating applies to firefighting roles when compared to supervisory roles. This also didn’t align to brigade policy.

We also found staff in development weren’t routinely recorded on the database, instead relying on a paper-based system to record their development. These are areas where the brigade needs to continue to improve, to provide a reliable recording system to monitor training and competence effectively.

The brigade has a positive culture for learning and improvement

A culture of continuous improvements is promoted throughout the brigade and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, the brigade has introduced ambitious plans to qualify all new firefighters up to Level 3 skills and knowledge in
fire safety. All managers are expected to achieve an accredited qualification aligned to the NFCC framework for leadership and management.

The brigade is externally verified for its firefighter development programme and received a positive report from the assessor in May 2022.

In our staff survey, 89 percent of respondents (146 of 164) stated they had a conversation with their manager about their learning and development at least once a year, and 82 percent of respondents (130 of 158) agreed this conversation was useful.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?


Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Cleveland Fire Brigade 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 equality, diversity and inclusion are firmly understood and demonstrated throughout the organisation. This includes successfully taking steps to remove inequality and making progress to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion at all levels of 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 brigade is good at staff engagement but needs to continue with improvements

The brigade has developed several ways to engage with staff on issues and decisions that affect them. This includes methods to build all-staff awareness of fairness and diversity, as well as targeted engagement to identify matters that affect different
staff groups. For example, the brigade has four staff network groups. These are:

  • the cultural diversity group, which represents staff from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority groups;
  • the women’s network group;
  • the disability group; and
  • the LGBTQ+ group.

We saw how these groups have supported the brigade in its efforts to promote itself as a diverse employer through a range of ways including:

  • positive action days;
  • information and messaging on the brigade website;
  • attending community and cultural events, such as the Pride event; and
  • attending schools, colleges, and fetes.

Representative bodies and staff associations reported that the brigade engages with them on a regular basis. But the representative body for operational staff reported a less positive experience than the representative body for staff in non-operational roles.

We also heard from on-call staff who described limited engagement over recent changes to on-call contracts.

The brigade needs to continue to work with all staff groups and representative bodies to make sure they feel equally listened to and engaged with.

Allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination need to be tackled

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

In this inspection, 10 percent of staff (16 of 164) who responded to our survey said they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 12 percent (20 of 164) said they had been subject to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of these respondents, only seven people had reported bullying or harassment and only nine had reported the discrimination.

Staff told us they are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. But our survey suggests the brigade needs to do more to manage reports of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and to build trust so staff feel safe making reports.

The brigade has made good improvements to promote positive action, but still needs to do more to attract staff from underrepresented groups

There is an open, fair, and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for Cleveland Fire Brigade. The brigade has an effective system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. For example, it invested in a new HR information system to help with the analysis of data, including information on protected characteristics.

The brigade has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. It has developed its approach to positive action, which is now underpinned with four new objectives. These are:

  • to identify and remove barriers;
  • to enhance the brand of Cleveland Fire Brigade;
  • to provide meaningful development opportunities; and
  • to monitor workforce trends.

The brigade has also invested in an HR advisor for EDI. It has a positive action recruitment team that makes use of recruitment ambassadors from throughout the workforce, including recently retired staff.

Its recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised both internally and externally, including opportunities for middle and senior management roles. The brigade has revised its policy for residency requirements to allow more flexibility and a wider range of applicants for operational roles. This has already been recognised by staff at all levels as having helped to improve the culture of the brigade.

The brigade has made some improvements in increasing staff diversity with women, but not with staff from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The number of staff who self-declared as being from an ethnic minority background fell from 11 members of staff in 2016/17 to 5 in 2020/21.

During the same period, the number of women in the whole workforce rose from 108 (18.4 percent of the workforce) to 116 (20.5 of the workforce). The number of women in firefighting roles has increased from 19 (4.3 percent of firefighters) in 2016/17, to 28 (6.7 percent of firefighters) in 2020/21.

For firefighting roles, the number of staff from an ethnic minority background has fallen from 7 to 3 staff between 2017 and 2021.

The brigade has improved how it promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion, but on-call staff don’t have equal access to roles they are qualified for

The brigade has improved its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. For example, the brigade has four community hubs that support the brigade’s work with specific communities, such as Asian communities and LGBTQ+ communities, in schools and colleges.

Cleveland Fire Brigade have developed a new brand to promote recruitment through positive action. The brand is called ‘In’ with examples such as ‘Join In’ and ‘In Shape’, and is intended to attract people from underrepresented groups into the brigade and support them through the selection process. The brigade’s staff network groups also support its recruitment campaigns and selection processes.

It has an effective process in place to assess equality impact. Our inspection found a comprehensive approach to equality impact assessments and people impact assessments, with all published policies and procedures having assessments in date and completed.

We saw the brigade supports the direct transfer of on-call firefighters, crew and watch managers to the wholetime duty system, in accordance with its recruitment and selection policy. However, this policy only helps promotion within the same duty systems. This approach is inefficient as it means trained, on-call crew and watch managers must re-join the brigade as wholetime firefighters. The brigade should consider this to improve consistency, fairness and efficiency.


How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?


Cleveland Fire Brigade is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

Cleveland Fire Brigade 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 staff and improving diversity into leadership roles.

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

Performance management systems are active and valued by staff

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the brigade to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. For example, staff have an annual appraisal with their line manager where performance is discussed, as well as their ambitions for development within role or beyond. This discussion is in addition to the well-being conversation that is offered on an annual basis. The well-being conversation isn’t compulsory.

In our staff survey, 80 percent of respondents (132 of 164) reported they had had a personal development review in the past 12 months, but data from the brigade shows that how consistently staff appraisals are completed varies depending on which part of the workforce staff belong to. While 91 percent of wholetime firefighters had had an annual appraisal completed as of 31 March 2022, this fell to 62 percent for on-call staff.

Our staff survey suggests most respondents find that when appraisals do take place, they are useful for their performance and development, with 81 percent of respondents (107 of 132) who had had one in the previous 12 months agreeing the discussion was useful to them.

Processes for promotion and progression are fair and comprehensive

The brigade has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. The process is reviewed on an annual basis when staff from Cleveland Fire Brigade and external candidates are invited to apply for an assessment process. The process uses a combination of industry standard, psychometric and competence assessments, as well as assessing incident command skills for operational roles.

The promotion and progression policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. The brigade has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills.

Selection processes are managed consistently, with staff from human resources having oversight of all processes for consistency. Temporary promotions are used appropriately to fill short-term resourcing gaps, as well as supporting staff development.

The brigade has improved at identifying, developing, and supporting talent and leadership skills at all levels

Identifying, developing, and supporting high-talent and aspiring leaders was an area for improvement we identified in Cleveland in our last full inspection.

The brigade has now developed an integrated talent management framework, which applies to every member of staff. This framework is one of four main areas within the brigade’s people plan aimed at supporting the development of talent from recruitment through to retention and transition into other roles. The framework is fully aligned to the CRMP.

Specific schemes and support for staff include aligning leadership and management roles with the NFCC leadership framework and with the NFCC’s core learning pathways for development.

The brigade funds two temporary posts at station-manager level to help staff develop from supervisory to middle manager roles.

The brigade advertises all talent and leadership opportunities both internally and externally. It has revised its policy on local residence to attract a wider pool of talent, so staff no longer must live in Cleveland when on duty.