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East Sussex 2021/22


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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Requires improvement

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment

The service has made a positive step by introducing a leadership and behavioural framework, which outlines what is expected of all staff. Staff were proud to work for East Sussex Fire and Rescue and most staff displayed the values which the service promotes widely.

There is good provision of health and well-being support, particularly following incidents with the potential to cause post-traumatic stress, and absence is well managed.

Workforce planning was previously identified as an area for improvement. There has been some progress made against this area and we look forward to seeing how the service improve this with the introduction of the workforce planning sessions.

The service does provide staff with essential equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training. However, it recognises the need to enhance this further and has plans in place to introduce additional courses.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.
East Sussex 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 promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of well-being support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure all staff understand and demonstrate its values.
  • The service should take early action to monitor working hours (including overtime) to improve staff well-being.

Promising practice

The service has demonstrated a clear commitment to the support of staff following traumatic incidents and broadened the monitoring and delivery of trauma risk management

Following incidents which have potential to cause post-traumatic stress, staff receive support in the form of trauma risk management. This is a widely used and effective process to support employees. Following traumatic incidents all staff involved are identified and receive a follow-up call from a trained colleague and this is tracked on a spreadsheet. If a staff member attends 7 or more incidents in a rolling 12-month period they will receive an offer of additional support from the service. Staff across the service were complimentary about this process.

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

The service is making progress to improve the culture

The service has well-defined values that are understood by most staff. Our staff survey showed that 97 percent of respondents (144 out of 149) were aware of the service values.

The culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values. Although far from prevalent, we were informed of pockets of poor behaviours that didn’t meet the standards expected and that some staff weren’t confident enough to challenge. We were told of sexist language being used and on-call firefighters being treated differently to wholetime firefighters and it being dismissed as “banter”.

However, the service has introduced a leadership and behavioural framework (based upon the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Leadership Framework) and provided lead-by-example training for all staff. It has also adopted the Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services in England. The service is taking action where necessary to help improve the culture. Senior leaders are visible across the service and carry out a programme of visits over a calendar year. The service told us it is trying to create a positive culture where feedback and challenge is accepted and managers in the service are role models. The service still has some work to do in this area.

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

The service continues to have well understood and effective well-being policies in place that are available to staff. A range of well-being support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example, staff can access physical and mental health provisions through occupational health, receive confidential counselling from the employee assistance programme, and significant peer support is provided following incidents with the potential to cause post-traumatic stress for operational crews.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. This includes a dedicated well-being area on the intranet, posters visible around stations and a well‑being section in the monthly rolling reviews for staff. Ninety-two percent of respondents (137 out of 149) told us they have had conversations about their health and well-being with their manager. And 89 percent of respondents (133 out of 149) told us they feel able to access services to support their mental well-being.

Health and safety processes are effective

The service has 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. All staff receive workplace safety training as part of their induction, and manual handling training is mandatory.

At the time of inspection, we found a backlog of accident/near miss investigations, which required action. This was concerning. The service has carried out a triage process on all reported cases to ensure they comply with health and safety regulations. We look forward to seeing the progress against this area in the future.

Ninety-three percent of respondents (139 out of 149) felt satisfied that personal safety and welfare are treated seriously at work. While 97 percent of respondents (145 out of 149) felt the service has clear procedures in place to report accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences.

The service uses a rota system to monitor the working hours of dual contract staff to ensure they don’t work excessive hours and have adequate rest periods.

There are some processes in place to monitor those with secondary employment or employed by other fire and rescue services. However, these aren’t consistently monitored across the service and were reliant on individuals reporting concerns. The service should assure itself that staff aren’t working excessive hours.

Absence management is supported effectively by line managers

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.

Although out of date, 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. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. Welfare support was seen in all files reviewed with the service providing additional support, beyond the standard offering, in some cases.

In 2020/21, the service has seen a 41 percent decrease in the average number of shifts lost per firefighter for long-term sickness and a 53 percent decrease in average number of shifts lost per firefighter for short-term sickness compared to the previous 12 months.


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


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

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 service should make sure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.

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 limited workforce planning arrangements in place

The service does some workforce planning, but it doesn’t take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to be able to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows them to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. For example, at the time of the inspection, only 2 workforce planning sessions had taken place in 2022. There are still gaps within the plan from various departments that have yet to complete templates that outline the needs for their teams.

The service recognises it needs to do more to improve how it considers its future needs and succession planning.

This was identified as an area for improvement from our previous inspection. There has been some progress made against this area and we look forward to seeing how the service improves this with the introduction of workforce planning sessions.

Staff are appropriately trained to carry out their role

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. The service’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability effectively.

The service monitors operational staff competence on an electronic training recording system. This provides managers with a dashboard and traffic light system to review staff compliance. During our inspection we found that risk-critical training records for operational personnel were accurate and up to date, and staff were competent in their roles. However, on-call staff felt that there wasn’t enough time to complete some of the e-learning training courses, which are provided by the service.

Operational staff follow an annual training calendar and regularly complete training exercises, which are recorded on a monthly monitoring form.

There was good evidence of cross-department training taking place between prevention, protection and response so staff understand each other’s roles and can use this when carrying out activity, such as home safety visits or fire safety audits.

There are five mandatory courses which all staff must complete as part of their induction process, such as dignity and respect and safeguarding. In addition to these the service has a suite of courses available to staff to use for their personal development.

There is a positive learning and improvement culture within the service

The service is creating a culture of continuous improvement. This is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, as well as the internal courses staff have access to, they can also bid for funding to complete external training courses which are relevant to their role. Bids are heard by a panel which has representatives from across the service to ensure a fair and transparent approach.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. This includes e-learning resources, videos, and more traditional training materials.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

East Sussex 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 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure that all staff understand the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion, and their role in promoting it.
  • The service should make sure that staff are confident using its feedback systems.

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 staff are aware of feedback systems

The service has some means of gathering staff feedback and it has plans in place to make these more comprehensive and wide ranging. However, staff felt the senior leadership team is open and approachable. There has been a positive change in culture that is encouraging to see. Senior leaders regularly receive emails, and they try to encourage more face-to-face conversations.

Staff have limited confidence in the service’s feedback systems and don’t think they are effective. Forty-four percent (66 out of 149) of respondents to our staff survey disagree that their ideas or suggestions will be listened to. Sixty percent of respondents (89 out of 149) didn’t feel confident in the system for providing feedback to all levels.

The service is taking action to tackle bullying, harassment, and discrimination

Staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are and their negative effect on colleagues and the organisation. This is supported by staff completing a mandatory dignity and respect course as part of their induction. All staff are required to complete annual refresher training.

In this inspection, 23 percent of respondents to our survey (34 out of 149) told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 26 percent of respondents to our survey (39 out of 149) felt they had been discriminated against over the past 12 months.

The leadership and behavioural framework provides the service with a starting point for managing grievances and disciplinaries. The service has taken a strong standpoint and seen staff members leave the service following investigation.

Most staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances, and disciplinary matters. However, at the time of inspection, we did find some evidence of poor behaviours, which staff hadn’t reported due to feeling that it wouldn’t be dealt with appropriately or that any action would be taken.

The service has made sure all staff are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour.

The service could do more to increase the diversity of its workforce

While recruitment processes are fair, the service should do more to ensure they are accessible to applicants from a range of backgrounds. For example, positive action only happens ahead of wholetime recruitment campaigns. ‘Have a go’ days for underrepresented groups at on-call stations are largely co-ordinated by individuals with some central support. Staff felt positive action should be constantly used regardless of the vacancies.

Some recruitment campaigns are directed at or accessible to underrepresented groups, with the use of positive action messaging on social media and ‘have a go’ days on stations. However, the service isn’t leading change in this area to increase the diversity of its workforce. For example, staff felt the internal data it holds about the workforce is poor. It is initially collected at time of recruitment and never updated. The service will be introducing a new self-service system to update personal information regularly as part of the appraisal process.

More work is needed to increase staff diversity. There has been some progress to improve representation from minority ethnic groups and improve gender diversity. Of the 43 staff joining East Sussex during 2020/21 who gave their ethnicity, none were from an ethnic minority background. Of the service’s workforce, 21.0 percent are female, which is above the England average of 18.0 percent. However, only 3.0 percent of the workforce are from an ethnic minority background, compared to 6.4 percent of the local population, and 5.3 percent of the workforce across all fire and rescue services in England.

The service needs to do more on its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

The service is committed to improving its approach to EDI. There is an equality and inclusion commitment within the IRMP, and it is included within the People Strategy as a theme, with associated plans until 2025. However, there is no specific EDI strategy.

During the inspection we found there was a lack of understanding among the workforce of positive action, with some staff expressing disappointment they are still having to explain to colleagues how it is different to positive discrimination. The service has several support networks available to the workforce:

  • Christian Police and Fire
  • Disability Support
  • FireOUT– LGBTQ+
  • Neurodiversity
  • Gender inclusion.

However, some staff felt the service isn’t an inclusive or “safe” place where they could be themselves, so they have declined the support from others within the service.

While EDI is part of the mandatory Dignity and Respect course staff must complete as part of induction and then on an annual basis, there is no mandatory course specifically for EDI. The service put EDI courses on hold during the pandemic and is yet to reintroduce them. The service has plans to start these in autumn 2022. The service introduced a new equality impact assessment process in November 2021, which is effective. The service uses the NFCC’s equality impact assessment template, which it has modified slightly to meet its needs. There was good evidence found of changes and adjustment being made following the impact assessments. Staff commented during the inspection that this is no longer a “tick box” exercise.

We look forward to seeing what improvements the service sees following the introduction of the new EDI training courses.


How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?


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

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

Areas for improvement

The service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring 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 has an effective process to manage individuals’ performance

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. For example, the annual appraisal process is supported by rolling reviews. These are monthly for support and wholetime staff and quarterly for on-call firefighters. The annual appraisal involves discussions around development, performance, and well-being. There was a clear link between the recording template and the month-end returns which supervisors must complete, and which aligns to station risk profiles.

Through our staff survey, 96 percent of respondents (143 out of 149) reported that they have had discussions with their manager about their performance and of these staff 72 percent felt the discussions were meaningful. Each staff member has individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of performance. Staff feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

The service has a clear and transparent promotion and progression process

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. The service monitors trends in grievances and found there to be very little increase in reports following processes. The promotion and progression policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in some roles.

While the process for promotion and progression is clear, there are some elements which are open to inconsistencies. During the inspection we found that the endorsement process from line managers was open to individual bias. We also found that some appointment processes aren’t clearly communicated to staff within the promotion pool.

The service doesn’t have strong succession planning processes in place to allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills.

The service needs to improve its ability to identify and develop its future leaders and high-potential staff

The service needs to improve how it actively manages the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and for leadership roles.

There has been little progress against a previous area for improvement for talent management, developing future leaders, and high potential staff. No formal processes are in place to identify individuals. The service is involved in the development of the NFCC’s talent management toolkits. The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff aspiring to be senior leaders.