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Isles of Scilly 2021/22


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

Last updated 20/01/2023

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment

The service has made clear improvements to the way it manages and supports its staff. There is a good culture, with positive behaviours shown at all levels of the organisation. Better support is available for physical and mental well-being, and staff know how to access it.

The service has yet to introduce a systematic approach to promoting EDI in the workplace and in the services it provides. It isn’t able to clearly show if it has assessed the impact its plans and policies have on its staff and on members of the public. Nor can it show what action it has taken to reduce any negative impact.

Operational training has improved significantly. There has been a particular focus on safety-critical skills such as commanding incidents and wearing breathing apparatus. Personal development plans (PDPs) have been introduced, which help manage staff performance and career development.

Overall, the service has improved its people management rating since 2018. Culture and training are assessed as being good, but EDI and leadership development still require improvement. The service now has a rating of good for people management.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Isles of Scilly 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.

The service’s values are shown at all staffing levels

The service has a well-defined set of values. Staff weren’t always able to tell us what these were, but we saw behaviours that reflected the values throughout the service. Staff have a good understanding of their local communities and are committed to keeping them safe. Staff we spoke to felt they were treated fairly and with respect by their managers.

We are encouraged that the service has committed to the new national Core Code of Ethics. Work to introduce the code was in its early stages when we carried out this inspection. All staff had received some initial training about the code, and the service intends to adopt the values as its own values when it produces its new CRMP in 2022. We look forward to seeing this progress.

Senior leaders act as role models. Staff generally felt senior leaders consistently showed the service’s values. Staff we spoke to saw the service’s senior managers as visible, respected and approachable.

There is good support for staff physical and mental well-being

Since our last inspection, the service has improved the well-being support it provides for its staff. There are now well understood and effective well-being policies in place that are available to all staff.

Ill-health absence is monitored by the Council of the Isles of Scilly’s HR team and the service’s station manager. This allows early identification of, and a quick response to, any well-being concerns or patterns of ill-health. Information is also given to the chief fire executive, who reports to the council’s operational leadership team.

An appropriate range of well-being support is available to support both physical and mental health. These include:

  • an occupational health scheme;
  • access to the island’s dedicated mental health nurse;
  • an employee assistance programme; and
  • support and advice available through The Fire Fighters Charity.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. These include posters in the workplace, discussions with line managers, and information shared at team meetings. We were pleased to see the service has given all staff access to up-to-date policies and procedures through the recently developed intranet. Most staff we spoke to knew about the physical and mental health and well-being support available to them. They understood the procedures and knew how to access these services when needed.

Effective health and safety arrangements are in place

The service has effective and well-understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. The service uses the Council of the Isles of Scilly’s health and safety policy, which has recently been revised. Health and safety management is overseen by the service’s station manager. Guidance, advice and support is provided by the council’s health and safety lead. There are monthly meetings between the council and the service to discuss health and safety issues and to give advice.

Staff can access the health and safety policy and procedures through the intranet. The revised health and safety policy was communicated to all staff by the council and the station manager. Staff we spoke to and those who responded to our survey knew about the procedures that are in place to keep them safe. They were confident in the service’s approach to managing health and safety. However, we found some aspects of how personal protective equipment fits firefighters, and how equipment testing is being recorded need closer monitoring by the service, to make sure the equipment is effective, and tests are carried out in a consistent way.

The service uses the council’s secondary employment policy. It doesn’t monitor the working hours of its staff as it is a secondary rather than the primary employer. While the service has had few incidents, managers we spoke to described how they would make sure the firefighters they were managing had adequate rest breaks if called to successive intensive incidents.

Staff absence is well managed

As part of our inspection, we reviewed the service’s procedure for managing staff absence, including sickness. We looked at how this is applied in practice.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. The station manager maintains oversight of staff absence and makes sure absence procedures are started when required. The council’s HR department gives advice and support.

Appropriate occupational health and well-being support is given to staff who are away from work. Records are generally well kept and in line with policy. But the service should make sure that all correspondence is recorded, including copies of emails.

The service told us it has low levels of staff absence. It doesn’t report its absence figures nationally. It has recently introduced a new absence system which makes it easier to keep records and produce reports. It is considering whether it will now be in a position to report its absence data nationally.


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


Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

Isles of Scilly 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 regular drill sessions are effectively planned, to maximise the time available for practical training.

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

Training has improved, but the service needs to do more work to fully establish the new recording system

We are pleased to see the service has made good progress to address the areas of improvement in staff training we identified during our 2018 inspection. It has concentrated its efforts to make sure its staff are properly trained and that their skills meet the needs of the IRMP.

Training and retesting for the risk-critical skills of incident command and breathing apparatus has been prioritised. There is a programme to make sure the skills of all staff are current. The records we reviewed were up to date and well maintained. Subject to a review of their skills, staff who can’t be reassessed within the required timeframe are given additional time to attend a training course or are removed from using that skill until the reassessment has been satisfactorily completed.

The service has increased the frequency of its incident command training. This is a positive move, as it recognises its incident commanders have limited opportunities to maintain their command skills because there are very few incidents on the islands. Instructors from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service visit the islands annually to train and assess incident commanders. This is more often than required by the national standard.

The service takes a proportionate approach to workforce planning. One-to-one meetings and regular contact with stations gives the station manager a good understanding of the workforce profile. This includes when vacancies are likely to occur and any skills gaps. Once approval is received to fill a confirmed vacancy, the service and council work together to recruit into the position.

Firefighters’ development and continuation training is aligned to national standards. When the service identifies additional training requirements, it sources and provides training to support those. For example, it has recently provided training in home fire safety checks for its prevention partner. It will shortly extend this to firefighters on the off-islands.

The service has introduced a computer-based system to record the training completed by staff, and their competence. The system uses a standard training plan which aligns to the national occupational standards. It allows staff and managers to see the areas they need to focus on and to plan training sessions to meet these. It also allows the station manager to have an overview of training completion and competence levels for the whole service, and identify any gaps or areas which need further work.

This has been a big change for the service and its staff. Previously they used paper‑based records and guidance. The service supported its managers and staff when the system was introduced. But more work is needed to establish the system, so all staff understand how to use it to plan and record their training. While some staff saw the benefits the system offers, others found it difficult to use.

Making sure training is completed is a challenge for a service which is entirely on-call. The majority of station training takes place during evening drill sessions. This time is also used to complete maintenance, carry out equipment tests and record training. This limits the amount of time dedicated to maintaining operational competence.

The service offers an appropriate range of learning and development opportunities

The service has focused on developing a culture of development and improvement since our last inspection in 2018. As well as operational training, the service provides annual mandatory training. This updates staff on a range of subjects they need for their work, including safeguarding, health, safety and well-being, and the new Core Code of Ethics. Most staff feel the service offers sufficient learning and development opportunities to allow them to do their job effectively.

As an entirely on-call service, there are limited opportunities for staff to develop through training or taking on additional responsibilities or temporary promotion. The service does provide development opportunities and encourages staff to take on additional roles. For example, during their performance review, staff seeking promotion can request the opportunity to attend incident command training either as an observer or, if spaces are available, as a candidate.

The service also recently sent two managers on an incident diffuser course held by its partner, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. After a period of shadowing Cornwall firefighters, the staff will provide diffusing support for colleagues who have been called to traumatic incidents.

The service has one wholetime manager who carries out the day-to-day management of the service. This is a new role which has been introduced in the past two years. The service has supported the manager’s development with a range of training to allow them to meet the requirements of their new role. This includes operational training such as incident command and training in health and safety management. The manager has a mentor and spends time with colleagues in Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. This allows them to gain experience and learn additional skills from people working in a larger service.

The demands on the manager are significant and much wider than in most other services. The service should consider what additional and specialist training the manager needs to carry out their role now and in the future. It should also consider what additional resilience arrangements are needed to support the manager.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Isles of Scilly 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 it has robust processes in place to carry out equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.
  • The service should make sure that all staff understand the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion and their role in promoting it.

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

The service better engages with staff, and encourages feedback and challenge

The service has improved the way it engages with its staff since our previous inspection in 2018. It has made changes to support this. These include:

  • New IT equipment on stations which allows more frequent communication between service leaders and staff. This was introduced during the pandemic and has since become a permanent way of working.
  • The introduction of a full-time station manager. This means staff have access to a manager who can respond to questions and enquiries about operational and service management issues. The station manager also visits all stations regularly to talk to staff and support local managers.
  • The creation of a service newsletter to keep staff up to date on activities taking place in the service and to share information between the five islands.

Most staff we spoke to described their leaders as approachable, and said feedback was encouraged. The service gave us examples of how it has responded to staff feedback by providing new, improved radios for stations, and purchasing a different make of breathing apparatus equipment which staff prefer.

The service works to make sure it can respond quickly to staff workplace concerns

The service uses the Council of the Isles of Scilly’s policies for grievance, and bullying, harassment and discrimination. We found the policies were clear and comprehensive, although neither had been reviewed and updated for over four years.

The service hasn’t received any staff grievances for over five years. It has worked to improve communications between staff and managers, and is creating a safe environment for staff to raise issues and report concerns.

The service told us it is an active member of the council’s restorative justice programme. This is to make sure staff concerns are dealt with as soon as possible, and particularly focuses on racism.

The service should assure itself that its staff know how to raise workplace concerns including bullying, harassment and discrimination, and that they are confident using the informal and formal avenues available to them for this.

The service is working to recruit a more diverse workforce

The service uses the council’s recruitment policy, which it has adapted for firefighter recruitment. The policy is fair and honest. It includes a commitment to equal opportunity throughout the shortlisting, interview and selection process. It also commits to making reasonable adjustments to make sure there is no prejudice in the recruitment process.

Historically, the service’s workforce has been made up mostly of men. The service is trying to change this. However, as it is a small on-call service, there are fewer recruitment opportunities, so this will take some time.

The service told us that it is working with its local communities and promoting itself through schools and gyms to encourage more diverse and younger applicants. It has also amended its advertising material to appeal to a more diverse group of people and to those who may not see the fire service as a job for them. It emphasises its commitment to equal opportunity on its recruitment posters.

The service is making progress in this area. In the year ending 31 March 2021, out of a total workforce of 43, it was employing four female staff, three of whom were firefighters. This is an increase since the last inspection and represents 9.3 percent of the service’s employees. The service also employs one firefighter from an ethnic minority background. This is reflective of the local population.

The service needs to develop a systematic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

The service needs to do more to make sure EDI is properly considered. It needs to take appropriate measures to meet the needs of its communities and staff. Given the small size of the island community and the large number of people from diverse backgrounds who visit the islands each year, this is particularly important.

The service recognises it has more to learn, and there is commitment at a strategic level to improve its approach to EDI. But this has yet to develop into a clear, systematic plan supported by relevant processes and appropriate objectives.

In particular, the service doesn’t have a robust and effective assessment process to show it has considered the potential equality impact of its plans and policies or taken action to reduce this. Also, the majority of the policies we saw hadn’t been subject to an impact assessment, despite there being space to record the assessment in the documents.

Staff we spoke to generally described the service work environment as open and inclusive, although they didn’t always fully understand the reasons for diversity being important. There was some evidence of outdated approaches towards women, but this appeared to be improving.

Access to staff groups and networks is a positive way to support minority groups in the workplace and to promote EDI. The service has established links with some network groups, including Women in the Fire Service UK and the Asian Fire Service Association. But there was limited evidence that staff regularly interact with these groups.

Staff are given an annual EDI refresher as part of their mandatory training. The service told us it would like to improve the training by making it more personal and face to face. We look forward to seeing the plans for this develop.


How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.

Isles of Scilly 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 assure itself that it has a fair and effective process to identify and offer staff development opportunities, and align these to staff’s personal development plans.

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

Staff performance management has improved

We are pleased to see the service has introduced a PDP process since our last inspection. This allows it to develop and assess the individual performance of all employees. Staff told us about annual meetings with line managers, to review their performance and progress against objectives that are specific to them. Staff are also able to discuss any issues or concerns they wish to raise and consider their future aspirations in the service.

Staff who want to develop additional skills in their current role or who want to prepare for promotion can request opportunities do this at their PDP meetings. But this wasn’t fully understood by all the staff we spoke to. The service should make sure all staff understand the link between the PDP process and their development for current and future roles.

Most staff we spoke to described the PDP process as a positive and supportive experience. Line manager discussions were seen as productive and were welcomed. However, there was evidence that some staff didn’t see the benefits of the PDP and were yet to fully embrace the process. This view was also reflected in some responses to our staff survey.

The promotion process is clear, but the service needs to clarify the promotion criteria

The service doesn’t have its own promotion policy. It uses the Council of the Isles of Scilly’s policy. This is adapted to meet the service’s requirements when it needs to make permanent and temporary promotions.

There is limited staff turnover in the service, so promotions are infrequent. However, without service-specific criteria for promotion, it isn’t clear to staff what skills and behaviours they would need to develop and demonstrate during the promotion selection process. The service should consider how it can be clearer and more consistent in relaying the requirements for promotion to complement its existing PDP process.

We reviewed files for a selection of permanent and temporary promotions that took place over the past two years. We found the selection processes were managed objectively and consistently, with an appropriate range of assessment methods and spread of experience in selection panels.

Staff generally felt the promotion process was fair.

Leadership development is limited

The management structure of the service is very streamlined. There is one management level between fire stations and the chief fire executive. All station-based staff are on-call, while the station manager is the only wholetime firefighting role.

The service carries out some limited workforce profiling through the PDP process and one-to-one discussions with the operations manager. This allows it to understand staff’s future plans, and its likely need for new staff, managers and skills.

Staff who express an interest in, and those who show potential for, promotion are encouraged to seek opportunities to develop their skills and experience. The arrangements are informal. The service has to manage demand and expectation, as opportunities for progression are limited and largely island specific.