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Kent 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

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

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

We are pleased to see the improvements the service has continued to make in looking after its people.

We found that the service is outstanding at promoting the right values and culture. Senior leaders embody a positive vision for the culture of the service, and staff described a working environment with positive behaviours firmly in place, that are accepted, demonstrated and understood throughout the organisation. We found good practice in how it has used and incorporated the national Core Code of Ethics.

Mental and physical health and well-being is a priority. The service has a range of measures to support staff. It makes good use of a defusing tracker as a tool to determine where additional support might be needed.

The service now has a system to record and monitor operational staff competence which is accurate and accessible. And all staff have access to a range of learning and development opportunities.

The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. It makes good use of PIAs to understand equality issues and take appropriate actions to address them.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Outstanding

Kent Fire and Rescue Service is outstanding at promoting the right values and culture.

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

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

Promising practice

The national Core Code of Ethics has been added to support the positive culture

The new national Core Code of Ethics has been incorporated into the service’s ‘Code of Ethical Conduct’ which has been signed by all staff, and a ‘Senior Code’ which members of the senior leadership team have signed up to. A set of behavioural expectations are laid out in a ‘Customer Promise’ and ‘Promise to Each Other’. The cohesion was apparent during our inspection and staff gave positive accounts, such as people being respectful of each other and feeling looked after by the service.

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

Senior leaders have a clear vision for the service’s culture

Senior leaders act as role models and are visible. They have a clear vision for the service’s culture, and lead by example. Staff described a working environment with positive behaviours firmly in place that are accepted, demonstrated and understood throughout the organisation.

The service goes beyond having well-defined values and focuses further on understanding the lived experience of the staff. Of staff who responded to our survey, 94 percent (524 out of 560) stated they were aware of the service’s statement of values. Behaviours that reflect service expectations are shown at all levels of the service.

We are pleased with other cultural improvements the service has made, including a restructure of managerial responsibilities. The new national Core Code of Ethics has been incorporated into the service’s ‘Code of Ethical Conduct’ which has been signed by all staff, and a ‘Senior Code’ which members of the senior leadership team have signed up to. A set of behavioural expectations are laid out in documents called a ‘Customer Promise’ and ‘Promise to Each Other’. The cohesion was apparent during our inspection and staff gave positive accounts of people being respectful of each other and feeling looked after by the service.

There is a positive working culture throughout the service, with staff empowered and willing to challenge poor behaviours when they encounter them. We were told of people treating each other well.

Mental and physical health and well-being is a priority

Well-being is a service priority and is well managed. The service 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 for both physical and mental health. For example, the service has an employee assistance programme which is accessible 24 hours a day. It also gives support to staff who attend traumatic incidents, and exposure is closely monitored by the service. It makes good use of a defusing tracker to determine where additional support might be needed.

There are many good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. This includes mental health first aiders, an intranet well-being zone and well-being officers. Ninety‑one percent (511 out of 560) of respondents to our staff survey told us they have had a conversation about their health and well-being with their manager, and 96 percent (538 out of 560) of respondents told us they feel able to access services to support their mental well-being. Most staff reported they understand and have confidence in the well-being support processes available.

The service has a strong health and safety culture

The service continues to have effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. This includes a robust system of reporting and monitoring. Near misses can be recorded through the accident reporting process or anonymously with the operational learning tracker. Qualified staff in a central team lead the function.

Policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. These include guidance on working alone (both lone working and at home) and fitness testing. Ninety-five percent (532 out of 560) of staff survey respondents told us they have the appropriate and properly fitting personal protective equipment they need to do their job safely. The service should make sure that all female firefighters have appropriately fitting personal protective equipment, including firefighting gloves. Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service.

The service 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. This is managed using a Working Time policy both centrally and by individuals.

Absence is well managed

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.

The latest Supporting Attendance at Work policy was implemented in January 2022, having been reviewed after an internal audit. We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance and support for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. Trends are monitored and reported, and there is corporate oversight. We were told how the service has taken action to improve specific issues, including stress and mental health. It reports a reduction in the percentage of occupational health referrals for mental health issues from 24 percent of the total number in 2019 to 14 percent in 2021.

2

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

Good

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

Kent 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.

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

The service understands what skills and capabilities are needed

The service has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the priorities set out in the customer safety plan. Training is aligned to national operational guidance and syllabuses of the Institution of Fire Engineers for professional accreditation of skills. Protection staff competence aligns to the national framework.

Workforce and succession planning is subject to consistent scrutiny in the form of regular meetings to discuss requirements. This is led by a workforce planning group who review current skills and capabilities against anticipated vacancies.

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 has addressed the area for improvement in the last inspection and has a system to record and monitor operational staff competence which is accurate and accessible.

The service monitors staff competence by monthly assessments and reviewing risk‑critical skills on a central recording system. It regularly updates its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities through a response assurance framework and regular review of records. 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.

There is a culture of learning and development

A culture of continuous improvements is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. This includes learning from operational activity through its debriefing and assurance processes. All staff have access to a range of learning and development opportunities including courses on an external online platform. There is a bursary scheme which staff can apply for funding for additional qualifications.

We are pleased to see that the service has a range of resources in place. These include mobile trainers who can help with station-based training sessions. The service has worked hard to raise awareness of issues such as well-being, mental health and inclusion. For example, it runs ethical dilemma workshops. The training and support in place for staff who need to carry out PIAs is thorough.

Staff told us that they can access a range of learning and development resources. This includes online modules on the service’s own training platform. Non-operational staff are supported in continuing professional development. This allows them to do their job effectively.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Good

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

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

Creating a more representative workforce will provide huge benefits for fire and rescue services. This includes greater access to talent and different ways of thinking, and improved understanding of and engagement with their local communities. Each service should make sure that EDI is 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.

Promising practice

The service has introduced a neurodiversity passport to reduce the burden on individuals who need reasonable adjustments

The service applies reasonable adjustments to all pre-planned learning and assessment processes using a neurodiversity passport. This means staff can access support without the need for the individual to make multiple requests. Staff feel more included now because of the adaptations the service has made.

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

The service continues to seek and act on staff feedback and challenge

Since our last inspection the service has reviewed all internal communications. It 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. Senior leaders regularly visit fire stations and staff told us leaders are open and inclusive.

The actions being taken to address matters raised have been positively received by staff. There is an action tracker so staff can see progress on issues they have raised and the changes that are made. Representative bodies and staff associations reported that the service engages with them well. Staff also told us they feel a sense of inclusion and belonging.

There are processes in place 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 has been reinforced by visits to all stations and teams by senior management to raise awareness of the authority’s public sector equality duty and EDI issues more generally. All new staff have induction training on the service’s approach to bullying and harassment, and EDI.

In this inspection, 7 percent (41 out of 560) of respondents to our survey told us they felt bullied or harassed at work in the last 12 months, and 11 percent (62 out of 560) of respondents told us they felt discriminated against at work in the last 12 months.

Most staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters. Policies and procedures are available on the intranet and the service has made sure all staff are trained and clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour.

The service is working to address disproportionality in recruitment and retention

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 an effective system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. For example, staff support groups and firefighters are involved in raising awareness about the service in the community. The service collects and monitors an array of recruitment data so it can understand and manage any disproportionality in its processes, including those that relate to protected characteristics.

The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. It makes good use of PIAs to understand equality issues and create appropriate actions to address them. The recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised both internally and externally, which has encouraged applicants from diverse backgrounds, including into middle and senior management roles.

The service has made some improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. The proportion of firefighters from an ethnic minority group has increased from 1.3 percent in 2017/18 to 2.1 percent in 2020/21. This is due to a small increase in the number of firefighters from an ethnic minority background following recent recruitment activity. Similarly, the proportion of female firefighters has increased from 4.9 percent to 5.8 percent over the same time, due to a small increase in the number of female firefighters.

For the whole workforce, as of 31 March 2021, 2.7 percent were from an ethnic minority background and 18.3 percent were women. Across England, 5.3 percent of FRS staff are from an ethnic minority background and 17.9 percent are women. A high proportion (19.4 percent) of the workforce chose not to state their ethnicity, compared to 8.9 percent across England. The service acknowledges this and has made efforts to encourage those staff to declare the information.

The service has acted positively to improve diversity. For example, it carries out positive action such as holding information events for specific groups and targets people from more diverse areas through research-based marketing. It uses inclusive literature and imagery. The service knows it needs to go further to increase workforce diversity. Plans to address this are in place. These include, using its collaboration team to create opportunities to engage with community groups, targeted social media and increasing the involvement of station-based staff in positive action.

Equality, diversity and inclusion are strategic priorities

The service continues to improve its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. We found this to be a strategic priority and staff are supported to take a ‘customer centric’ approach. The service engages well with external and internal networks.

The service is good at understanding the diverse needs of its workforce and provides reasonable adjustments when necessary. This is supported by robust policies. For example, it has created a specific focus on and awareness of issues faced by staff, including those who identify as neurodiverse and LGBTQ+.

The service has developed good practice to reduce the burden on staff who require reasonable adjustments. It has recently introduced a neurodiversity passport so reasonable adjustments are applied to all pre-planned learning and assessment processes without the need for the individual to make multiple requests.

It has an effective process in place to assess equality impact and acts as needed to improve equality. PIAs are consistently completed and staff have training and support in this area. Actions from PIAs are centrally monitored.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

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

Kent 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 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.

Individual performance is effectively managed and developed

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess and the individual performance of all staff. It has introduced a talent bench review to establish readiness and potential for promotion.

All staff are expected to have open dialogue with line managers through ongoing conversations, moving away from the previous appraisal process. Through our staff survey, most staff reported that they have received regular discussions with their manager and that they were meaningful. Two percent (10 out of 560) of respondents told us that they have never had a conversation about their performance with their manager and 20 percent (110 out of 560) have not had a personal development review or appraisal in the last 12 months. Of these 110, 20 percent (22 out of 110) were wholetime, 14 percent (15 out of 110) were on-call, 60 percent (66 out of 110) were support staff and 6 percent (7 out of 110) were other members of staff.

Promotion and progression processes are fair and transparent

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. Staff who are involved in interview panels during promotion processes receive training for this. The promotion and progression policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles.

The service has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills. This is managed through the workforce planning board, which meets regularly.

Selection processes are managed consistently in line with policy. Temporary promotions are used appropriately to fill short-term resourcing gaps.

The service develops leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

The service has effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to manage high-potential staff into leadership roles. Leadership development is apparent at all levels in the service, from foundation sessions through core and advanced programmes.

There are talent management schemes to develop specific staff. The service recently held a middle management assessment centre where managers carried out role-specific tasks and were given development guidance and feedback on their performance. All posts above group manager level are advertised externally.