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North Yorkshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Inadequate

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment

We are pleased to find that the service has introduced a new set of values since our 2019 inspection. But staff told us it doesn’t always give them the support they need, and senior leaders don’t always act as positive role models.

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. But it is lacking a robust process to manage sickness absence and monitor the working hours of its staff to make sure they aren’t excessive.

We are concerned to find that the service doesn’t have effective workforce planning in place to make sure it has the skills and capabilities it needs. It has yet to fully establish succession planning and talent management processes across the organisation. This would help it know what its needs will be in the future. The service’s understanding of its future training requirements is limited, and we also found the service employs too many staff in temporary roles. Any plans the service makes to address these issues should include all staff groups.

We conducted a staff survey and spoke to staff during our inspection. We found the service needs to improve how it seeks and acts on staff feedback. It should also review how effective its policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination is in reducing unacceptable behaviour towards its staff.

We found the service has made some progress since our 2019 inspection in its approach to EDI. It has developed an EDI strategy and introduced an EDI board. It has also improved its arrangements for female staff uniform. Although it has made some progress in making sure there are sufficient facilities to support the diverse nature of the workforce in all buildings, it recognises that more is needed. But the service should introduce a policy and process to make sure it carries out equality impact assessments for all its policies, services and processes.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.

North Yorkshire 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure senior managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours.
  • The service should take early action to monitor working hours (including overtime) to improve staff well-being.

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

Service values aren’t consistently demonstrated at all levels

Since our 2019 inspection, and because of an area for improvement being identified, the service has introduced a new set of values. We found that staff know about these values and understand them.

But the culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values. Some behaviours staff told us about didn’t meet the expected standards, particularly in respect of the service value ‘We put people first’. The transition to the shared service structure has undoubtedly caused problems. Some staff told us they feel the service hasn’t given them the support they need. This made some feel excluded and undervalued.

During this inspection some staff told us that that senior leaders don’t always act as positive role models. Our staff survey also showed that only 48 percent of respondents (36 of 75) feel that senior leaders consistently model and maintain the service’s values.

At the time of our inspection, the service was in the process of presenting to its staff the new national Core Code of Ethics. Staff spoke positively of the training they received.

The service has effective support systems to improve its staff’s mental and physical well-being

The service has 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, staff have access to occupational health nurses, welfare advisors and an employee assistance scheme.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. The service offers support to staff who have attended a traumatic incident. It has plans to increase this support and is in the process of establishing a group of trauma risk-management practitioners. Of those who responded to our survey, 87 percent (67 of 77) told us they feel able to access services to support their mental well-being.

But we found the service could do more to engage with its workforce and understand what else they need to support their individual needs; 30 percent of staff survey respondents (23 of 77) have never had a health and well-being conversation.

The service should have processes in place to make sure staff don’t work excessive hours

The service continues to have effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. It has ways to monitor and report health and safety performance, such as the health and safety committee and the health and safety unit. It also carries out regular fitness testing of operational staff.

These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. Staff have confidence in the health and safety approach the service takes. Of the staff who took part in our survey, 79 percent (61 of 77) feel their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work. But this view isn’t reflected by some representative bodies.

We also found the service has taken steps to improve safe systems of work. It is introducing an SOS tracking device so staff can feel safe when working alone.

But it doesn’t have a robust process in place for monitoring staff who have secondary employment or dual contracts to make sure they comply with the secondary employment policy and don’t work excessive hours.

Absence management processes and systems need improving

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence.

The service has an absence policy, known locally as the ill-health absence procedure. But the files we reviewed show it doesn’t always follow the policy. For example:

  • the service doesn’t consistently record sickness dates;
  • there was no evidence of the service keeping to its absence management timelines; and
  • the service made little or no contact with staff in cases of long-term sickness.

We also found that the service doesn’t currently give routine absence reports to line managers. This means there is a lack of alerts should staff members reach certain trigger points in the process. Staff told us there are problems with recording the data in the sickness management system, and that this should improve once this system is upgraded later in 2022. Quarterly reporting is in place via the people insight reporting tool, which shows the senior leadership team absence levels and trends. We have included absence management in the cause of concern detailed in the following section.

Occupational health teams aren’t proactively involved with sickness absence management, so their ability to identify issues and themes is limited. The cases we reviewed showed a lack of occupational health return-to-work information recorded.

It is also evident that, since the introduction of the shared service structure, the service needs clarity about who is responsible for each element of the process and what support it needs to ensure compliance.

Of staff who responded to our survey, 42 percent (32 of 77) feel the service is not so/not at all effective in managing sickness.

2

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

Inadequate

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at getting the right people with the right skills.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service 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 service should address the high number of staff in temporary roles and promotion positions.
  • The service should make sure it has an effective, accurate and accessible system for recording and monitoring all staff training.

Cause of concern

The service doesn’t have in place adequate workforce planning processes. This means that areas such as safety-critical training, succession planning, absence and work-time management don’t support its current and future integrated risk management plan.

Recommendations

By September 2022, the service should have put plans in place that are designed to:

  • review its current workforce, succession and training planning to make sure these are provided efficiently and effectively;
  • review and develop its current absence management policy and process;
  • develop a policy and process to manage the working time of its staff;
  • make sure that data and processes are in place to regularly assess and manage the capacity and capability of all staff groups; and
  • carry out a skills gap analysis to make sure all staff have the skills and training they need to perform their roles.

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

The service can’t make sure it has the skills and capabilities it needs as it doesn’t have effective workforce planning in place

There is little evidence of the service having robust workforce planning processes in place. This means it can’t take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows it to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. For example, there is no approved workforce plan and we found that access to workforce data is problematic. There is no evidence of any process being in place so all interested parties can understand current and future skill and capability requirements for all staff groups.

The service also needs to do more to improve how it considers its future needs and succession planning. It has recently introduced succession planning and talent management processes, but these aren’t yet fully set up across the organisation. We found there is a high number of staff in temporary roles and staff members are frequently moved around to fill gaps. The service acknowledges this is a problem and has drawn up a ‘talent pipeline’ to address it over the next 18 months. But the plans are mostly focused on operational roles.

Although there is a system in place to review workforce capabilities, it is ineffective and there is a risk that staff may lack important skills for the future. The service has an operational compliance policy to ensure staff complete risk-critical training, such as breathing apparatus and emergency response driving. It carries out an annual training needs analysis to understand its needs for the coming year, but there is little evidence of the service understanding any future requirements beyond this. We found evidence of some operational staff not having the right skills, and of some not having timely access to the training they need to perform their role. Of staff who responded to our survey, only 57 percent (44 of 77) agreed or tended to agree that they had received enough training to do their job effectively.

The service has invested further to support Level 4 incident command training. And it has recently introduced a new incident command framework. This will help make sure the service carries out training in a timely manner. Fire control staff are qualified to NVQ Level 3 using national standards.

When we inspected a sample of training records, we found fire control and operational reserve staff training records aren’t available in the training system. Fire control staff training is managed outside the system. Staff told us operational training data in the system is inaccurate and management oversight is unstructured.

The service also offers e-learning for areas such as health and safety and EDI training. A review of staff training carried out through e-learning showed it isn’t easy to access records. The service acknowledged that it was unclear who had responsibility for the system following the shared support service restructure and that it was addressing this problem.

The service recognises that learning and development needs to improve

Although the service provides some learning and development, it doesn’t meet the needs of all staff, or indeed its own needs. The service recognises this and plans to introduce an internal coaching and mentoring academy.

There aren’t adequate processes in place to make sure staff have access to the resources they need to do their job effectively. For example, of those who took part in our staff survey, only 45 percent of respondents (35 of 77) agreed or tended to agree that they are satisfied with the level of learning and development available to them.

Only a few staff told us they can access a range of learning and development resources they need to do their job effectively. This is likely to affect what the service can offer the public. The service aims to give staff an annual personal development and performance review each year, which includes any individual development requirements they need. But it is unclear how consistently this happens across the organisation due to disjointed processes and systems.

Read the causes of concern revisit letter – April 2023

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

North Yorkshire 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 appropriate ways to engage with and seek feedback from all staff, including those from underrepresented groups.
  • The service should review how effective its policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination is in reducing unacceptable behaviour towards its staff.
  • The service should make sure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.
  • The service should make improvements to the way it collects equality data to better understand its workforce demographic and needs.

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

The service needs to improve how it seeks and acts on staff feedback

Although the service has some means of gathering staff feedback, they aren’t consistent or wide ranging. For example, it has used EDI focus groups to help identify improvements and inform training. But it hasn’t carried out a comprehensive staff survey since before our last inspection in 2019.

Staff have limited confidence in the service’s feedback systems and don’t think they are effective. Of the staff who responded to our survey, 74 percent (57 of 77) didn’t feel confident in the ways for providing feedback to all levels. And 55 percent (42 of 77) didn’t feel they would be able to challenge ideas without any detriment. Trade unions also feel that engagement with senior leaders has become disjointed and reactive.

Some staff told us they don’t feel included or engaged, and that the changes associated with the shared support service restructure have contributed to this. Staff spoke of being confused by the changes in roles and weren’t sure who to contact if they needed help or advice.

There is little evidence of robust systems being in place to support two-way communication or feedback between senior leaders and all fire service staff.

The service should review its approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination

The service should improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their duty to eliminate them. In our staff survey, 38 percent of respondents (29 of 77) told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 40 percent (31 of 77) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Feedback we gathered through our survey and from speaking to staff during the inspection indicates the source of the bullying, harassment and/or discrimination is often someone more senior to the individual.

Although the service has clear policies and procedures in place, staff have limited confidence in its ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as grievances and discipline. We also found that several of the service’s policies and procedures need reviewing and updating, such as the bullying and harassment in the workplace policy. And it is unclear what oversight exists for disciplinary actions associated with bullying, harassment, and discrimination. The service doesn’t specify this in its quarterly people insights report.

The service needs to improve its understanding of workforce diversity and continue its efforts to address disproportionality in recruitment

In our 2019 inspection report, we said the service should identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity and make its workforce more representative. This was an area for improvement. The service has a system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. But although diversity data for new applicants is available, the service has problems accessing data for the existing workforce. And it doesn’t routinely report or use diversity data. This means a comprehensive view of workforce diversity is not available. The service is aware of this problem.

The service recruitment processes are fair and accessible to applicants from a range of backgrounds. We found that during a recent recruitment process, the service publicised the job advert internally on the intranet and externally via the service internet, social media platforms and the Fire magazine website. But we were unable to confirm if the service had specifically advertised recent vacancies in groups such as Women in the Fire Service UK and the Asian Fire Service Association.

The service is taking steps to make sure recruitment campaigns are directed at or accessible to underrepresented groups. There is some evidence of it using positive action. For example, it holds ‘Have a go’ days at stations, and it uses online testing for new applicants, making the process more accessible. The Shine programme has been developed to support positive action commitments, and it has participated in the Women in the Fire Service UK’s development programme. But only 51 percent of the respondents (39 of 77) to our staff survey agree that the recruitment process is fair and accessible.

While there has been some improvement, more is needed to increase staff diversity. Out of the 12 new staff joining the service in 2020/21, 1 was female (8.3 percent) and no one self-declared as being from an ethnic minority background. This shows a reduction for both groups when compared to 2019/20.

For the whole workforce, on 31 March 2021, 1.6 percent were from ethnic minority backgrounds and 14.1 percent were women.

The service needs to encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior level positions. We were told that the service is to be an early adopter of the National Fire Chief Council’s direct entry scheme. This is a good opportunity to bring in people with different skill sets and from different backgrounds. The service should also make sure it always advertises positions externally, so it makes the most of opportunities to make its workforce more representative.

The service has made some progress in relation to EDI but needs to improve its use of equality impact assessments to ensure policies, services and processes are inclusive

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service doesn’t have a policy in place for equality impact assessments, and there is no process or guidance for how it should complete them. At the time of our inspection, staff told us the service has set up a working group to review the situation.

We found the service has made some progress since our 2019 inspection in 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 service has developed an EDI strategy, and in April 2022 it introduced an EDI board and practitioner group, promoted by the chief fire officer.

The service has established five diversity staff networks, each of which has a senior lead. The five networks focus on: race, gender, hidden disabilities (such as neurodiversity), LGBTQ+ and faith. Some staff are aware of the networks, but the service needs to do more to publicise them. Of the staff who responded to our survey, 55 percent (42 of 77) think the service is effective in ensuring all staff are included and have equal opportunities.

Staff have electronic access to EDI training and feel confident enough to talk about issues. Staff talked positively of the EDI conversations taking place as part of the performance development review process. The service is also in the process of procuring face-to-face EDI training.

In our 2019 inspection, we found that the service needed to improve its arrangements for uniform and facilities for female staff members. We are pleased to see a uniform policy and arrangements are now in place. But progress is slow regarding suitable and sufficient facilities in all buildings to support the diverse nature of the workforce. The service has set aside funds to carry out essential, immediate improvements over the next two years.

We look forward to seeing how successful the service’s actions are when we next inspect.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

North Yorkshire 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.
  • The service should make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open and fair.
  • 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.
  • The service should make sure it has systems in place to manage and develop talent for all staff within the organisation.

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 make sure it manages performance and development consistently for all staff

The service continues to have an inconsistent process in place for performance and development. During our inspection, we found that staff had mixed views on how effective they find their personal development and performance review (PDPR). Through our staff survey, some staff reported that they have regular, meaningful discussions with their manager. And 60 percent of respondents (37 of 62) who had had a PDPR in the past 12 months agreed the review was useful.

Data provided by the service shows that PDPR completion rates in 2020/21 were low. And the service has reviewed a sample of PDPRs, which showed gaps in the links between the PDPR and the service’s strategic direction. It is taking action to work on these issues. Evidence the service gave us at the time of our inspection shows that completion rates are improving.

But some staff aren’t confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place, especially for non-operational staff. There is a lack of formal process and structure to support the development of all staff groups. Of those staff who responded to our survey, only 40 percent (31 of 77) agree they are given the same opportunity to develop as other staff in the service.

The service needs to make sure its promotion and progression processes are fair for all staff

The service needs to do more to make sure its promotion and progression processes are fair. When we reviewed recent promotion processes, we were unable to confirm if they were in line with the service’s policy as it couldn’t give us all the relevant documentation. And 70 percent of staff who took part in our survey (54 of 77) disagree that the promotion process in their service is fair.

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

Temporary promotions aren’t well managed, and we found evidence of them being in place for longer than appropriate. Data given by the service shows that on 31 March 2021, the average length of a temporary promotion was 156 days. This is compared with 119 days at the same point in 2020. Staff also told us the service’s use of temporary promotions is excessive. Senior leaders acknowledge this is a problem and they plan to address it.

The service should improve career progression for non-operational staff

During our 2019 inspection, we identified that the service needed to improve the way it actively manages the career pathways of staff. We also found it needed to put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

In this inspection, we found that the service now has some talent management schemes in place to develop leaders and high-potential staff. It introduced a Leading the Way programme and Senior Leadership Days in summer 2021, and a leadership platform in October 2021. But these initiatives aren’t available to staff in a structured way, and they are only accessible to operational middle-manager levels and above.

This has resulted in inconsistency, and it undermines staff perception of fairness in the process, particularly for non-operational staff.

The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support all members of staff to become senior leaders. And it should make sure it has an effective system in place for succession planning, including senior leadership roles.