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South Yorkshire 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

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

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

The service has a clear set of values that are understood throughout the service. But we found that there are inconsistencies in the way the service looks after people through its occupational health provision and absence management processes.

Since our 2019 inspection the service has improved the recording of staff training and is ensuring staff keep their skills up to date. However, it has made limited progress to make sure that its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the community risk management plan (CRMP).

The service has made improvements to EDI. But it hasn’t made the workforce more representative of the community it serves.

We did find the service to be good at how it manages individual performance, although it does have high numbers of staff in temporary promotion positions. Furthermore, it hasn’t put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

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

South 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 staff have access to services to support both their mental and physical health via an effective occupational health service.
  • The service should make sure that it has effective absence/attendance procedures in place.

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

Values are accepted and maintained throughout the organisation

The service continues to have well-defined values that are understood by staff. Of those who completed our staff survey, 94 percent (322 out of 341) said they were aware of service values.

Behaviours that reflect service values are shown at all levels of the service. The service’s ten-year objective for the future of the service, Our Story (brought in over three years ago), sets out its intentions and behaviours. We are encouraged to see that the new national Core Code of Ethics for fire and rescue services has been incorporated in the service’s objective.

Senior leaders act as role models. Seventy-five percent (240 out of 322) of respondents to our staff survey said that senior leaders consistently modelled and maintained the service’s values. An even higher proportion of respondents, 88 percent (284 out of 322), said the same of line managers.

We spoke to staff who told us that there is a positive working culture throughout the service, with staff empowered and willing to challenge poor behaviours when they encounter them.

The service needs to increase staff access to mental and physical health support

In our 2019 inspection we identified that the service should make sure that staff understand how to access well-being support. Since then, this understanding has improved. But it is evident that access to support services for the mental and physical health of some staff was ineffective. Several staff told us about delays and inconsistencies in the service’s occupational health provision.

The service has some well-being provisions in place to support the mental and physical health of staff. These include an employee assistance programme and critical incident well-being sessions after attendance at traumatic operational incidents. Staff were positive about the well-being sessions, but we found that there were limited facilities in place for senior officers who attended such incidents.

The service could do more to understand and support individuals’ needs. Our staff survey found that 58 percent (198 out of 341) of respondents discussed their well-being with managers twice a year or less. This includes 58 respondents (17 percent) that said they never have discussions about their well-being with managers.

The service has implemented measures to improve incident welfare provisions

An area for improvement that we identified in 2019 was that the service needs to ensure that staff involved in protracted operational incidents have adequate welfare facilities, for example refreshments and toilets. Since then, we have found that the service has introduced a new welfare vehicle shared with the British Red Cross. And it has entered an arrangement with an external provider to supply a larger unit should welfare requirements be extensive.

The service has produced a YouTube video to communicate with staff about the new welfare facilities. But most staff we spoke to told us that the service is still ineffective at providing welfare for its firefighters at protracted incidents. The service should make sure that the arrangements it has are robust and seek feedback from staff.

Staff understand and have confidence in health and safety policies

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. Ninety-seven percent (331 out of 341) of respondents to our staff survey stated that the service has clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences. Both staff and representative body survey results show confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service.

We found there is a good system in place to protect the safety of lone workers. And the service monitors staff who have dual contracts to make sure they comply with the secondary employment policy and don’t work excessive hours. The service’s resource management system contains a feature that prevents dual contract staff from booking on duty unless they have had a sufficient rest period in-between shifts.

Monitoring of fitness testing is ineffective

We found that there was limited strategic monitoring and reporting of the fitness testing of firefighters. The service’s fitness policy specifies two compulsory fitness assessments for all firefighters per calendar year. This is more than many other fire and rescue services that only complete one per year. However, in 2020/21 the service didn’t complete the fitness testing in line with its policy.

Absence management procedures aren’t effectively followed

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, but we found many inconsistencies in the way staff absence was managed. Policy isn’t always followed. For example, return-to-work interviews don’t always happen on time, absence management forms are incorrectly completed causing delays and communication with absent staff doesn’t take place or isn’t recorded.

The service is ineffective at progressing absence cases due to delays with occupational health reports. And we found that the service doesn’t have clear absence data, limiting its ability to monitor sickness trends and data effectively.

2

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

Good

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

South 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 ensure its workforce plan addresses any gaps in capability which affect the availability of fire engines.
  • The service should address the high number of staff in temporary promotion positions.

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 its workforce planning so it can fully understand the skills and capabilities of its workforce

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 CRMP. We found limited evidence that the service’s planning allows it to fully consider workforce skills and overcome any gaps in capability. The service has a workforce plan, but it hasn’t been operating effectively. This was identified as an area for improvement in our 2019 inspection and we found in our latest inspection that there had been insufficient progress. Matters such as a lack of fire engine drivers, recruitment delays and staffing shortages have led to the increased use of overtime and temporary promotions.

In 2020/21 the service had the second highest number of staff on a temporary promotion in England. And the average length of these temporary promotions is 309 days/shifts.

The service needs to do more to improve how it considers its future needs and succession planning. In our inspection, we found there weren’t always enough available firefighters, especially on-call firefighters, to crew fire engines to meet availability standards. Some staff told us about the difficulties in recruiting and keeping on-call firefighters. The service is also experiencing problems with staff in support roles leaving. For the last three years there have been many more leavers than joiners in the organisation.

The service has appropriate systems to record and monitor staff training

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. Of staff who responded to our survey, 76 percent (260 out of 341) stated they had enough training to effectively do their job.

The service has made progress on the area for improvement we identified in 2019 – to make sure that all staff are appropriately trained for their role. The service records and monitors firefighter competence on training recording computer systems. This provides managers with a dashboard that shows staff training and maintenance of competency. During our inspection we reviewed the training records of several members of staff and found they were accurate and up to date with risk-critical training.

But the service recognises that although there is a system in place to review workforce capabilities, there is a risk that staff may lack important skills for the future. So, at the time of our inspection the service was reviewing maintenance of competence programmes for all staff, starting with middle managers. We look forward to reviewing the progress of this in the future.

The service promotes learning and improvement

The service has some good arrangements in place to promote a culture of continuous improvement. For example, prevention and protection staff undertake continuous professional development to develop their individual skills and competencies. And staff across the service embarking on managerial roles are provided with Chartered Management Institute courses.

Staff in the service can explore development opportunities through the annual appraisal process and can view their own training and development records and apply for training relevant to their role.

Seventy-two percent (245 out of 341) of respondents to our staff survey are satisfied with the learning and personal development available to them in the service. And 71 percent (243 of 341) agreed or tended to agree that the service allows opportunities for personal development. This allows them to do their job effectively.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Good

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

South Yorkshire 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 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 identify and overcome barriers to equal opportunity, so that its workforce better represents its community.
  • The service should make sure that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance 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 engages with staff on matters that affect them

The service 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. The service seeks the views of staff groups when it develops the annual plan and it sends out pulse surveys every two months, which monitor staff satisfaction on distinct areas within the service.

Pulse surveys may well help the service with short-term planning. However, the service doesn’t carry out a comprehensive staff survey at regular intervals. This limits its ability to identify staff concerns and chart improvements over a defined period.

The actions being taken to address matters raised have been positively received by staff. Representative bodies and staff associations that responded to our staff survey reported that the service engages with them well on a wide range of topics. Sixty-two percent (212 out of 341) of respondents to our survey stated they had confidence in ways of providing feedback at all levels. But several members of staff feel that communications and feedback channels could be improved.

The service should continue to review its approach to tackling 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.

In this inspection, 12 percent (41 out of 341) of respondents to our staff survey told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 15 percent (52 out of 341) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of these staff, 41 percent (17 out of 41) didn’t report the bullying and harassment and 52 percent (27 out of 52) didn’t report the discrimination. The main reason for not reporting were concerns that nothing would happen.

An area for improvement identified in our 2019 inspection was that the service should make sure that it has effective grievance procedures and to improve staff confidence in the grievance process. Since 2019, we found that the numbers of grievances being submitted had almost doubled. This could be an indicator of improved trust in the process. But we found that staff still have limited confidence in its ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and grievances. Several staff told us that they thought processes were unfair and not in line with service values and desirable behaviours. Therefore, the area for improvement identified previously remains.

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

We found that the service had made only limited progress in responding to the area for improvement identified in our 2019 inspection: “To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should ensure the value of positive action is well-understood by staff.”

However, we also found that the service has an open, fair, and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service. The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by applicants. Comprehensive information is provided on its website, and it provides videos online of what applicants can expect.

The service has an effective system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. For example, the service has produced a nationally recognised video that explains how the service uses positive action to remove barriers to recruitment for under-represented groups. And it has run taster days for people interested in becoming a firefighter.

However, the service is only seeing minor increases in staff diversity, and it needs to do more. There has been little progress to improve either ethnic minority background or gender diversity for all staff in the service. Of the 69 new joiners who stated their ethnicity in 2020/21, 4.3 percent were from an ethnic minority background, which is the same as proportion of the whole workforce from an ethnic minority background. On 31 March 2021, 4.5 percent of wholetime firefighters in the service were from ethnic minority backgrounds, below the England proportion of 6.3 percent and the local population of 9.4 percent. For the same group, at the same date, 6.9 percent were women, below the England rate of 8.1 percent.

The service needs to encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior-level positions. These positions tend to be advertised and filled internally, meaning that the service isn’t making the most of opportunities to make its workforce more representative.

Improvements have been made to equality, diversity and inclusion but more needs to be done on equality impact assessments

The service has improved its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. For example, the service has demonstrated commitment to its EDI strategic direction by supporting campaigns such as LGBTQ+ and Black History Month and by taking a stand publicly in responding to complaints it had received on social media from some members of the community about conducting these campaigns.

The service provides education and training on EDI, and it has developed several ways to involve staff. These include methods to build staff awareness of the diverse communities in South Yorkshire and community handbooks produced for every fire station, which inform and educate staff on the various ethnicities and religions in their local community.

We did find, however, that some of the service’s EDI policies and procedures are not robust. The service doesn’t yet have effective arrangements in place for the management of equality impact assessments. These are needed to make sure that the service doesn’t discriminate or disadvantage people. And the service’s monitoring and reporting of EDI performance is ineffective. The service’s last annual equality report was published on its website in 2016. This means the public aren’t aware of improvements the service is making with EDI.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

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

South Yorkshire 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.

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 manages individuals’ performance well

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff, although staff who aren’t in development or seeking promotion are less engaged with it. The completion rates for performance reviews for all staff groups in the service (wholetime, on-call, fire control and corporate staff) in 2020/21 were significantly higher than previous years.

Through our staff survey, most staff reported that they have had regular discussions with their manager and that they were meaningful. Each staff member has individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of performance. Most respondents to our staff survey feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

Open and consistent processes are in place for promotion

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. In our staff survey, 62 percent (211 out of 341) of respondents agreed that the promotion process in the service is fair.

The promotion and progression policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. But some staff told us that the service provides limited career pathways for corporate staff.

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.

Selection processes are managed consistently. During our inspection we reviewed a range of promotion files. We were encouraged to find these were well managed. Applications require endorsement from line managers and are reviewed and monitored by HR staff. HR staff sit in on a sample of interviews and a moderation review of the promotion process is carried out to ensure consistency.

However, we found that the service has a high number of staff on a temporary promotion. And the average length of these temporary promotions is long at around 520 days, which is higher than the England average of 309 for the year 2020/21. The service should ensure it effectively manages its temporary promotions to maintain confidence in the promotion process.

The service could do more to develop 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. We found some good examples of staff being provided with opportunities to be developed for more senior roles and the service managing staff talent in a more systematic way before promotion.

The service provides management training for staff going into leadership roles. But there isn’t a clear process for talent management or identifying high potential.

The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders and actively manage the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and those aiming for leadership roles. This was highlighted as an area for improvement in our 2019 inspection and limited progress has been made.