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Suffolk 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

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

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

Since our last inspection, the service has created a positive working culture where staff feel more valued and listened to. The behaviours it expects and the values it promotes are understood and demonstrated by all.

The service has improved its support for its workforce’s physical and mental well‑being – most notably for staff following a traumatic incident.

The service has also put effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. But it was disappointing to find that not enough progress has been made in this area. The service needs to do more to improve how it identifies and supports high potential staff and aspiring leaders; and to make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair.

Additionally, the service could do more to:

  • increase staff diversity;
  • improve staff understanding of the benefits of positive action; and
  • improve the consistency and quality of EIAs.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture.

Suffolk 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 monitor secondary contracts to make sure working hours are not exceeded.

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

The service’s culture, behaviours and values are improving

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation. We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since then.

There is a positive working culture throughout the service, with staff now feeling more empowered and willing to challenge poor behaviours when they encounter them.

The service has well-defined values within its own behavioural framework (ASPIRE 4 FIRE), which is understood by staff. At all levels, the workforce shows behaviours that reflect the service’s values. We are encouraged by the cultural improvements the service has made. Work is in hand to integrate the new national Core Code of Ethics into its approach.

Most staff we spoke to said that the behaviours of both their colleagues and their line managers reflected the service’s values, and that more senior leaders now act as role models than previously. But some staff told us that not all senior leaders model the values or are open to being challenged.

The service has improved its support for the workforce’s mental and physical well-being

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it has effective arrangements in place to support staff following a traumatic incident. We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since then.

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. This now includes effective arrangements to support staff following a traumatic incident. The service has also made available:

  • critical events boxes that contain information on mental health and forms to self‑refer to services;
  • an employee assistance programme;
  • a 24/7 counselling service;
  • mental health first aiders;
  • a fitness and well-being officer;
  • a well-being magazine; and
  • access to The Fire Fighters Charity.

There are good provisions in place to promote staff well-being. These include regular conversations about health and well-being. For example, in our staff survey 69 percent (104 out of 150) of respondents said they have had a conversation more than once a year about their health and well-being with their manager. All staff reported they understand and have confidence in the well-being support processes available.

Health and safety management is good

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. In our staff survey, 98 percent (147 out of 150) of respondents told us they understand the policies and procedures the service has in place to make sure they can work safely.

These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. In our staff survey, 97 percent (146 out of 150) of respondents told us the service has clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses, and dangerous occurrences. And 95 percent (143 out of 150) told us they have appropriate and properly fitting personal protection equipment they need to do their job safely, and that their personal safety and welfare is treated seriously at work.

There is a good health and safety culture, and staff have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service. Ninety-three percent (140 out of 150) of staff survey respondents told us they are encouraged to report all accidents, near misses, and dangerous occurrences.

In our previous inspection, we found that the service wasn’t carrying out fitness testing for its operational staff in line with national guidance. It has since employed a fitness advisor and has gradually introduced annual fitness testing throughout the service with a view to aligning its approach with national guidance. We are interested to see how this develops.

Absence management is good

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.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy.

The service records the reasons for all absences, which allows it to monitor trends. Overall, the service saw a decrease in staff absences over the 12 months between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

The service should do more to monitor staff working hours

The service could do more to monitor staff working hours, including for staff who have multiple contracts with the service or other fire and rescue services. Staff are told they should comply with relevant working time regulations and not work excessive hours. But we didn’t see robust arrangements for line managers to monitor the working hours of their staff. The service should review this matter.

2

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

Good

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

Suffolk 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 make sure its workforce plan takes full account of the skills and capabilities necessary for carrying out the integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should review its succession planning to make sure that it has effective arrangements in place to manage staff turnover while continuing to provide its core services to the public.

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 workforce planning

The service does some workforce planning, and has a good understanding of its workforce profile. At a local level, the service understands the skills and risk-critical safety capabilities of the workforce necessary to meet current and future organisational needs.

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. For example, in our staff survey 86 percent (129 out of 150) of respondents told us they have received sufficient training to effectively do their job. The service prioritises risk-critical training, and its training plans make sure it can maintain competence and capability effectively. The service monitors the competence of its operational staff by planning and tracking training in a central system.

But the service doesn’t have a workforce plan, or effective succession plans, that take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to carry out the IRMP or adapt to changing future risk. We found that workforce planning tended to be reactive rather than considering likely future needs in advance. And succession planning was focused only on retirement. This was sometimes leading to longer than necessary staff shortages if staff left the service for other reasons.

The service supports staff with a range of training opportunities

A culture of continuous improvements is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, the service keeps staff up to date on national, regional and local operational learning through its internal communication systems. It also makes effective use of apprenticeships and offers health and safety management courses to staff.

The service has adapted how it offers training and development opportunities during the pandemic. This has included making the most of online platforms.

Most staff told us that they can access a range of learning and development resources. In our staff survey, 81 percent (122 out of 150) of respondents told us they were satisfied with the level of learning and development that is available to them. This allows them to do their job effectively.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Requires improvement

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

Suffolk 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 improve staff understanding of positive action.
  • 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.

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 do more to improve staff confidence in giving feedback and challenging management

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures for all staff. In this inspection we were encouraged to see some improvements in this respect. But the service needs to do more to improve staff confidence in giving feedback and challenging management.

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. In this inspection, we found an increase in senior managers engaging with staff. We also found that the service was introducing grievance training, and that staff felt more confident to challenge senior leaders than before.

But in our staff survey, 36 percent (54 out of 150) of respondents told us they didn’t feel confident in feedback systems and 32 percent (48 out of 150) said they felt they wouldn’t be listened to. Most staff told us they were unable to provide evidence for action taken by the service following their staff survey.

The service is good at 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 our staff survey, 7 percent (11 out of 150) of respondents told us they had been subject to harassment and 9 percent (14 out of 150) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of these staff, most did not think their concerns had been dealt with appropriately.

Most staff are confident in the service’s approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and disciplinary matters. Staff are clear about what to do if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. But we found that most staff were unaware of the service’s whistleblowing procedure.

The service needs to do more to improve its approach to positive action

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should improve the understanding among staff of positive action and the benefits of having a diverse workforce. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

The service has put effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. The recruitment, promotion and development 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.

But the service knows it still needs to do more to increase workforce diversity, especially for middle and senior management roles. Plans to address this are in place. These include plans to employ an external recruitment company and involve both the EDI working group and the community fire engagement officer in the service’s recruitment processes. But we found limited understanding among staff about what positive action is or its benefits. The service is taking action to address this. It previously introduced EDI training, but some staff didn’t feel this met their needs. The service has since adjusted the training in response to this feedback.

There has been little progress to improve either ethnic background or gender diversity for all staff in the service. In 2017/18, 1.9 percent of the workforce self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds and 11 percent of the workforce were women. In 2020/2021, 3.2 percent of the workforce self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 11 percent were women.

Firefighter-specific recruitment has only improved very slightly in this regard. The proportion of all firefighters identifying as being from ethnic minority backgrounds rose from 2 percent in 2017/18 to 2.6 percent in 2020/21. And the proportion of all firefighters who were women rose from 6.1 percent in 2017/18 to 6.3 percent in 2020/21.

The service could do more to improve equality, diversity and inclusion and its approach to equality impact assessments

The service’s EDI strategy is good. It has a good Race Equality and Equality Action plan. And a wide range of support networks are available to staff.

These include the Asian Fire Service Association and Suffolk Women in Fire Together. Other networks support staff who:

  • have a disability;
  • are women;
  • are from a black or Asian ethnic background; and
  • are vegan.

But some support staff told us they feel they aren’t always included, or treated as fairly as their operational colleagues. In our staff survey, 46 percent (69 out of 150) of respondents thought the service was effective in ensuring all staff are included and have equal opportunities.

The service needs to improve its approach to EIAs. During this inspection we sampled a range of EIAs. Although the service has a good process in place for these, this isn’t being consistently applied. We were told that EIAs aren’t always of the standard we would expect before they are submitted to Suffolk County Council’s equality, diversity and inclusion board for scrutiny.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Requires improvement

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

Suffolk 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 make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair.
  • 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 should do more to make sure that all staff have meaningful performance conversations

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. Each staff member should have individual goals and objectives, and regular assessments of performance, but currently this isn’t always the case.

In our previous inspection we found that a low percentage of staff had completed a performance development review (appraisal). It was disappointing to find in our staff survey for the recent inspection that some staff had still not completed an appraisal and that 27 percent (41 out of 150) of respondents had had 1 or no conversations with their line manager about their performance in the last year. We found that appraisals weren’t always being carried out appropriately. For example, not all staff were given specific and individual objectives. And appraisals were sometimes used to increase on-call staff hours rather than enable a meaningful career and development discussion with a manager.

Staff should feel confident in the performance and development arrangements that are in place.

Not all staff feel that promotion and progression processes are fair

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression guidance so that it is fair and understood by staff. But most staff we spoke to didn’t have confidence in the process for promotion. In our staff survey, 55 percent (82 out of 150) of respondents thought the promotion process in the service was unfair.

From the files we sampled, and interviews with staff, we found that the service was running two different promotion processes. These were an interim assessment and development process, and a development pathway process under the service’s promotion and development guidance. Inspectors were unable to give a clear rationale for running two processes. And some staff told us they didn’t understand the reason for which of these processes they were being asked to carry out.

The service is reviewing its promotion and progression guidance, which is creating further complication.

The service isn’t succession planning or developing leadership and high‑potential staff effectively

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high‑potential staff and aspiring leaders. There hasn’t been enough progress in this area.

The service doesn’t have effective succession planning processes in place that allow it to effectively manage the career pathways of its staff, including roles requiring specialist skills. But the service told us that it will be looking to develop the National Fire Chiefs Council’s succession planning model. We are interested to see how this develops.

The service’s promotion and development guidance defines development pathways for both firefighters and support staff. But as stated above, we found that it wasn’t following this guidance consistently, and not offering all staff a development pathway. This has resulted in inconsistency and undermines staff perception of fairness in the process.

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