West Sussex 2021/22
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate in its 2018/19 assessment.
During our last inspection we highlighted two areas of concern relating to how the service looks after its people. The service has made improvements since then, but there is still much more to do. The service is engaging more with staff, and this is no longer a cause of concern. But the cause of concern we raised last time relating to values and behaviours remains, due to instances where values weren’t being upheld.
The service knows that it needs to change its culture and is taking steps to do this. It has expanded the ways it supports staff health and wellbeing and supported better understanding of EDI. But we found examples of bullying, harassment and discrimination, which were being carried out on the basis of race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. While these behaviours weren’t displayed throughout the service, we found too many instances where the service’s values weren’t being upheld.
The service needs to make sure that all staff understand its bullying, harassment and discrimination policy, so they can recognise and challenge these behaviours. We found that some staff weren’t sure how to access support when facing these problems and many didn’t understand the grievance procedure. This left some staff feeling they weren’t being supported.
We also found that while the service has improved the way it interacts with staff, it needs to make sure that this leads to meaningful action. We saw examples of senior leaders using creative ways to communicate with staff. But despite this, many staff told us they feel they aren’t listened to, and we found few examples where staff feedback had led to changes to plans or procedures.
How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at promoting the right values and culture.
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
Fire and rescue services should have positive and inclusive cultures, modelled by the behaviours of their senior leaders. Health and safety should be promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of wellbeing support that can be tailored to their individual needs.
Cause of concern
The service hasn’t done enough since the last inspection to improve how staff understand and display its expected values and behaviours.
By 31 August 2022 the service should provide an updated action plan to:
- improve how it works with its staff and provides feedback in relation to issues involving values and behaviours; and
- ensure that staff act in line with its values and are trained to identify and deal with non-compliance.
Areas for improvement
The service should monitor secondary contracts to make sure working hours are not exceeded.
Staff don’t always act in accordance with the service’s behaviours and values
In our last inspection we identified a cause of concern that West Sussex FRS’s staff were sometimes acting in ways that went against its core values. This was leading to bullying in the workplace. We made the following recommendations:
- The service should clearly and effectively communicate its core values to staff. This should include acceptable behaviour statements.
- The service should ensure that staff act in line with its values and are trained to identify and deal with non-compliance.
While the service has made improvements in this area, there is still a lot to do.
The service has a clearly defined set of values, but it should improve awareness of them at all levels. In our staff survey, 90 percent of respondents (195 out of 217) said they were aware of the service’s values. But while 87 percent of respondents (170 out of 195) felt that their colleagues modelled and maintained these values, only 35 percent (68 out of 195) said that senior leaders did. Senior leaders always need to make sure they act as role models for a service’s values.
The staff we spoke to were overwhelmingly proud of the service. But they told us that they didn’t always feel involved in decisions that affect them. While staff said there is now more communication from senior managers, they feel they aren’t always listened to. For example, firefighters told us that while they are given targets to achieve for prevention and response activities, they don’t have an opportunity to discuss those targets with managers.
The culture of the organisation doesn’t always align with its values. Some behaviours we saw or were told about didn’t meet the standards expected. For example, we found that different types of staff told us that they felt they were treated differently, with on-call staff feeling ostracised in some locations and non-operational staff not always feeling valued.
We also found examples where behaviours not in keeping with service policy weren’t challenged. We were told there is a “generational gap” between longer-serving members of staff (who tend to be older) and newer ones (who tend to be younger).
Staff told us that some longer-serving members of staff sometimes used language or displayed behaviours that didn’t align with service expectations. Some newer members of staff told us that they are willing to challenge this, which is helping to change the organisational culture. Staff told us that while the service is trying to tackle the issue, they felt that the culture wouldn’t really change until the older generation retired. We were told of homophobic and racial slurs being dismissed as “banter”. We also heard examples of racist and sexist comments and behaviours which had gone unchallenged. We did see recent evidence that the service is challenging behaviours not in keeping with service policy more robustly.
Work has begun to implement the new national Core Code of Ethics. This is being managed centrally through the service’s programme board, with senior leaders given clear responsibilities.
Staff have access to services that support their mental and physical health
As we saw in the COVID-19 inspection, the service continues to have well understood and effective wellbeing policies in place that are available to staff. A significant range of wellbeing support is available to support both physical and mental health. For example, staff can access support through an occupational health provider, specialist counselling and support, peer support, and a designated health and wellbeing team.
There are good provisions in place to promote staff wellbeing. Since the last inspection, the service has appointed a wellbeing manager and wellbeing champions, who are available to discuss any concerns staff may have. The service also has 12 trained mental health first aiders and a dedicated wellbeing area on its intranet. Most staff reported they understand and have confidence in the wellbeing support processes available. In our staff survey, 89 percent of respondents (194 out of 217) agreed or tended to agree that they could access services to support their mental health.
But the service could do more to understand and support individuals’ needs. The staff survey found that 48 percent of respondents (105 out of 217) discussed their wellbeing with managers twice a year or less, and 16 percent of respondents (35 out of 217) said they never have discussions about their wellbeing with managers. The service developed individual staff impact assessments during COVID-19, which were well-received. This may assist in increasing understanding to better support individuals’ needs.
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. Our survey found that 95 percent of respondents (206 out of 217) understand the policies and procedures in this area.
These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff. Our survey showed that 95 percent of respondents (207 out of 217) felt that the service had clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences. Health and safety training is mainly provided through online training packages.
Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service. In the staff survey, 88 percent of respondents (192 out of 217) said they were satisfied that their personal safety and welfare was taken seriously at work. And surveys by representative bodies found that staff feel they are involved in decision-making involving health and safety matters.
We saw that the service could do more to monitor staff working hours, including for staff who have secondary employment or dual contracts. Staff are told that they should comply with working time arrangements 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 could communicate more effectively about health and safety matters. For example, it has recently brought in handheld radios for operational use. Staff told us they had reported some problems with using these to the health and safety team. But they hadn’t been told about how the service was planning to resolve the problems.
Managers don’t always feel confident managing absence
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. Most staff we spoke to understand the process to follow and what their responsibilities are when they are absent from work. Most managers have been trained to deal with absence management and know how to ask for support from the human resources team. But we spoke to some managers who haven’t had training in managing absence and who didn’t feel confident in following the correct procedures.
Overall, the service saw a decrease in staff absences between 2019/20 and 2020/21. However, it is unclear the impact COVID-19 will have had on levels of sickness.
How well does the FRS get the right people with the right skills?
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs), sets out their current and future skills requirements and addresses capability gaps. They should supplement this with a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development throughout the service.
Areas for improvement
- The service should make sure it has an effective, accurate and accessible system for recording and monitoring operational staff competence.
- The service should evaluate the effectiveness of online training to make sure it suits the needs of its staff.
Workforce planning is improving, but IT systems could be used more effectively
The FRS has good workforce planning in place. This makes sure skills and capabilities align with what is needed to effectively deliver the IRMP. Workforce planning is scrutinised by senior managers every month, which allows needs to be discussed and problems resolved. 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. For example, the service has invested in recruiting more specialist staff in its prevention team. It has also improved its retirement forecasting and monitors the effects of staff moves and recruitment activities.
The service monitors operational staff competence through its electronic recording systems. It regularly updates its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities through monitoring of competencies by line managers and the central training team. But many staff told us that the IT systems used to record training could be more effective. We were told that the service uses two systems which do not link to each other, meaning managers must monitor both systems when they review staff competencies. Some managers also told us that they would like more IT training and support to make the processes more effective and efficient.
We noted that training for non-operational staff isn’t monitored as closely. Some non‑operational staff were not aware of training available to them or the training systems they should use.
Most staff told us that they could get the training they need to be effective in their role. In our staff survey, 65 percent of respondents (140 out of 217) said that they had received the training they needed to allow them to do their job effectively. The service’s training plans make sure they can maintain competence and capability effectively. For example, all operational staff are booked into assessments to make sure they do these often enough to maintain their most important skills.
The service is improving its approach to learning and development
A culture of continuous improvement is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, the service doesn’t currently have its own training centre and uses facilities in neighbouring fire and rescue services and at Gatwick Airport. There has been significant investment in building a new training centre within West Sussex, which means the service will provide training to its operational staff which is based on feedback and learning from incidents it attends.
As we saw in the COVID-19 inspection, learning and development has been adapted to the pandemic, with more being done virtually. Some members of staff felt the amount of learning and development activity available to them decreased at this time.
The service uses a mixture of online and face-to-face training. Overall, 62 percent of respondents (134 out of 217) to our staff survey said they were satisfied with the level of learning and development available to them.
How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate 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.
In our last inspection, we identified a cause of concern in this area. This stated that:
West Sussex FRS doesn’t engage with or seek feedback from staff to understand their needs. We found this to especially be the case with some under-represented groups. When staff raise issues and concerns, the service doesn’t respond quickly enough.
We made the following recommendations:
- The service should ensure that it effectively engages with its staff, including minority groups.
- The service should improve communications between staff and senior managers, so concerns are responded to in a timely and appropriate way.
While we have seen enough improvement to discharge the cause of concern, the service needs to continue to strengthen its engagement with all staff.
The service is improving the way it communicates with staff, but needs to do more
The service is improving how it communicates with staff. Senior managers use weekly online videos (which began during the pandemic), monthly newsletters, and face-to-face visits to communicate with staff. The service is improving the ways it gathers staff feedback. For example, it has introduced a shadow board. This is formed of staff from throughout the service, who can read and discuss papers before they go to the service executive board.
Representative bodies and staff associations reported that the service interacts with staff regularly. But the service needs to do more to build staff confidence in the way it communicates with them. Our staff survey found that only 37 percent of respondents (80 out of 217) felt confident in the ways for providing feedback to all levels.
Some mid-level managers told us that they would like more feedback on projects they are involved with. They felt that sometimes projects are stopped or delayed without the reasons for this being explained.
More needs to be done to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination
Since our last inspection the service has reviewed its grievance procedure and staff are being encouraged to use this when they feel it is appropriate. In 2020/21, 13 grievances were raised, compared with 4 the previous year. The service feels this increase is because staff are now more willing to challenge unfair decisions or behaviours which are not consistent with the service’s expected behaviours and values. But while many staff we spoke with felt the service had improved in this area, some told us that their experiences of being exposed to certain behaviours made them less confident there had been positive change.
We found evidence of behaviours taking place which are not consistent with the service’s stated behaviours and values. Bullying, harassment and discrimination are not always well understood, and are tolerated in several parts of the service. For example, we found examples where comments about sexual orientation, race and religion were dismissed as “banter”. We also heard examples of sexist and racist comments which went unchallenged by managers and staff. The staff survey indicated that 52 percent of respondents (112 out of 217) felt unable to challenge this kind of behaviour without worrying about how they would be treated afterwards.
Although the service does have clear policies and procedures in place, some staff have limited confidence in the service’s ability to deal effectively with cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination, grievances and discipline.
The service could go further to improve staff understanding of bullying, harassment and discrimination, including their duty to eliminate them. In our staff survey, 20 percent of respondents (44 out of 217) told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment and 22 percent (47 out of 217) to discrimination over the past 12 months. Of the people who told us they had been bullied or harassed, 11 percent reported this.
Of the 11 percent of respondents who reported the bullying and harassment, only 3 percent thought that action had been taken in response to their concerns. And of the 21 percent of respondents who told us they had been discriminated against, 7 percent had reported this – and only 1 percent of respondents felt that action had been taken. In some cases, this was because respondents felt it was too early to tell (9 of 24 bullying reports and 3 of 15 discrimination reports).
In the survey, the top reason given by staff for not reporting bullying and harassment was that they believed nothing would happen. Some also said they had concerns about being victimised, concerns about confidentiality or being labelled a troublemaker. Despite this, we saw that the service has used its disciplinary processes against several staff who have been accused of bullying and harassment. This has resulted in some staff being dismissed.
The service has improved its approach to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination but it knows there is more work to be done. In particular, the service needs to ensure that all staff, not just managers, are trained to identify and challenge behaviours which aren’t consistent with the service’s expected values and behaviours.
The service needs to improve diversity in recruitment
The service has developed its recruitment processes so that they are fairer and better understood by applicants. The recruitment policy covers the process for the county council (including the FRS). Recent senior leader jobs have been advertised externally, with leaders from the wider county council involved in the selection process.
Since our last inspection the service has begun taking targeted positive action, although this is not mentioned in the recruitment strategy. It has advertised in magazines to target under-represented groups, as well as on local community television channels. Specific action has been taken in Crawley, where there are more ethnically-diverse communities. Here, ‘have a go days’ have been introduced, where people from under-represented groups can visit fire stations and try out the recruitment tests. The service has also reviewed the recruitment policy and removed unnecessary and outdated criteria that could be causing disproportionality, such as the ability to swim. But this positive action has not yet led to an increase in the diversity of the organisation.
More is needed to increase staff diversity. There has been limited progress to improve ethnic background and gender diversity for all staff in the service. In the 4 years since 2017/18, 2.5 percent of new joiners self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 19.1 percent were women. For firefighter recruitment, 2.5 percent of all new recruits were from ethnic minority backgrounds and 11.9 percent were women.
For the whole workforce, at 31 March 2021, 1.6 percent have self-declared as being from ethnic minority backgrounds and 13.8 percent are women. However, 22.9 percent of staff chose not to state their ethnicity, compared with a national rate of 9.0 percent. The service needs to understand why some staff are reluctant to declare their ethnicity.
The service needs to continue to encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds into middle and senior level positions when these arise. All senior positions are advertised nationally to attract the best possible talent from the most diverse pool available. However, it could do more to create opportunities to make its workforce more representative.
The service doesn’t routinely conduct exit interviews, so is missing opportunities to gain valuable feedback.
The service is making slow progress on improving EDI
Since our last inspection the service has spent time developing an EDI framework. It has appointed a diversity and inclusion manager and named EDI champions throughout its workforce. But staff who work on EDI activities told us that they aren’t always involved in strategic decision-making when their input could contribute to positive change. These staff also told us that often, a limited number of staff from under-represented groups are asked to participate in recruitment campaigns. EDI champions believe they could improve these areas of work if they are involved. The service has introduced an EDI steering group as well as people impact assessments to capture staff suggestions. But the perception of staff is that this isn’t influencing change yet.
The service has involved staff when creating a dignity and respect framework. The service is due to train staff in how to use the framework, but this hadn’t happened at the time of the inspection. The framework covers behaviours and expectations in areas including bullying and harassment. The service is also developing a diversity dashboard which will include up-to-date information on numbers and trends.
The service has introduced an ‘open chair’ policy, where any member of staff can ask to attend a service executive board meeting. The person will be able to express opinions and explain the effects of new policies and procedures on frontline staff.
The service has recently introduced its own equality impact assessment, which it calls a people impact assessment (PIA). This is being used, but the process and purpose are not yet understood throughout the service.
PIAs have been used by the protection team to make sure enforcement activity isn’t carried out disproportionately for different communities. A PIA was also carried out when considering how the service will use smoke hoods.
Training on using PIAs has started for managers, and there is clear governance to support using PIAs.
Despite the measures the service has taken, we found there is a lack of understanding of EDI among many staff. For example, we found that some staff believe positive action is being used to lower standards to allow under-represented groups to join. We heard that the service doesn’t do enough to make sure all staff are treated fairly, and that many staff don’t understand the benefits of working in an inclusive organisation.
How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders.
West Sussex 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 it has an effective system in place to manage staff development, performance, promotion and productivity.
- 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 is inconsistent at managing individuals’ performance
The service introduced an updated performance management system in April 2021, during our inspection. This is intended to make sure all staff objectives are linked to the IRMP.
Not all staff have had their performance reviewed in the past year. In our staff survey 22 percent of respondents (48 out of 217) said that they had not had a personal development review in the last 12 months. Some staff reported that they have regular, meaningful discussions with their manager. Of the survey respondents, 46 percent (99 out of 217) said they had performance meetings with their line manager monthly or more frequently. Sixty-six percent (140 out of 217) found performance meetings like this useful when they did happen.
Some staff told us that they didn’t always find the performance management system to be useful. Many told us it was only useful for staff who were actively seeking promotion.
The service is introducing a new promotion process to support staff development
In our staff survey, 59 percent of respondents (127 out of 217) disagreed with the view that the promotion process is fair.
The service is introducing a new promotion process. Some respondents to the survey may have based their views on the previous promotion process and not the new one. The new process has been trialled at several levels of the service, and staff who have been involved told us that they feel the process is more open and transparent than the old one. But some staff told us that guidance they were given about the promotion process could be clearer.
Staff we spoke to told us that there are often limited development opportunities offered before a person is promoted. We were told this means a person who has been promoted needs to look for learning and development opportunities themselves once they are in post.
The service isn’t effective at developing high-potential staff
The service needs to improve how it actively manages the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and suitable for leadership roles.
This was highlighted as an area for improvement in our last inspection, and limited progress has been made since then.
The service doesn’t have a talent management scheme to develop leaders and high-potential staff. It is improving the openness and fairness of its promotion processes. But there are still areas where more scrutiny, such as by involving the human resources team, would help.
The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders. There is a significant gap in its succession planning.