The Committee is asked to review and consider the actions taken to address the improvements areas identified.
Theresa Mortimer, Chief Internal Auditor (CIA) informed the Committee that the purpose of the report was to provide assurance to the Audit and Governance Committee that the IA recommendations made in relation to the independent investigation of GFRS have been / are being addressed.
The Chair welcomed Wayne Bowcock, Chief Fire Officer (CFO), Cllr Dave Norman (Cabinet Member for GFRS) and Jon McGinty to the meeting. The CIA reiterated that the CFO and his team continued to be very supportive of Internal Audit’s activities and their assistance was appreciated. The CIA explained that the reports were not an easy read, however, the focus should now be on addressing the issues identified to mitigate any future risk exposure.
In response to a question relating to the Adult and Child Social Care training and the widening of firefighters role. The CFO explained that there was a lot of context behind this element and that staff morale had been affected by the activity prevention function within their role. It was reported that GFRS was previously behind on this but with increased training, particularly on cardiac arrest this was being overcome. This was inevitably due to the legacy of the past, but the focus for GFRS was now on going forward and developing the concept of prevention, protection and response in order to develop a balanced role for GFRS staff.
The Committee were pleased to note that sickness absence levels had decreased within GFRS and that return to work interviews was now conducted as a matter of course. As this enabled management to understand the issues facing staff and could be monitored accordingly. Members felt it was important to increase staff morale in an effort to avoid sickness and stress related absences.
The CIA informed the Committee that generally sickness absence reporting across the Council was satisfactory, however it was recommended that absence, where policy required, was recorded via SAP to enable corporate monitoring.
Cllr Norman, Cabinet Member for Fire added that he and the CFO were actively going out meeting and engaging with the workforce in an effort to have an open and honest conversation with staff. The Cabinet Member appreciated that low morale was due to the service being scrutinised, however they were actively working to build morale and confidence in the service. There was another round of staff meetings scheduled for September 2019 and they were confident that the issues were being put right and the service was moving in the right direction and staff would continue to do a great job.
The CFO informed the Committee that he was working with Human Resources to tackle the workforce planning issues under the Strategic Policy. He was confident that welfare arrangements were now in place for those members of staff returning to work. It was noted that there was a slight increase in the last quarter but it was not dissimilar to other Fire and Rescue Services. He provided the committee with assurance that he was aware of the issues and was actively working to improve the situation. In addition the CFO now did a video log for staff in an effort to tackle morale issues. The audit reports now gave a clear expectation that staff could come forward and raise any issues that they may have.
The Committee appreciated that it was a difficult phase and staff were angry and embarrassed over the situation. However the audit reports now showed via management responses to the recommendations made, that the service was moving in the right direction. It was anticipated this would be reaffirmed by staff visits and staff surveys.
In relation to the staff survey it was explained that the last survey was undertaken in 2018 and that GFRS had received a poor response rate. The Fire Service were seeking feedback through consultation with the Strategic Leadership Team suggestion scheme, it is aimed that this will provide a view of the current position.
That the Committee reviewed and considered the actions taken to address the recommendations made and progress to date.