To receive a presentation on progress to address the two causes of concern identified during the recent HMICFRS inspection.
Mark Preece delivered a presentation to the Committee, updating members on the HMICFRS Inspection. It was understood that a full discussion on the inspection results would be held by scrutiny at a later meeting.
Members were informed that at a hot debrief in December 2021, the Lead Cabinet Member and CFO were notified that two causes for concern had been identified. This had then triggered a number of actions in response.
A resourcing plan process was agreed with the Chief Executive and an additional resourcing summary produced, which identified 39 new posts to be recruited over 2 years. It was noted though that recruiting to these roles would take time.
The types of roles which would be recruited to were explained to members. They included a dedicated role for dealing with Freedom of Information requests, as well as for civic events.
One member queried whether there would be a Deputy Chief Fire Officer post, in addition to two Assistant Chief Fire Officer posts? It was clarified, in response, that the principal officer team would consist of a Chief Fire Officer, a Deputy Chief Fire Officer and one Assistant Chief Fire Officer.
A further question was asked regarding the ratio between operational and support staff. In response it was estimated that just under 500 staff were employed by GFRS, 40 of which were support staff, however the numbers recruited to these types of post would increase. The majority of staff were operational given the nature of the service, with 120 whole-time firefighters.
Members were advised that more resilience would be provided to the Business Planning and Performance Team, with recruitment to Green Book posts to support the CRMP and health and safety. There would be an increase to the number of trainers within the Organisational Development and Transformation Team to increase the delivery of training on national and other guidance. Additional community safety advisors would be recruited, as well as a Road Safety Coordinator. Four dedicated station managers would be recruited. There would also be a role focussed on pensions.
One member queried the number of officers in post who would have gold command. In response it was explained that there were three qualified officers, and there would always be a principal officer available.
The CFO continued on to explain the causes for concern that had been identified. The first one outlined that the service had not done enough since the last inspection to embed its values and associated behaviours, and promote a positive workplace culture. The second determined that the service had not done enough since the last inspection to improve understanding of the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and remove barriers to establishing EDI in the service.
In response to these causes for concern, an action plan was produced by GFRS by 28 February 2022, setting out how the service was going to address the issues identified. As part of developing this action plan, the National Fire Chiefs Council was engaged with on best practice, and a peer to peer dialogue was established with the leadership team at West Sussex Fire Service as to how they had addressed issues with culture previously.
Members were advised that next steps included station visits to all locations and departments, briefing the wider service and staff, and setting up an account for staff to email anonymously to raise issues.
One member sought clarification as to how emails could be sent anonymously, whilst another sought clarification as to the focus of the HMICFRS inspection.
The Lead Cabinet Member stressed that there was nothing in the debrief or previous inspection report which indicted the public would not receive the service it expected. However, he acknowledged that the service had suffered over the past 5 or so years to build up that back office support, and this had been identified by the inspections. He believed the service was on a significant transformation journey.
One member commented that the service needed to be looked at as a whole.
Another member stated that the Committee’s role was to scrutinise the CFO and Lead Cabinet Member to ensure a continued upwards trajectory.
One member queried the efforts being made to ensure staff were participating with the action plan, particularly underrepresented staff. In response, the CFO explained that as GFRS had responded to the causes for concern and created the action plan, more staff had been engaged with and the plan could be updated as a living document. The EDI group and other groups would also be engaged with to ensure they had that challenging and constructive feedback.
He continued to assert that the Council recognised the value of GFRS and would help the service get to where it needed to be. It could take 5 years to address the finance and culture of the service but he was committed to that challenge.