To receive a report on the feedback from the HMICFRS re-visit in Autumn 2022
4.1 Mark Preece, Chief Fire Officer (CFO), presented this report. He explained that two causes for concern had been outlined from the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspection in September and October 2021. The first was that not enough had been done to embed values and associated behaviours since the last inspection and the second was that not enough had been done to promote the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion. In response to that inspection, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) produced an improvement plan that HMICFRS had signed off in March 2022. The November 2022 re-visit was for HMICFRS to assess whether GFRS were making progress along their improvement plan. HMICFRS recognised that progress was being made, that considerable investment was being made to improve the service and that there was a robust monitoring and governance arrangement in place. Communications was highlighted as a key factor that could still be focused on further and this would be addressed with a communications action plan.
4.2 In response to a question on whether all roles necessary to completing the improvement plan had been filled, the Chief Fire Officer explained that of the 38 posts required, only 1 or 2 were still vacant. He agreed with the member that staff treatment was very important and that it was a priority to stamp out any incidents of staff members being treated poorly.
4.3 There was some uncertainty over the initial planning for 28 new roles and the current target of 38. The CFO explained that the 28 posts were bid for initially, and then an additional 10 posts were secured in a second round of bidding.
4.4 It was also explained that GFRS improvement performance was being scrutinised in meetings with Wendy Williams, the South West Region Inspector for HMICFRS.
4.5 A member highlighted a recent Local Government Authority (LGA) report that identified fire authorities that were having problems with culture. It was noted that GFRS was not highly regarded in that report and that poor culture would likely affect retention of GFRS employees, particularly female employees. The CFO explained that GFRS had the highest proportion of female staff of all fire services and that his aim was to ensure the culture fit for every member of staff. He also explained that how valued staff feel in their role depends on how they are treated and how much they are invested in.
4.6 A member asked if GFRS was using examples from other Local Authority improvement plans to help in Gloucestershire. The CFO explained that they had reached out to the wider sector through the National Fire Chief’s Council to identify good practices in other services that could be learnt from. They were actively reaching out to other Local Authorities that had achieved improvements that had not yet been achieved in Gloucestershire to learn how to implement them. The CFO did acknowledge that a lot could be learnt from other examples, but that there would be certain unique cultural aspects in Gloucestershire.
4.7 In response to a question about the plans for improved communications, it was explained that bigger improvements were necessary beyond what was already being worked on. An added complication was that different staff wanted different things out of internal communications. The management team were actively considering staff feedback for decisions, taking on 10 out of 11 staff recommendations for procurement of new fire appliances. This adoption of staff feedback, however, was not always recognised.
4.8 A member asked whether further investment would be required to fulfil the improvement plan and achieve a ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ rating at the next inspection. The CFO explained that he did expect to be making further Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) bids, but all would be evidence based and linked to a clear service need.
4.9 There were some questions raised around uniform design and use. It was explained that there were national standards for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that would vary depending on the aimed function of the equipment/uniform.