Welcome and introductions
Stephen Mold (SM)
Helen King (HK)
Nicci Marzec (NM)
Paul Fell (PF)
Louise Sheridan (LS)
CFO Mark Jones (MJ)
ACFO Rob Porter (RP)
ACO Paul Bullen (PB)
Suzanne McMinn (SMcM)
Minutes and decisions of previous meeting
- SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.
- Apologies were accepted from ACFO Shaun Hallam
- Minutes of the previous meeting were circulated with the meeting papers.
- Outstanding actions from the action log have been updated.
- The Chief Fire Officer read out a prepared statement regarding the May minutes.
The Commissioner agreed to review the Chief Fire Officers statement and respond outside of the meeting.
HMICFRS report on Fire culture and values
At the end of March 2023 HMICFRS published its report relating to values and culture in Fire and Rescue Services. The report was a national assessment. The report provided some damaging and worrying reports on this subject. It contained several recommendations, many for Chief Fire Officers.
The Commissioner considers the values and culture within the service to be of key importance and as such requires a report from the Chief Fire Officer that contains the following:
- Whether he accepts all recommendations. If not his rationale for not doing so
- If so detailed updates in relation to progress against them all.
- Confirmation that any that should have been completed by the time of the report have been or where this is not the case an explanation as to why.
- In relation to all non-completed recommendations an anticipated completion date.
- An assessment on the internal culture in Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and how he thinks this aligns to the NFRS service values, national Fire Code of Ethics and whether he feels that NFRS has a fully inclusive and supportive culture.
- ACO Paul Bullen provided an overview.
- A single working plan exists that contains actions and recommendations to the ‘Spotlight’ and other recommendations from elsewhere.
- Progress has been made against a number of these.
- PB confirmed that 360 feedback process that was due by 1st June has been delivered with the caveat that merely completing the process doesn’t necessarily deliver an improved culture. It was however live and the same product is in use across Fire and Police.
- All 35 recommendations contained in the report have been accepted fully by the Service.
- A number of the recommendations had a 1st June deadline and have essentially been met or are close to being met.
- The Chief Fire Officer expressed concerns around the content, of some PDRs having noted that people seem reluctant to put challenge into them.
- The Commissioner asked what is being done to ensure this challenge take place and Nicci Marzec asked what moderation process is in place to ensure PDRs reflect actual performance.
- ACFO Rob Porter advised that PDRs were previously linked to the talent process (two systems: one old and historic).
- PB confirmed that the Chief Fire Officer has rightly identified that PDRs need as much information as possible as well as ensuring appropriate challenge conversations are happening.
- Commitment to development also needs to be reflected in PDRs to ensure the Service is investing in the right people and delivers on its promise to do so.
- The Chief Fire Officer mentioned that a training needs analysis needs to be carried out. Helen King asked how the annual Fire training plan can be constructed and complete if it is not linked to training needs analysis.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that it is more accurately reflected in a process of meeting the needs of what training is required by individuals and needs to look at the whole organisational needs as a whole.
- RP added, it might also reflect that a colleague might require specific training, for example where they have been promoted and therefore need to go on courses.
- NM commented that challenging conversations about performance should not just be linked to the appraisal process as that’s way too late to be addressing any performance issues.
- In relation to the Core Code of Ethics Fire Standard, PB confirmed that the Flag it (confidential reporting system) is now ready to launch once the licensing element has been finalised. He also confirmed that the e mail reporting system is live and has been used.
- This will be available to Fire colleagues via an App (same as police)
- Current reports go to only four designated people to review. This has been done deliberately to ensure confidentiality.
- Other independent routes are also available for reporting any concerns including Fire Stoppers, an external group if a colleague doesn’t feel comfortable using an internal source.
- PB then provided an update on a staff survey on the Core Code of Ethics.
- Over 100 responses have been received.
- The old Service values have now been replaced with the Core Code of Ethics and that is what all NFRS colleagues now aspire to deliver.
- PB confirmed that he has updated and recommunicated the whistle blowing policy.
- The external website has also been updated for public complaints.
- There was a discussion about the ‘Serving with Pride’ newsletter.
- Serving with Pride is the umbrella term which covers all training and not just about EDI. – The term came from training provider.
- The Professional Standards equivalent to the Police function is in progress; currently looking at options both in house and outsourced. This is being debated at the CFO senior management meeting later in June.
- Some of the Spotlight report recommendations have longer delivery dates on them and as part of the engagement process, staff have been written to individually with a confidential survey and safe to say scheme. (Protected characteristics). The survey can be completed and sent directly to HR
- Protected characteristic information now forms part of the recruitment process so this information should be more readily available going forwards. Staff are encouraged to declare such characteristics so that their needs can be met but it is not mandatory. Staff can also choose “prefer not to say”.
- The Chief Fire Officer asked who the confidential survey has been sent to
- PB confirmed that it was sent to everyone with a fire email address.
- The Commissioner was pleased to note that the Chief Fire Officer accepted the recommendations in the HMICFRS Spotlight report.
- PB agreed, as some Chief Fire Officers in other Services had not done so on the basis that there was a feeling that some of the requirements in the report exceeded the remit of HMICFRS.
- The Chief Fire Officer added that he was pleased to see that NFRS was well placed against the recommendations in the report.
- There was a discussion about recommendation 4 which relates to CFO’s being assured on how updates on any concerns are being shared with those who have raised them.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that he is currently not assured. Work is being done but he has not seen it. He is however confident that the work being done will lead to that.
- HK asked if there were any concerns that have already been reported through this route where people were not previously getting updates.
- PB confirmed there were, and Helen Cook is now managing this to ensure that they are getting updates now.
- The Chief Fire Officer reiterated that for him to be assured the process and the information raised will need to come back to the SMT.
- He is assured that concerns are properly processed but thought the process could be more embedded.
- Assurance was provided by PB on recommendation 5.
- On Recommendation 10. Relating to Common Law Police Disclosure powers in circumstances involving employees of fire and rescue services, PB and PF have a process flow to share with the Commissioner.
- Our joint HR function within Enabling Services will be a clear benefit in completing this recommendation.
- On Recommendations 11 and 12 relating to staff disclosure, complaints, and grievances, PB advised that these are linked.
- Progress is being made but cannot be completed until the revision of the national standard hence the 1st March 2024 deadline.
- The Commissioner asked if there would be any resource implications.
- PB confirmed that policies align to current versions so only minor tweaking is required.
- The Commissioner felt that non PFCC services are at a greater risk if a firefighter is arrested and doesn’t disclose their profession although there is a contractual obligation to let their employer know. A joined-up ES function like in Northamptonshire had the potential to assist in this regard.
- On Recommendation 14 which requests that Chief Fire Officers provide assurances that they have implemented the standard on misconduct allegations and outcome hearings, PB advised that there are currently four options being explored.
- The Chief Fire Officer has requested the costings for each option before a final decision is made.
- There was a discussion about Recommendation 20 regarding plans to ensure NFRS meet the Fire Standards Board’s leading the service standard and leading and developing its people standard.
- PB advised that assessments of compliance have been completed and documented.
- He explained they have worked through all the evidence to make sure they have a good understanding. They are now going back through the assessments as some have completed to a better standard than others.
- The Commissioner expressed his concern regarding one area of non-compliance in the Fire Standard relating to Leading and Developing People and two areas of non-compliance in the Fire Standard for leading the service.
- PB explained why this was the case.
- HK asked how long the Standards had been in place, to ascertain whether they should be completed by now and what the plan is for doing so.
- PB advised that they came out with Code of Ethics and the spotlight report in May 2022 last year.
- The Chief Fire Officer explained that the Fire Standards are very metropolitan centric adding that is difficult for smaller Services to keep up with the rate of implementation where larger services have significant numbers of staff to oversee this.
- The Commissioner confirmed he is more interested in the processes in place to monitor accepting some are not practicable.
- HK asked which Standards are being prioritised, how and in what timeframes.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that it is reasonable for the Commissioner to ask what Standards have come out, where the Service is with them and which ones the Chief Fire Officer has chosen not to adopt. This was agreed previously he will review annually.
- HK asked if he had a timeframe to provide that review and update to the Commissioner. The Chief Fire Officer advised he was unable to provide a date.
- On Recommendation 23 the Commissioner asked how Chief Officers were obtaining regular feedback from staff about values, culture, fairness, and diversity and show how they are acting on that feedback.
- The Chief Fire Officer commented this is about asking people who rarely interact with Chief Officers to comment on their performance.
- The Chief Fire Officer felt negative responses were anticipated due to the shape of HMICFRS questioning on historic cases.
- He advised that the process has been to stabilise, assess how historical issues have been dealt with and then make a current assessment alongside a plan for what the Service will do to meet the Standard going forwards.
- There is work to do to get people thinking that the line manager is their manager rather than the Chief Officer team. “Talk to your boss if you have a problem”.
- The Commissioner asked how this is being monitored and if any remedial action has been taken as a result.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that he did not want to give a knee jerk response to this recommendation before establishing the scale of the issue.
- PF asked what the timescale for compliance with this recommendation was.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that he would be able to progress the recommendation once he had full disclosure from the 360 questionnaires
- PB confirmed that information would be available by the end of July/early August
- There was a discussion about Recommendation 26 and work to improve the training and support offered to staff in management and leadership development.
- ACFO Rob Porter advised that operational training is being progressed, including more situational challenge.
- The Commissioner asked what the timeline is to correct some of the issues highlighted.
- This led to a comment from the Chief Fire officer that there was a lack of HR support due to sickness absence.
- Appreciating that there are named HR personnel assigned where possible, HK asked PB what cover arrangements are in place in HR and other ES teams.
- PB advised that they have tried to deliver this support with multiple people delivering across both Fire and Police way but that wasn’t working so have returned to dedicated fire people who might pick up a bit for police and vice versa. But that cover and resilience was still in place for the services when named contacts were absent.
- The Commissioner stated that he would like resilience built into this model.
- The Chief Fire Officer will discuss with PB as he has been told that HR don’t have capacity.
- PB Confirmed he was not aware of that and would investigate and respond to all outside of the meeting. He also asked senior colleagues in NFRS to make sure if there were concerns about lack of HR support to report them to him.
Action – PB to respond regarding the concern about resilience in HR support for Fire and respond.
- There was a discussion on training and upskilling as well as drawing on talent from previous experiences from other places.
- NM suggested they should identify what are the key skills line managers need to be able to deliver and cover them on a modular basis. This will create skills transfer between HR and managers to upskill them around basic HR demand. This would then free up HR managers to focus on issues that are more technical.
- There was a discussion about direct entry, succession planning and diversity.
- The Commissioner asked if these are in place or still being worked on.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed he is working on the final draft.
- On Recommendation 33, regarding plans to promote progression pathways ACFO Rob Porter confirmed that the Core Learning pathway has been developed and has made a difference. Firefighters now have access to qualifications that didn’t have previously. Fire staff can also see what will be given which wasn’t previously available.
- On Recommendation 34 regarding the immediate review and implementation of the Core Code of Ethics is being applied across the Service. PB confirmed this is being managed and delivered by Helen Cook.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there has been no negative feedback so far.
- HK asked if this covers everything.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed he felt it was encompassing enough.
- EDI will become mainstream like health and safety, and it is a question of normalising.
- The Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Officer how inclusive he considered the Service to be particularly for female firefighters.
- The Chief Fire Officer believed the Service was inclusive and had every reason to believe that staff will enjoy a harassment free career.
- There is more work to do to encourage applicants who are BAME.
- On the Chief Fire Officers assessment overall, HK asked him about his final sentence in his report about the work needed to move the culture of the organisation onwards and the wider plans necessary to deliver on that larger agenda.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that there is work to do on linkage.
- HK asked if he is able to identify what that work is and where those plans are.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised his intent is to have strategy on a page and aspire to a time when EDI is the way we do things rather than the thing we do. There will always be people issues because we employ people, but one individual does not define the Service, but way the Service deals with the individual does.
The Commissioner welcomed the fact that the Chief Fire Officer accepted all the 35 recommendations in the HMICFRS report.
He was pleased that the basic transactional things needed to be delivered as a part of those recommendations were completed or on the way to completion but stressed that there was more to do to get to the point where all involved could be satisfied and assured that the service reflected the culture that was expected.
He discussed with the Chief Fire Officer the CFO assessment that the service needed a wider overarching plan including EDI as well as it’s primary and legal missions and challenged when that would be the case.
While recognising the progress so far in terms of transactional activity the Commissioner was clear that he was not assured that we were where we needed to be in terms of culture and leadership and expected to see more progress. He will continue to receive papers at this forum until he is satisfied that is the case.
Following discussions at recent accountability board meetings the Commissioner requires a report from the Chief Fire Officer that sets out his proposals for the future of DBS checking of Firefighters and Fire staff.
The report should re outline the current process, as well as set out clear aspirations for his vision for DBS checking of personnel for the future. It should articulate the timescales for implementation and completion of this, as well as provide indicative costs for implementation and set out support required from the Commissioner for delivery.
- Suzanne McMinn, Head of Human Resources provided a paper which was accepted as read and asked for any questions.
- The Parliamentary process to allow DBS checks to be conducted for all roles has been through the House of Commons and is expected to be heard in the House of Lords today.(13th June)
- In NFRS, standard DBS checks have been completed for all staff in service delivery roles since 2014.
- This means that firefighters who joined prior to 2014 may not have been subject to this check.
- Currently there are 311 records that require some form of check or update. This includes up to 195 long serving firefighters and officers who will not have been subject to a DBS check.
- The Commissioner asked for confirmation of the number of staff who don’t have a DBS check or whose DBS check has expired. He also requested a breakdown of the role performed.
Action – SMcM to provide the Commissioner with the number of unchecked or expired DBS checks alongside the role of the person concerned.
- There was a discussion about the DBS checking service.
- Moving forward it is proposed that Enhanced DBS with barred list checks are carried out for all firefighters, Crew managers, Watch Managers and Station Managers.
- The Commissioner supported this proposal and agreed that checks should be renewed every three years.
- The Commissioner asked what process will be followed should any DBS checks come back with something that hasn’t previously been disclosed.
- The Chief Fire Officer did not want to prejudge this. He advised that he will review any issues on an individual basis taking into consideration if any undisclosed offence was committed before, or during employment with NFRS.
- The Commissioner stated that he would require a pragmatic view given that the Fire Service have a high level of trust.
- As the firefighter role map changes, they will invariably deal with more vulnerable people, so it is of the utmost importance that are appropriately checked.
- SMcM confirmed that the Service need a consistent process to manage any cases that are not straightforward. All agreed with this, that we were not able to determine before a case what might happen in an individual set of circumstances but a robust and consistent process would need to be developed.
Action – SMcM to agree a consistent DBS review process with the Chief Fire officer to include what to do should a check come back with any concerns.
- The Commissioner agreed to discuss with his fellow PFCCs and their Heads of HR to ensure there is consistency in their approach if possible.
- There was a discussion about a one-off cost in 23/24 for the staff who have not yet had any level of check.
- HK confirmed that this will be underwritten by the Commissioner this year if it cannot be met within the existing Fire envelope.
- It was agreed that all frontline firefighters, Crew managers, Watch managers, Station Mangers, control room staff and Chief Officers are required to have an Enhanced DBS check and that this should be updated every 3 years.
- Those that fall outside of these roles will be required to have a standard DBS check and that this should be updated every 3 years.
- HK confirmed that this should be built into the base budget going forwards
The Commissioner thanked all for the work delivered on this subject and for all recognising the importance of it.
He was in agreements over the types and frequency of checks that should be undertaken of employees in Fire and Rescue service in Northamptonshire, and that the position agreed properly reflected the role of what these staff do and undertake.
- PB provided an update on the Move It software data breach.
- He confirmed that NFRS doesn’t use the software but LGSS did and they provided services to NFRS after the governance change and it is that data which has been breached.
- No further business was raised.