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WSFRS responds to HMICFRS inspection

24 June 2019

HER MAJESTY'S Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published its inspection report for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS).

This is one of 16 fire and rescue services which have been inspected as part of the second tranche of HMICFRS inspections nationally.

Responding to the report, Neil Stocker, Chief Fire Officer (Acting) said, “We acknowledge the findings and recommendations in the report and thank the inspectors for carrying out a detailed review of our service; the first of its kind.

“I want to reassure the public that the safety of our residents remains the top priority for our Fire and Rescue Service and we are determined to address the concerns raised in the report.

“The report identifies our areas for improvement but also a number of our strengths.

“Although there is always room for further improvement, last year we attended 9,292 incidents - up from the previous year, we attended 88% of calls within our response times and in our post incident surveys, 99% of residents tell us they are happy with our service.

“When the inspection team revisited our service in February they noted that we had taken on board their comments and have recognised the improvements we are making. They welcomed our detailed action plan which we will continue deliver as a priority.”

On culture: 

“We are committed to a culture which lives and breathes our values, where all our people are able to work in an empowered, collaborative and innovative way to make a real and positive difference to all our communities. Any behaviour that is not consistent with this ambition is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“I want to reassure staff that we take the report’s findings seriously and have already taken action to address the concerns raised.  We have developed a people and culture strategy, we are working with an independent organisation to run listening groups with our staff and we are in the process of appointing a diversity and equalities officer.

“To support this, we are planning to launch a new policy which includes clear guidance on bullying, harassment and victimisation at work and we are developing a mandatory awareness training programme for all staff.

“We value every member of staff and are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. WSFRS staff are represented on a number of county council staff groups and there has been progress on the proportion of our firefighters who are women. 8% of whole-time staff are female which exceeds the national figure of 5.5% and places us in the top half of the inspected fire and rescue services in tranche two.

“It is important to note the inspector’s advice to treat with caution the representative nature of staff surveys when fewer than 100 take part. We acknowledge the report’s findings, but also note that in our inspection only 76 members of WSFRS staff completed the survey out of a workforce of 698.

“I want to emphasise again, that our staff are our greatest asset and we will continue to make any improvements necessary to create an environment that celebrates difference and ensures equality.”

On inspection of buildings:

“We accept the findings of the report in this area and have taken action to improve the quality of data and are increasing the resource needed to clear the backlog of outstanding building inspections.

“We had a good understanding of this issue before the inspection as published in our risk report last year. The main reasons for the backlog included: a nationally recognised shortage of skilled staff trained to carry out audits and our prioritisation of high-rise building inspections in response to the Government request, post Grenfell.

“I am confident this backlog will be cleared as a key priority. We have produced reliable buildings data, we are recruiting trained staff and we are in the process of commissioning a third party organisation to help us clear the backlog. We are also on track to deliver a new data system by the end of this year and we have appointed a senior leader to oversee our protection work.”

On home fire safety checks (Also known as safe and well visits)

“We carry out 4,100 Safe and Well Visits every year. We have prioritised and cleared the backlog reported and we are confident this will not happen again.”

The report highlights some positive areas of the service including its ability to mobilise a multi-agency response to emergency situations as demonstrated in the response to the water shortage in March 2018, our staff training offer, staff satisfaction with personal safety and welfare, its understanding of local risks and its road safety work.

An Improvement Board has been set up to carry out an ongoing review of an action plan which addresses the recommendations in the report.

The HMI inspection team will return to review progress, in the Autumn of  this year.

Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for Safer, Stronger Communities, said, “I want to reassure residents that their safety is the absolute priority for the fire and rescue service and although areas for improvements have been identified, I welcome the progress already made in addressing them.

“For the last two years we have come to understand the challenges the Fire and Rescue Service faces and we recognise the observations made by the inspection team.

“We will support the Fire and Rescue Service in making the positive changes that are necessary and I have confidence we will deliver our action plan to address any outstanding concerns.”

The inspection report and improvement plan will be subject to scrutiny at a special meeting of the Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee on 10 July 2019 at 10:30am