SECTION 5 - DELIVERING THE VISION - THE WORKFORCE
Leadership and People
52. The delivery of a balanced prevention and intervention agenda requires an examination of how best to organise, manage and develop the fire service and the workforce. The workforce will continue to be the key resource and the contribution that they are allowed to make will be essential to the delivery of a full and developing agenda. Key issues are:
- the health and safety of the workforce;
- the proactive encouragement of equal opportunities;
- a review of training to meet the requirement to update skills;
- the development of leadership through the introduction of an Integrated Personnel Development System; and
- using effective occupational health provision in tackling both sickness and absence rates and the continuing high rate of retirement on ill-health grounds.
53. This approach echoes the wider programme across the UK. The Integrated Personnel Development System (IPDS), for example, represents a major UK initiative in which Scotland intends to play its full part. IPDS provides the framework to enable individual members of the fire service to meet the increasing skills and educational requirements placed upon them and to be able to demonstrate their proficiency. It is therefore a most significant development, which the Executive recognises and supports. Furthermore, increasingly, training for firefighters needs to reflect the wider EU and international environment and Scotland has a role to play on this stage and at the same time working to continue the open cross border movement of personnel, which is essential within the UK.
54. This open movement of personnel commences from a position of common entry standards supported by legal controls and continues through the appointment process. There is no intention to break this link and although different legal requirements already exist for appointments at the most senior rank, between Firemaster and Chief Fire Officer, the drive from the Executive is for complementary action to retain the common standards of the UK Fire Service.
55. The task of modernising cannot be underestimated. There is a need to review a range of cultural and leadership matters. 9 This needs to be targeted on introducing non-discriminatory standards across the board, tackling issues such as bullying and harassment and equipping the fire service leaders of the future with the full range of relevant management skills. Although the fire service is a "uniform" service, the number of ranks and the organisational structure varies from brigade to brigade. In Scotland, three of the brigades are organised on a traditional divisional structure with the remaining five organised on a functional structure. Much of this reflects the diverse establishment and coverage of each brigade. For example, Fife Fire and Rescue Service covers a population of just over 350,000 within 1.7% of Scotland's total land area, whereas Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade covers a smaller population of around 279,000 but this is spread across nearly 40% of Scotland's total land area.
56. Firefighters fall into three categories:
- wholetime - employed on a full-time basis operating 24 hours on a rotating "watch" system.
- retained - part-time employees who receive an annual retained fee and other fees for turnout; and
- volunteers - who receive an hourly fee for any authorised duty that they undertake.
The uniformed complement of a fire brigade also includes the fire control staff, who operate the command and control systems. In addition there are support staff and managers who work in the areas of Information Technology, Finance and Human Resources, etc.
57. The breakdown of the Scottish Fire Service workforce by gender and ethnicity is given below.
Table 2: A breakdown of Scottish Fire Brigade establishment by gender and ethnicity
58. The requirement to deliver Best Value underpins the need for an improvement in health and personal well being through effective occupational health provision, dignified and fair working arrangements, and personal development. These help address issues such as inequality, sickness, ill-health retirement, absence and skills gaps all of which mitigate against effective performance. Any changes in this area will inevitably impact on the role of the Scottish Fire Service Training School (SFSTS) and the Fire Service College.
Equal Opportunities and Cultural Changes
59. Employment in the fire service is open to all members of the community but is sometimes seen as exclusive. This matters a great deal to those who want to join or use the service and is also recognised by the service itself. In December 2000 the Scottish Fire Service, represented by CACFOA, CoSLA and the FBU in partnership with the Executive confirmed its commitment to equality and social inclusion by signing an Equity for All agreement developed by the Scottish Fire Service Fairness and Diversity Forum. The Executive and SFSTS will seek to ensure the principles of that agreement are fully supported.
60. The commitment is clear but the service now needs to take tangible steps to ensure that in terms of recruitment, selection, advancement and training it can unequivocally demonstrate the reality of a fair organisation. Work is already underway including the production of good practice guidance; evaluation of premises; promotion of fire career awareness for women and support on diversity issues for managers. The HMCIFS in his most recent annual report 10 has highlighted the need to demonstrate continued commitment to encourage under-represented groups to join the service. Initiatives such as working in partnership with ethnic community leaders, with women action groups and supporting the networking activities of the minority groups within the service would all help.
The Executive is disappointed that there is not more women and people from ethnic backgrounds attracted to a career in the fire service. It will look to the Fairness and Diversity Forum for initiatives and ideas to address this situation.
61. EU employment legislation is already having an impact on the fire service. For example the EU Working Time Directive which was given effect in the UK under The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 is being used to challenge retained firefighters entitlement to the Firefighters Pension Scheme and other elements of pay and conditions. Other relevant influences have included, Council Directive 76/207, which introduced the principle of equal treatment for men and women on access to employment, vocational training, promotion and working conditions; and Council Directive 89/656/EEC, which introduced minimum health and safety requirements for the use of personal protective equipment in the workplace.
62. Similarly, developments within the EU on a cross-section of different policy areas are affecting the fire service. In particular, these policies may influence vocational training through a European-wide standard of technical and professional attainment. A project on this work was completed under the EC Leonardo da Vinci programme. 11
63. A further significant EU initiative is in the area of fire safety where new harmonised standards for fire safety systems and products are under development, mainly as part of the implementation of the EC Construction Products Directive. There is an increasing trend towards European standardisation as reflected by the EC Directives implemented by the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 as amended. This placed responsibility for fire safety on the employer and, in turn, has led to a much stronger enforcement role for the fire service.
Health and Safety
64. The health and safety of those who risk their lives in protecting the public is a matter of high importance to the Executive. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has applied to the fire service since it came into operation. More recently, however, the development of the health and safety agenda has been given added impetus 12 by setting targets for reducing health and safety incidents as a precursor to tougher sentences for health and safety offences.
65. This change requires the fire service to develop stronger partnerships with the Health and Safety Commission and bodies representing staff to ensure that exemplary standards of health and safety within the service can be demonstrated. This will remain an important activity for the Scottish Fire Service and the Executive will continue to work with the Health and Safety Executive to improve the health and safety of the fire service workforce.
Working in Harmony
66. The Executive recognises the complexities of a workforce which comprises full- and part-time workers with variable working conditions. However, it does not propose a departure from the current approach of developing matters relating to discipline, appointments, recruitment or general conditions of service on a UK basis so long as it is clear that they work to the benefit of the people of Scotland. It remains content that the proper place for these discussions, negotiations, consultations and agreements is the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades.
A More Professional Fire Service
67. The term "firefighting" is part of everyday language simply because it means providing an immediate and effective response. The "can do" attitude of fire service personnel is widely appreciated and praised. The fire service of the future will require even wider skills. Educational development, improved self-assurance and higher technical and managerial skills will have to be developed so that identification of the firefighter as a skilled manual worker will progressively change into the firefighter as a skilled technician.
68. Increasing responsibility for fire prevention and an expanding emergency role will add to the already extensive training requirements. Keeping skills up to date in essential areas will require new thinking and attitudes to learning. How the fire service adapts to these changes will become the measure of how it is perceived as a profession. Agreement between those who represent the public and those who provide the service on what the modern firefighter of each rank is expected to contribute, will be an essential step towards ensuring the fire service delivers what communities require.
The Executive recommends that all fire service personnel be developed in a way that will enable them to meet the challenges of delivering a balanced prevention and intervention agenda and improved public standards.
69. To deliver this challenging "people" agenda requires a well trained and competent workforce. Already considerable effort and investment to achieve this is made locally, nationally and at a UK level. Brigades provide local courses. The Scottish Executive, both at its own establishment - the Scottish Fire Service Training School (SFSTS) in Gullane, near Edinburgh - where recruit and continuation training occurs, and through the funding of progressive training for fire officers at the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh in England, contributes significantly.
70. All stakeholders recognise that the current level of provision needs to increase if fire service personnel are to be able to acquire and maintain new skills and realise their potential. Complementary work at a UK level, to introduce new learning regimes and deliver systems to enhance competency, reinforces the point.
71. The Scottish Executive has therefore begun to restructure its own commitment and approach to fire service training. It has put in place a system for co-ordinating and developing a national strategy for training. This strategy, centred more on analysis of needs and delivery outcomes, will seek to promote a proactive and co-ordinated delivery of fire service training to all staff. Modern delivery methods and rethinking of existing local, national and UK practices will be used to ensure value and quality are maintained.
72. Scottish Fire Service interests are all agreed - not least because of the significant expenditure involved - on the need for this strategic approach to the delivery of fire service training in Scotland. The first steps are already underway to deliver this with the appointment of a Director of Training at the SFSTS who will have the role of directing the strategy and delivery of training. This management structure has been further strengthened by the appointment of a Head of School and Chief Instructor. A Central Training Advisory Committee representing all the stakeholder interests, to set the strategic direction and monitor the effective delivery of training, has also been established.
73. Demands to meet the challenges described in paras 52-53 require skills and practices which increase public and firefighter safety. Ensuring the health and safety of firefighters in new and demanding situations must remain a priority. A balance has to be achieved, which, in recognising the role of the fire service at the centre of rescue and emergency relief operations, does not over extend or encroach upon the responsibilities of other organisations.
74. Seeking this balance will become the focus of further attention as the role of the future fire service evolves. The Scottish Executive is not seeking to expand the firefighter's role other than where it is clearly in the public interest and where safe practices can be properly applied. Wider roles will create demands both for flexibility and the maintenance of core duties.
75. The proposed change in fire service priorities discussed earlier will require the adoption of new skills by all of those working within the service. Equally a number of reviews and working groups have reported on the need for consistent national standards.
76. It is encouraging that the evidence gathered from the eight Scottish brigades during the Steering Group Structure Review confirmed that they all believed there was scope for sharing training resources with both other brigades and external organisations. Collaboration already exists with some brigades offering courses aimed at the external market. Those concerns which were highlighted related to the limited opportunities for collaboration due in the main to the geographical distribution of personnel. All of this points to developing more creative means of delivering the right training to the right people at the right time in their careers. In the Best Value context, there is a need to balance local and national delivery at all times.
77. The Structure Review showed that some of the smaller brigades within Scotland were unable to provide the full range of internal training that is delivered by the larger brigades. In terms of national delivery there is scope for more collaboration in this area and the role of the Scottish Fire Service Training School (SFSTS) needs to be examined. This examination cannot be carried out in isolation. The plans for developing the role of the fire service College in England, relevant and compatible training offered by other institutions and organisations, training requirement in the wider EU context and the potential for localised delivery of national training through e-technology, have all to be taken into account.
The Executive recommends the development of a strategic approach to the delivery of fire service training. This is being achieved through the establishment of a new Central Training Advisory Committee and the appointment of a new Director of Training who will:
Consult with key stakeholders to develop a strategic plan for the organisation and development of fire service training in Scotland. This plan will meet the identified competencies, skills and professional requirements of uniformed staff.
Lead, represent and participate in agreed working forums to develop and improve training.
Seek to achieve, through collaboration, advice and joint working Best Value in all matters related to fire service training.
Develop and co-ordinate generic training publications and guidance.
Support the successful implementation of key recommendations.