Over the past few years, the organisation has adapted to reductions in public spending and changes in the demand for our services. We have been able to do this by changing the way we work but, more importantly, by having a very adaptable and highly-skilled workforce. The services we provide are totally reliant on having well-trained, competent and committed staff.
The Workforce Strategy describes how we plan to train, develop and maintain the competence of our staff across the organisation. It also considers how to deliver enough flexibility in the workforce, in contractual terms, so that we can continue to face the challenges ahead. During 2017, the Authority will be adopting a version of the national workforce strategy for fire and rescue services, which was developed by our Chief Executive.
The evolution of the workforce
Our workforce has changed significantly over the past few years. This will continue to happen as we change the way we do things and implement our plans to redesign our services. Our funding has been decreasing over the years and when firefighters or support staff have retired, we have considered carefully whether their role was still required or whether it could be carried out differently.
By streamlining processes and investing in new equipment and electronic systems we have been able to improve efficiency, generate savings and release staff capacity. These improvements have allowed us to maintain, or even improve, the quality of the services we provide despite the reduction in staff numbers. Whilst we will continue to identify efficiencies, we have reached a point where many of our firefighters have reached retirement age and we cannot reduce the numbers any more. This year we will start to recruit whole-time firefighters again.
Staff development and training
As demand for our core services declines, there is more reliance on training to ensure firefighters gain the required skills and can demonstrate their competence to do their jobs. As we expand the range of services we provide, for example by attending medical emergencies, we will ensure our staff have the skills they need to make the best possible contribution.
Last year we reviewed the way in which we deliver training to our staff and the outcomes of that review have resulted in the simplification of processes and the removal of the competency recording system. We have started to redesign the way we deliver training and this work will continue in the coming year. Our focus is now on the quality of the training that we offer.
To complement this work we are also developing a leadership programme, since it is important that we enhance and develop managerial skills. These skills will become even more important as we meet the difficult challenges ahead.
We need our workforce to work flexibly if we want to deliver high quality services in an environment where funding is decreasing. In 2014 we started to introduce a flexible rostering pattern of work in some of our stations. The new system was well-received and, since then, we have introduced it to all our day-crewed stations, the fire station at the Channel Tunnel, and our 999 team. Last year we started to introduce this system in our whole-time shift fire stations and will continue with the roll-out this year.
In order to increase flexibility of crewing we have started to use some of our fire engines when only three firefighters are available even though we always aim to have a minimum of four firefighters. We are also planning to review the arrangements for our on-call staff, to make the system more attractive so that more people join the system and stay with us for longer.
As the organisation prepares for the challenges ahead, we know that being successful depends greatly on having a culture fit to face these challenges. In 2015 we conducted an audit of our internal culture and the outcomes have been very useful in helping us define what the culture needs to look like in the future.
We have already started to implement a number of actions to support the cultural change that we need. For example, we have produced a new behavioural framework, have streamlined the internal promotion process, and have simplified the way we record competency. We are also devolving responsibilities more to empower managers. To complement this work a new management and leadership programme is being developed to support managers at all levels in the organisation. We will continue to implement these actions in the coming year.
Health and wellbeing
We care greatly for the health and general wellbeing of our staff. We recognise that sometimes changes at work or issues at home can affect our health and wellbeing. We have introduced a number of tools to help our staff manage their mental and physical wellbeing. We have also produced a training package to help raise awareness of mental health issues. We want to make sure our managers are able to identify and support staff suffering from mental health problems by directing them to the right resources.
Last year we signed up to the Workplace Wellbeing Charter as part of our ongoing commitment to support the health and wellbeing of our staff. The Charter establishes a set of standards relating to the health, safety and wellbeing of employees, against which organisations can assess themselves. In November 2016 we achieved the Excellence Award from the Charter.