The first independent review by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), released on Thursday, 20th December, has seen Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) rated as 'good' in the majority of areas inspected.
The inspection looked at how effectively and efficiently the Service prevents and protects the public from, and responds to, fires and other emergencies. It also examined how well the organisation looks after its people.
In particular, HMICFRS praised the Service for its effectiveness in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks; understanding the risks facing the local community; its work to prevent fires and protect the public through its fire regulation activity. The report also highlights that the Service's response to fires and other emergencies is good, that it is efficient and uses its resources well.
Chief Fire Officer Mark Cashin said: "I am pleased that the Service has been independently recognised for the work it does across Cheshire to keep people safe from fires and other emergencies. I hope this reassures the community we serve that Cheshire is amongst the highest performing fire and rescue services to have been inspected and that it is operating effectively and efficiently."
However, HMICFRS did state that the Service requires improvement in how it looks after its people to give a consistently good service. Areas identified as requiring improvement were: promoting the right values and culture and ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.
The inspectors recommended that the Service improve the access and visibility of senior officers and improve the flow of communications between managers and the wider workforce.
Mark Cashin explained that work was already ongoing to address some findings within the report.
He said: "The Service has been through a significant amount of change in recent years and engaging with staff to promote a positive culture is a key priority for myself and other leaders within the organisation. We recognised this in our own self-assessment and action is already underway to address the findings of the inspection.
"Myself and senior managers have undertaken over seventy visits to teams over the past five months to engage with staff and listen to their views and concerns. We will work with Members of Cheshire Fire Authority to develop action plans to address the findings of the inspection and improve the Service even further.
"Overall this is a good report, with Her Majesty's Inspector pleased with our performance and commending our successes. I would like to express my thanks to staff across the organisation. I believe that our people are our best asset and this report highlights the good work they do across Cheshire every day. They should be proud to work for a high-performing fire and rescue service."
Nationally, most fire and rescue services inspected - including Cheshire - were found to be operationally effective. HMICFRS did however emphasise that services needed to improve the culture in which staff work and encourage a diverse workforce.
In addition to the actions being undertaken to engage with staff, CFRS has undertaken a significant amount of work to attract potential recruits from traditionally under-represented parts of society.
Mark Cashin said: "The Service has made great efforts to increase the diversity of its workforce; it has been recognised nationally as the highest performing emergency service within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, undertakes a number of positive action recruitment events aimed at under-represented groups and has recently introduced significant changes to its maternity policy. Increasing the diversity of our workforce has been, and will continue to be, a priority."
Commenting on the report for Cheshire, the Chair of Cheshire Fire Authority, Councillor Bob Rudd said: "I welcome this independent assessment of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service by HMICFRS. This is a positive report overall and I am pleased that the inspection team have highlighted the wide range of good work that the Service undertakes.
As a Fire Authority, Members and I are supportive of the Chief Fire Officer and other officers in taking forward actions to address the areas of improvement identified in the report. Work is already underway in some of these areas and going forward the Authority will monitor progress against these actions."