How we inspect fire and rescue services

We carried out our first ever set of inspections of fire and rescue services (FRSs) in England during 2018 and 2019. This was the first time in over a decade that the sector had been subject to independent inspection.

We grade services in their performance. In future, as we complete more assessments, you will also be able to see changes over time.

As part of our inspection programme, we assess and make graded judgments on the effectiveness and efficiency of each FRS, and on how well they look after their people.

Choose a page from the list on the left to see for each inspection cycle:

  • the specific question sets; and
  • other information specific to that inspection cycle.

This page sets out the:

The aim of the inspection programme

We developed our FRS inspection programme in consultation with the fire sector. The inspection programme is designed to promote improvements across FRSs and must be approved by the Home Secretary.

As part of each inspection cycle, we publish an assessment on the performance of every service. This report will include graded judgments. We split each inspection cycle into three tranches. At the end of each tranche we usually publish a summary report of the themes found.

Our inspections give a rounded assessment of every FRS, including an assessment of:

  • the operational service provided to the public (including prevention, protection and response);
  • the efficiency of the service (how well it provides value for money, allocates resources to match risk, and collaborates with other emergency services); and
  • how well the service looks after its people (how well it promotes its values and culture, trains its staff and ensures they have the necessary skills, ensures fairness and diversity for the workforce, and develops leadership and service capability).

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Principal inspection questions

The principal questions, which the FRS inspection programme is designed to answer are set out below, along with the corresponding inspection focus.

Principal question Inspection focus
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks? How well the fire and rescue service understands its current and future risks, works to prevent fires and other risks, protects the public through the regulation of fire safety, and responds to fires and other emergencies, including major and multi-agency incidents.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks? How well the fire and rescue service uses its resources to manage risk, and secures an affordable way of providing its service, now and in the future.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people? How well the fire and rescue service promotes its values and culture, trains its staff and ensures that they have the necessary skills, ensures fairness and diversity for its workforce, and develops leaders.

Effectiveness

Our assessment of effectiveness will consider how well each FRS is performing its principal functions of:

  • preventing fire happening;
  • ensuring the public is kept safe through the regulation of fire safety; and
  • responding to emergency incidents.

An effective FRS will identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue risks its community faces. It will target its fire prevention and protection activities to those who are at greatest risk from fire. It will make sure businesses comply with fire safety legislation. When the public calls for help, the fire and rescue service should respond promptly with the right skills and equipment to deal with the incident effectively.

Efficiency

Our assessment of efficiency will consider:

  • whether the way in which each fire and rescue service operates represents value for money; and
  • how well it is matching resources to the risks faced by the public.

An efficient FRS will manage its budget and spend money properly and appropriately. It will align its resources to its risk. It should try to keep costs down without compromising public safety. Future budgets should be based on robust and realistic assumptions.

People

Our assessment of how each FRS looks after its people will consider leadership at all levels in the organisation, including training, diversity, values and culture.

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce.

Our inspection framework for fire and rescue services

We will gather information to inform our assessments using a range of methods that include:

  • analysis of documents and data;
  • reviews of operational incidents;
  • surveys of the public, and of FRS staff;
  • interviews;
  • focus groups; and
  • observations of fire and rescue practice.

Our inspections currently assess each FRS against every question in our question set, so we can build up a detailed understanding of their performance. In the future, we may consult with the sector on moving to a more risk-based inspection programme.

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Graded judgments

FRSs will be assessed and given graded judgments.

The categories of graded judgment are:

  • outstanding;
  • good;
  • requires improvement; and
  • inadequate.

Good is the ‘expected’ graded judgment.

Good is based on policy, practice or performance that meets pre-defined grading criteria that are informed by any relevant national operational guidance or standards.

If the policy, practice or performance exceeds what is expected for good, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of outstanding.

If there are shortcomings in the policy, practice or performance of the FRS, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of requires improvement.

If there are serious critical failings of policy, practice or performance of the FRS, then consideration will be given to a graded judgment of inadequate.

We publish the specific judgment criteria before we start each cycle of inspections. This criteria sets out ‘look fors’ to meet each of the four grades for each question inspected.

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Areas for improvement, causes of concern and recommendations

During our inspections, we will identify:

  • areas for improvement; and
  • causes of concern – with an accompanying recommendation.

Areas for improvement

If our inspection identifies an aspect of a fire and rescue service’s practice, policy or performance that falls short of the expected standard, it will be reported as one or more area(s) for improvement.

Area(s) for improvement will not be accompanied by a recommendation.

Causes of concern

If our inspection identifies a serious or critical shortcoming in a FRS’s practice, policy or performance, it will be reported as a cause of concern. A cause of concern will always be accompanied by one or more recommendations. We will recommend that the FRS(s) (and sometimes other bodies) make changes to alleviate or eradicate it.

Due to the serious nature of these shortcomings, we will regularly review fire and rescue services’ progress (and the progress of other bodies, where appropriate) in alleviating or eradicating a cause of concern. The method and timing of this review will be determined by the precise nature of the cause of concern.

How areas for improvement and causes of concern relate to graded judgments

The following table shows how areas for improvement and causes of concern affect the awarding of graded judgments:

Graded judgment of core question Cause(s) of concern and accompanying recommendation(s) Area(s) for improvement
Outstanding no no
Good no possible
Requires improvement possible yes
Inadequate yes possible

If a core question is judged as requires improvement and a cause of concern and accompanying recommendation is identified, an area for improvement may not be needed.

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