Bedfordshire 2018/19Read more about Bedfordshire
This is HMICFRS’s first annual assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.
The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.
The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.
The extent to which the service looks after its people requires improvement.
Zoë Billingham, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. But there are areas where the service needs to make improvements.
The service is effective at keeping people safe and secure. It is good at:
- understanding risk;
- responding to emergencies; and
- responding to national risks.
But it does need to improve how it prevents fires and other emergencies and the way it uses fire regulation to protect the public.
It should improve how it looks after its people. Specifically, it should do better at:
- promoting the right values and culture;
- ensuring fairness and promoting diversity; and
- managing performance and developing leaders.
But it is good at getting the right people with the right skills.
It needs to provide a more efficient service. In particular it needs to improve the way it uses resources. And it needs to improve the affordability of its service.
Overall we would like to see improvements in the year ahead.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. It uses data from partners to help set its priorities. Station plans reflect risks and priorities. The service uses social media more and more often to communicate with local people. But it should engage better with local minority communities. It gathers risk information about buildings well. It regularly tests response plans for high-risk buildings.
Generally, the service directs its extended home fire safety checks (known as safe and well visits) at those most likely to be at greatest risk from fire. Not all operational staff fully understand the value of these visits.
We found limited evaluation of prevention work. Also, not all staff are sufficiently aware of safeguarding and of how to refer vulnerable people for support.
While the service takes a risk-based approach to fire safety audits, it could improve its prioritisation. It should monitor its protection resources to maximise efficiency.
Both operational wholetime and on-call staff do fire safety audits. The service has:
- taken effective action with partners against rogue landlords; and
- reduced false fire alarms between the 12 months to 31 March 2017 and 12 months to 31 March 2018.
But it needs to be sure that staff use enforcement powers when needed.
The service responds well to incidents. It takes risk into account. It seeks to understand why response times are getting longer.
Some supervisors don’t understand the up-to-date national guidance. This relates to incident command. The service must also learn more from debriefing. It should share this more regularly with frontline staff.
The service prepares well with partners for major incidents. We found that staff know what procedures to follow, and test plans regularly. But not all operational staff know how to access risk information from other fire and rescue services.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The service bases its budget on realistic assumptions. But the service has taken limited steps to bring about efficient working practices. Its plans are largely based on what it did previously.
We found a lot of inefficient working practices at stations. These include:
- too much bureaucracy; and
- reliance on paper-based systems.
The service invested in some ICT. But it hasn’t invested as much in improving working practices which are inefficient.
It is continuing to rely on using its financial reserves, alongside its medium-term financial plan and efficiency plans, to ensure sustainability.
The service works well with partner bodies. It intends to collaborate further. But it should do more to evaluate the benefits to make sure it gets as much as it can from collaborating and other initiatives.
The service doesn’t consistently monitor operational staff workload. This differs between stations. Control room costs are high. The service recognises this. It must make sure it uses resources effectively. It uses wholetime staff to fill staffing gaps at other stations. On-call staff aren’t part of this process. The service should review this. The service’s operational equipment is good. Staff appreciate this.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
Wellbeing and fitness of staff are priorities for the service. Staff value the occupational health team and the support that the service provides. The service carries out a staff survey every two years. The last survey, in 2017, raised concerns about the behaviour of some leaders. Staff do not have confidence in raising grievances. Although it has since made some progress, the service recognises it needs to do more.
The service is good at training staff. Training facilities are excellent. But some operational supervisors did not understand current guidance on commanding incidents. The service trains already competent on-call staff who join the wholetime service. This might be inefficient and the service is reviewing this.
Turnover of on-call staff is high. A project started in 2015 has yet to improve this. The service should make its workforce more representative of the communities it serves. Some staff do not understand the value of this, or the case for taking positive action to increase diversity. A wholetime recruitment process in 2017 did not improve the situation. The service has reviewed the process and is making changes.
Staff feel positive about the staff appraisal system. Completion rates are high. But the service has no formal talent management process. There is no process to identify high potential staff. Staff lack confidence in the promotion process. Some operational supervisors have been reluctant to apply for promotion. The service is trying to understand why.