Buckinghamshire 2018/19Read more about Buckinghamshire
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 requires improvement.
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 is good.
Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). But there are some areas where the service needs to make improvements.
The service is facing significant financial constraints and to its credit has developed and implemented an innovative, flexible and graduated approach to operational resourcing. It has adopted an intelligence-led risk and demand model which resources for low level daily demand and infrequent high risk. We recognise that this approach has the potential to be effective. However, the service is not able to sustain this model with the financial challenges it must work with and is ultimately not able to resource its prevention, protection and response activities.
The service requires improvement in its effectiveness. It could be better at how quickly and reliably it:
- responds to fires and other emergencies;
- protects the public through fire regulation; and
- prevents fires and other risks.
But the service is good at understanding the risk of fires and other emergencies. We have no concerns about how it deals with incidents. And its response to national risks is good.
For efficiency we have graded the service as requires improvement. This is fundamentally because it does not have enough people and money. It also requires improvement at making its service affordable now and in future.
The service is good at looking after its people. It is good at:
- promoting the right values and culture;
- getting the right people with the right skills; and
- ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.
But the service requires improvement to the way it manages performance and promotes leaders.
Overall, we would like to see improvements in the year ahead, but without increased funding, it is difficult to see where progress can be made.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An effective fire and rescue service 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. Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service has dealt with budget and workforce reductions over the past ten years. It continues to provide its main functions – namely prevention, protection and response – in increasingly tight financial constraints, striving to provide more with less. To its credit, it has reshaped its emergency response resources so they can meet current risk and demand. To do this it developed a unique risk and demand-led response model. The service has undertaken extensive research to understand where and when demand is greatest and has put in place a flexible workforce plan to achieve its priorities. Despite the service’s innovative approach, this model is ultimately unsustainable due to the financial constraints placed on the service.
The service understands the risk of fire and other emergencies and uses a wide range of data to inform this understanding. The service has an effective rolling five-year public safety plan. It collects and uses information effectively. But it could do more to assure itself that it completes all site inspections within the agreed timeframes.
The service requires improvement in the way it prevents fires and other risks. It shares data with other organisations to identify people particularly at risk. The service does attempt to visit those most at risk from fire. But its approach falls far short of the national average. The service does not evaluate its fire and wellness visits and can’t measure the impact of such work. It promotes community safety effectively and collaborates well with others such as Thames Valley Police and local authorities.
The service must improve the way it protects the public through fire regulation. Its audit and inspection rates are broadly in line with the average for England. But it is unclear whether the service completes pre-planned audit programme (PAP) inspections of identified high-risk properties within the stated timeframe. The service should ensure it effectively evaluates its current attendance policy on automatic fire alarms and consider, in particular, the impact on operational resourcing and the public. It does work with other organisations but its interaction with local businesses to educate them about complying with fire regulations is limited.
The service requires improvement to how it responds to fires and other emergencies. It has developed and implemented an innovative, flexible and scalable approach to operational resourcing based on an intelligence-led risk and demand model which embraces both immediate response and wider resilience requirements. However, it cannot consistently respond to risk with the resources appropriate to its public safety plan. Commanders have a good understanding of national guidance for decision making. The service holds debriefs and shares information to improve the way it works with staff.
The service is good at responding to national risks. It holds national assets for dealing with a variety of incidents. It works well with Thames Valley police and local authorities and has officers trained to support incidents that involve attacks by marauding armed terrorists.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An efficient fire and rescue service 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. Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
However, in one sense, it is highly efficient: it has an innovative deployment model which, if better funded, would be a cost-effective way of keeping people safe.
Management and representative bodies deserve much credit for the design and operation of this model. So too does the workforce, on whose goodwill and professionalism it relies. But the service cannot consistently sustain its available resources to meet both daily demand and provide additional resilience to meet infrequent high-risk events in accordance with its risk and demand-led model. It needs to ensure other departments’ productivity is not reduced to support the staffing model. The demand-led model has the potential to be effective, but it currently relies too much on its bank-based additional shift system.
The service is good at collaborating with others and has worked to operationally align with neighbouring services and with other blue light partners. This has improved effectiveness and efficiency, reduced costs and made savings.
The service knows its main financial risks. But, despite being aware of these risks, it can’t show plans for meeting the potential funding gaps. If any of the risks come about, it will have a significant impact on the service’s operation and its future sustainability.
The service collaborates effectively. It has joined with other Thames Valley fire services in procuring fire engines. And it has shared estates with other blue light partners.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
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. Overall, Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.
The service takes the welfare of its workforce seriously. It offers a wide range of services including counselling and trauma support. Its health and safety policy defines the responsibilities of staff at all levels and is effectively communicated across the service. Staff feel proud to work for the service to keep their communities safe. The senior management team works to build a positive and inclusive culture.
The service is good at providing a range of training and learning opportunities to its staff and is effective in monitoring and recording staff competency. It is effective in quality assuring the training provided to operational staff and continually reviews what training has been completed. It has a varied programme of training exercises, both within the service and with other blue light partners. Staff spoke positively about how operational learning is shared throughout the service.
The service is making efforts to be a more inclusive employer with the introduction of apprentices. But it can do more to reflect the communities it serves. The service is good at providing opportunities for the workforce to feed back their views and opinions. It effectively communicates to staff using a variety of methods including senior leaders visiting stations and weekly blogs.
The service has arrangements to assess and develop staff performance. But not all appraisals were being completed. It needs to do more to ensure every member of staff gets appraised. We couldn’t consider how the service identifies high-potential staff as it has no set process. But staff felt that promotion opportunities across the service were fair and open.