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Cambridgeshire 2018/19

Efficiency

How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?

Last updated 20/12/2018
Good

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service makes good use of resources. But it needs to better understand the financial challenges that it may face after 2020. The service uses various working patterns. It is agile enough to change its systems to make them more efficient.

It works with its neighbours to take advantage of savings from working together. Its business continuity arrangements are robust. The public can expect a resilient service even during extraordinary events.

The service’s productivity is generally good. But it should avoid duplicating work in protection audits and collecting risk information.

Cambridgeshire FRS is good at making the service affordable now and in the future. It identified a way of saving £0.5m to the end of 2018/19. It has achieved those savings. It secures improved value for money through collaboration, innovation, effective procurement and use of technology.

The service has invested wisely for the future. It holds strategic reserves, with detailed plans for investment. The service manages its money well and strives to improve in this area.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making the best use of resources. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which fully consider the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2020 so it can prepare to secure the right level of savings.
  • The service should assure itself that it maximises its workforce’s productivity. It needs a more integrated approach to protection audits and collection of risk information, to prevent duplication and improve productivity.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

How plans support objectives

The service has clear arrangements to take informed operational decisions, in line with its IRMP. These are based on sound financial advice.

The service made savings early in the last spending review period. This means it was able to reinvest in fire engines and equipment to support its response plan and IRMP.

The medium-term financial plan (MTFP) is in place for the period to 2020. It is based on sound assumptions on government grant, levels of council tax and inflation. The service’s IRMP drives the MTFP.

However, we saw little evidence of plans to take account of future government grant settlements and other changes post-2020. When the service revises its MTFP it should consider a range of future financial scenarios. This will allow the service to prepare for the implications of different levels of government grant and changes in council tax precept. It can also see the effect of efficiency savings and foreseeable changes in the workforce, estates and vehicles.

The service allocates resources between prevention, protection and response following a review of the previous year’s base budget, adjusted for inflation and savings. There is further scope for the service to consider more sophisticated models of budget allocation, to target better resources based on its IRMP.

Productivity and ways of working

The service makes good use of a variety of working patterns to match resources to risk. There is a mix of wholetime, day crewed, on-call and volunteer firefighters.

The service has moved from a five-watch system back to a four-watch system. It has also introduced a more flexible approach to the staffing of special appliances. This combination has created efficiencies, allowing for the introduction of two roaming pumps. The roaming pumps have increased the availability of fire engines. They have also improved productivity, because crews carry out prevention and protection work in on-call station areas.

The service has also made changes to the working patterns of fire control staff. This has allowed the service to use existing staff more efficiently, matching resources to demand. The service is considering further improvements to this system to balance the organisation’s needs with the welfare of staff.

We saw evidence that unavailability of trainers during evenings and weekends limits specialist training opportunities for on-call staff. The service acknowledges that a more flexible working pattern for training staff would be more efficient and effective. It is considering options to do this.

We found a highly motivated workforce, carrying out a variety of prevention, protection and response activity. However, we saw limited evidence of a joined-up approach to this work. We saw examples of a protection compliance check visit followed by another visit by a different watch to collect risk information.

The service should ensure that there is a more integrated approach to protection audits and collection of risk information to prevent duplication and improve productivity.

Collaboration

The service is exploiting several opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the fire sector. The most notable is the combined fire control with Suffolk FRS. This is leading to ongoing efficiencies of £400,000 per year for each service. Collaborative procurement arrangements with Suffolk and Bedfordshire for a new mobilising system are also promising but at an early stage.

A shared ICT service with Bedfordshire FRS is well established but limited in scope. It offers the potential for further collaboration to improve efficiencies and resilience.

The service shares seven of its 28 community fire stations with Cambridgeshire Constabulary and East of England Ambulance Service. There are plans to share a further four. Plans are also in place to build a new joint training centre with Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

The service is also part of a joint strategic interoperability board with police and ambulance.

We saw evidence of review and evaluation of the combined fire control and ICT collaborations. But we saw little evidence of this taking place for other collaboration activities. We encourage the service to continue to review and evaluate all of its collaborations to ensure it understands fully the efficiencies and benefits realised and can spot any unintended consequences.

Continuity arrangements

The service has robust strategic business continuity arrangements. The plans include actions for when extraordinary events impact on its ability to provide an effective service to the public. We saw evidence of regular testing of the plans in relation to ICT and the combined fire control. The service has further plans in place to improve the resilience and business continuity arrangements of combined fire control, through collaboration with Bedfordshire FRS.

The service has good arrangements to assess and review the business continuity plans of its key suppliers. We saw evidence of resilience and fall-back requirements being included in qualifying criteria for tenders. The service regularly reviews these arrangements as part of its contract management process.

2

How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?

Good

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Improving value for money

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has a thorough understanding of the current financial climate in which it operates. It has in the past demonstrated it has the flexibility to change to meet financial challenges. We saw that the key financial decisions it has made are linked to risk and in line with its IRMP.

The service has fully achieved the planned savings of more than £0.5m that it identified to the end of 2018/19. It achieved this with a plan of action based on a review of efficiency savings during the period 2016–20. Savings have been made by revising the senior management structure and the shift system; and by collaboration efficiencies. It is encouraging to see that these savings have had no impact on frontline emergency response.

The service has sound arrangements for ensuring an effective procurement function. It is actively involved at a national level, looking into collaborative purchasing arrangements covering clothing, fleet, operational equipment, ICT, facilities, and professional services. We saw evidence of local collaboration with Suffolk and Bedfordshire FRSs in the procurement of a new mobilising system.

The service is at a relatively early stage in seeking to establish financial and performance reporting. However, it is encouraging to see some evidence of positive activity in this area. We will be interested to see this develop in the future.

The service has identified a variety of ways to increase productivity and efficiency. It may wish to consider the use of benchmarking, comparing its processes to best practice, as another option.

Innovation

We saw evidence that Cambridgeshire FRS is making use of technology to provide a more efficient service to the public.

The service transformation and efficiency programme (STEP) has introduced technology to automate and streamline business processes and procedures. An example of this is a new online, cloud-based recruitment process.

STEP has also streamlined the payment system for on-call staff. It has removed both the need for paper forms and duplication by populating multiple systems with a single data entry. The service is investing in alternative fire engines and equipment. These provide the possibility for more flexible approaches to crewing in the future.

The service continues to engage with staff to identify further potential savings and efficiencies. This joint approach provides a greater possibility for identifying innovative approaches to efficiency savings.

Future investment and working with others

The service is a member of the Fire and Rescue Indemnity Company (FRIC). This company provides indemnity against risk normally covered by larger insurance premiums. In addition to making financial savings, the nine member FRSs work together to reduce risk and share best practice.

The service has a sound reserves strategy. It allows for future investment as well as providing cover for future financial risk. It holds a level of general reserves which, at 1 April 2017, was 8.7 percent of the net expenditure. It also holds several specific strategic reserves, all with detailed plans for their future use.

The service plans to expand its shared estates programme and to improve the governance of ICT shared services. The service expects that both schemes will lead to greater efficiencies and we will be interested to monitor progress.

The service is continuing to work with Rotary Club, which makes donations towards the cost of smoke alarms. The service is encouraging social housing providers to fund portable misting systems within their properties.