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Derbyshire 2018/19

Efficiency

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

Last updated 17/12/2019
Good

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

The service allocates its resources well, tailoring them towards protection, prevention and response activities. Local managers have the authority to take actions that target local risks.

Derbyshire FRS has a clear understanding of the financial climate it operates in. When it makes changes in how it spends its money, it considers how this will affect risks, and makes sure the changes are in line with its IRMP.

There is a clear link between what the service does at a local level and the objectives set within the IRMP.

The service has a strong collaborative partnership with the police, which has benefitted both organisations. However, it needs to evaluate its collaborative activities to fully understand those benefits.

The combined control room with Nottinghamshire FRS has made efficiency savings for the service.

Incompatible information and communications technology (ICT) systems have limited the service’s progress. However, it has made an investment to improve this area.

Derbyshire FRS has robust continuity plans that are well tested.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration.

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

Derbyshire FRS has sound financial management that is subject to scrutiny by the fire authority.

In the financial year ending 31 March 2019, Derbyshire FRS’s annual budget was £37.9m and it spent £39m. This overspend was because of one-off costs involving changes to the service’s control room. It has offset this overspend by generating income and using its reserves.

The service continues to face significant financial challenges, particularly because of substantial funding reductions and other economic challenges. Its medium-term financial plan identifies the main financial risks, including the level of pay and pension costs, and the possibility of further funding reductions in future. Since 2011, the service has made savings of £9.25m.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £18.62. This compares to the England rate of £22.38.

At March 2019, the service had total reserves of £10.3m, of which £8.4m was already earmarked. This included £2.2m for the future development of the service, including estate development and vehicle replacement; £128,000 for the development of purpose-built training facilities for the use of breathing apparatus; and £885,000 for the replacement of personal protective equipment. Just over £1.2m was allocated for developing ICT and mobilising systems with Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire FRSs. A further £1.3m had been reserved to offset borrowing costs and to fund future capital programmes. Finally, £315,000 had been ring-fenced to set up projects to identify future efficiencies.

The reserve funds are reviewed regularly and comprehensively by the strategic leadership team and the fire authority. Derbyshire FRS intends to reduce its reserves to £5m by 2022/23. A full review was carried out as part of the medium-term financial strategy and budget-setting process. This was reported to and approved by the fire authority in February 2019.

Productivity and ways of working

Derbyshire FRS has suitably allocated resources to the risks and priorities set out in its IRMP. It has integrated traditional prevention, protection and operational responsibilities. Rather than these being separate areas of the service, they are the responsibility of all staff.

Both wholetime and on-call firefighters complete safe and well visits. The service has committed an additional £300,000 to the on-call budget to enable them to complete these visits without negatively impacting on their training. Wholetime watch managers have been trained to a level 3 certificate in fire safety. These managers can use this extra knowledge to support the protection team.

Data provided by the service shows operational crews completed 3,700 hazard spots between April 2018 and March 2019. This reduces the demand on trained protection staff. Watch managers told us that they felt empowered to use their discretion and focus on local priorities, be that prevention, protection or operational demands.

Derbyshire FRS uses several working patterns for its operational crews. It has employed the use of day crewing, ‘weekday plus’, traditional wholetime and on-call, and a mixture of both. It recently changed the work patterns at Matlock and Glossop fire stations. This was done after a rigorous period of analysis and consultation with those firefighters affected by the change, as well as staff representative bodies. The service told us the new working patterns make sure that crews are better able to respond to the varied demographic and geographic risks in those areas. This change has only recently been implemented, so we await the results with interest.

Non-operational staff benefit from an open and inclusive attitude to flexible working. Staff were able to give examples where they had been able to change their working hours from the more traditional 9 to 5 to fit with family and other demands.

Collaboration

Derbyshire FRS has embraced the benefits brought by closer collaboration with other emergency services.

The service has a joint headquarters building with Derbyshire Constabulary. Nine fire stations are shared with the police and/or East Midlands Ambulance Service. Nottinghamshire FRS has combined its control room with Derbyshire’s, which has reduced staffing costs for both organisations. Co-location and collaborative partnership schemes are clearly central to the service’s wider capital strategy.

There is a single director for finance shared between the police and fire service. This role is responsible for monitoring the capital property programme and regularly reports to the fire authority. Derbyshire FRS told us that co-location reduces the property costs for all services involved, which provides better value for money to the public. It also increases the familiarity between emergency personnel, which helps them work better together when needed. Finally, co-location enables better information sharing, which improves the service to the local community.

The service collaborates with a wide range of partner organisations to improve the way they share information and work to tackle local community concerns. These organisations include local clinical commissioning groups, health and wellbeing boards, and multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

The service couldn’t provide any evidence of recent evaluation of its collaboration projects.

Continuity arrangements

Derbyshire FRS has a comprehensive suite of business continuity plans. In total, it has 46 separate plans, covering each function within the organisation. All plans are tested and reviewed annually.

The service has a business continuity and disaster recovery plan for its control room that has been agreed by all three services that make up the tri-service collaboration. This plan contains an exercising schedule, integrated resilience features and an implementation flow chart and guidance.

The business continuity plan for the ICT department is equally thorough. The service completed a desk-top exercise earlier this year that considered how it would respond to a cyber-attack.

Each station has its own bespoke business continuity plan.

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

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making its services affordable now and in the future. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to ensure it makes best use of technology to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and make sure staff can use the technology competently.

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

Derbyshire FRS’s future financial plans support the priorities laid out in its IRMP. The fire authority has set a balanced budget for 2019/20. To achieve this, the service will use £0.8m from its strategic risk reserve. 

The fire authority continues to make plans to deal with possible funding reductions and anticipates needing to save around £2.4m over the period of 2019/20 to 2022/23. This is kept under continual review. The fire authority has made clear that savings will be managed using reserves and careful consideration of resources. The substantial savings the service has made so far demonstrate its determination to address the dual challenges of economic uncertainty and financial restraint.

Derbyshire FRS has a comprehensive procurement strategy that covers a wide range of considerations, including environmental issues. It is an active participant in collaborative procurement at a national level.

The service works closely with the police on procurement and they consider jointly seeking bids for all contracts. Examples of savings made due to these arrangements include alignment of waste management, saving approximately £9,000 per year, and shared photocopying arrangements, saving approximately £30,000 over the length of the contract. There are plans to integrate ICT systems, such as those for human resources (HR) and payroll, where possible.

There is clear evidence that the service is investing for the future. It has an annual capital budget of £535,000 dedicated to ICT improvement. There is a capital budget of £5.6m for the purchase of new vehicles, which includes water carriers, specialist appliances and support vehicles.

Innovation

It is notable that the service has invested in ICT and developed its own systems. This enables it to have full control of those systems and easily modify them to meet its changing needs. An example of this is the EIS, which is used by prevention, protection and response staff to manage information about risk.

However, some staff expressed frustration at the number of different computer systems they must maintain. They provided examples of having to update several systems after an incident to record all the relevant information. Often these systems need the same information, such as an incident number, to be input, but don’t automatically update each other.

It is planned that investment in its systems and information strategy will enable the service to operate effectively and efficiently in the future. Staff will become freed to focus on their primary responsibilities, rather than updating computer systems.

Derbyshire FRS has a fleet strategy that supports its current and future service provision. The service has trialled replacing the second fire engine at Ashbourne fire station with a specialist road traffic collision vehicle. This vehicle is smaller and requires fewer firefighters to operate it, which makes it more agile when responding to incidents. When it has completed the trial, the service intends to carry out an evaluation.

The service is completing a trial of body-worn cameras for fire protection officers. These will be used to gather first-hand evidence when protection staff are considering a prosecution. The service is also using the collected footage to train operational staff and demonstrate common hazards found in public premises.

Future investment and working with others

As noted earlier in this report, Derbyshire FRS intends to develop its shared estate strategy with the local police and ambulance service. It has reduced the running costs of its properties, as these are shared with its partner organisations, and also receives a rental income from them. The police and ambulance service benefit financially from – among other things – a reduced maintenance budget and selling unused properties.

The property asset management plan sets out the service’s vision for expanding the number of shared stations over the next three years. Work has begun at Bakewell and Shirebrook fire stations, and plans are being made for Long Eaton fire station. The sharing of estates with Derbyshire Constabulary has saved the service an estimated £500,000 to date. A further £200,000 of savings has been achieved by collaborating with the police in other areas, such as shared roles and systems.

Derbyshire FRS’s transport strategy ensures that suitable and sufficient vehicles are purchased to support its future needs. The service seeks to manage, maintain and dispose of its vehicles in a way that will realise the highest possible return on its investment.