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Dorset and Wiltshire 2018/19

Efficiency

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

Last updated 19/06/2019
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. Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service:

  • allocates its resources well, tailoring them to protection, prevention and response activities; if it needs to adjust the allocation, it rebalances them after consulting delivery teams;
  • has a clear understanding of the financial climate in which it operates; any changes it makes in financing are measured against risk and are in line with the community safety plan; and
  • has put any savings it has made into its reserves.

Combining Dorset and Wiltshire fire and rescue services in 2016 has led to more efficient and productive ways of working. The service has made innovative changes to staff working patterns. The smarter ways of working programme, for example, allows staff to access emails and calendars from wherever they are located. This has cut travel costs and made their work patterns more flexible.

The service has also made savings through:

  • collaboration with Hampshire and Devon & Somerset FRSs; and
  • the one public estate programme, through which it shares 25 of its 60 buildings, mainly with the police and ambulance service.

Other measures of efficiency that the service has put in place are:

  • measures to counter cyber threats;
  • regular testing of business continuity plans; and
  • arrangements put in place should any systems fail in the control room.

The service should focus now on evaluating value-for-money and partnership contributions – which it is working on.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

Dorset & Wiltshire 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

The service conducts a strategic risk assessment and uses this to develop its community safety plan, commonly known as an integrated risk management plan. The community safety plan drives activity, and identifies the resources that are needed and how they will be balanced in line with the objectives.

The service allocates its resources well. It undertakes a benchmarking exercise and assesses the current position of its plans, and what the desired outcome is. It also evaluates the funding that it has to meet the objectives. We found that the service’s approach allows it to allocate its budget and resources to prevention, protection and response activities; this is linked to the outcomes set out in its community safety plan.

The service is proud of the way its supports public health through the resources it allocates to its prevention plans. It takes a broad view of its allocation of resources to support public health. For example, it will respond to alarms in sheltered accommodation, as it recognises they are more likely to involve slips, trips and falls.

If the service identifies over the year that it needs to adjust this allocation, it creates a business case for this, and does a rebalancing exercise after consulting the service delivery teams.

Productivity and ways of working

Since Dorset & Wiltshire combined their fire and rescue services in 2016, they have worked to unite the two separate management systems. This helps to promote more efficient and productive work. Areas within the service that have been combined include operational policies and procedures, training recording systems, pay and conditions, fleet management, performance management, HR and finance management. The service has followed a clear plan to implement this project and knows what systems still need to be harmonised.

The service has taken an innovative approach to the productive use of resources. The information technology strategy sets out clear objectives in five ‘roadmaps’ covering the period 2016 to 2020. One objective is the introduction of ‘smarter ways of working’. This has involved switching to the cloud-based operating platform, which has made the working arrangements of all employees more flexible. Staff have access to existing facilities such as email, calendars and management systems from wherever they are located. The service estimates this has saved it £120,000 a year on travel. New methods of communication allow staff to communicate via an internal social media account and internet telephone conferencing. Staff have welcomed these software solutions. They say they have made the working environment modern, flexible and agile, allowing them to work from anywhere within the service.

Collaboration

The service collaborates with Hampshire and Devon & Somerset FRSs. The three services have a networked mobilising system. This arrangement forms part of the NFCSP. Operational advantages include the mobilisation of the nearest responders, irrespective of county borders, faster responses to emergency calls and greater resilience and business continuity if systems fail.

The service has taken a positive approach to the Local Government Association’s programme of ‘one public estate’. This encourages the public sector to make efficiencies by sharing estates. The service shares 25 of its 60 buildings with other organisations, mainly with the police, ambulance service, local authority and HM Coastguard. Lyme Regis fire station is shared with Dorset Police and South Western Ambulance Service. Although the service does not earn any money from these arrangements, it saves money by sharing overheads such as maintenance costs, business rates and utilities. Sharing facilities also creates new opportunities for partnership work.

The service has identified that it needs to focus more on evaluating its value-for-money and partnership contributions. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this work.

Continuity arrangements

The service has good security measures to counter cyber threats. It often tests business continuity plans. Contractors give its systems and data centres regular ‘health checks’. The service sets up a crisis management team, when it undertakes routine testing of software upgrades, for example. This means plans can be put into place fast if systems fail.

All fire stations and departments have business continuity plans. There are specific incident response plans for severe weather or loss of power to a site, for example.

The service has robust business continuity arrangements for the control room function. If any system fails in the control room, it will automatically cut over to the two other control rooms in the partnership. This guarantees that deployment of appliances to incidents will not be interrupted.

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

Annual savings of £4.5m identified from combining the two fire and rescues services have now been delivered. The service has a good track record of making savings and balancing annual budgets. In previous years, it has transferred surpluses into reserves and earmarked them for future projects.

The 2018/19 budget requirement for the service is £54.5 million. Savings to meet future financial pressures for the remaining years of the medium-term financial plan have been identified as:

  • 2018/19 – £0.34m
  • 2019/20 – £1.45m
  • 2020/21 – £2.09m

In the financial year 2017/18, the service had around £15.6m in earmarked reserves and around £6.7m in general reserves. Some of these savings will be met from general balances and earmarked reserves to support transformation and efficiencies.

The service has a good understanding of the current financial climate in which it operates. In the past, it has shown 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 are in line with its community safety plan.

The service has also identified other savings that it will need to make. It is in the process of developing proposals that will be considered by the fire authority. In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £18.82. This compares to the England rate of £22.38 over the same time period. However, many factors influence this cost, for example the ratio of wholetime to on-call staff which is in part influenced by the rurality of the service. 

Innovation

Dorset & Wiltshire FRS is committed to making more changes to improve services and save money. It has introduced new software solutions and smarter ways of working for staff. It already provides frontline staff with MDTs to assess risks at incidents. It has now also installed a second demountable MDT that crew members seated in the rear of an appliance can use. This means crews can access risk information on the way to incidents more quickly.

As at 31 March 2018, the service had 3 wholetime, 37 on-call, and 10 mixed fire stations and 74 operational fire engines. The fire engines all have the same specification and size but operate in different built environments, such as rural and urban areas. It is looking at whether different sized fire appliances might replace the larger, conventional fire appliances. It has procured an aerial ladder platform (ALP), which is a vehicle for working safely at height. This replacement ALP can reach greater heights than the current vehicle.

Future investment and working with others

The service works with other organisations and categorises its partnership work arrangements in three main areas:

  • blue light partners;
  • local government; and
  • other partnerships.

We saw details of a range of partnerships that the service is involved in and examples of where they had delivered positive outcomes for the public. One example concerned partnership work with a local authority. This led to vulnerable residents being targeted for a safe and well check.

The service maintains a corporate risk register. This describes a number of risks to the service, and how it intends to reduce or manage the risk. The register indicates the need to maintain £2.5m (5 percent of budget requirement) in general reserves as a contingency for any unplanned event. Earmarked reserves are included and allocated for matters that often cause financial pressures, such as ill-health retirements and insurance.