Essex 2018/19Read more about Essex
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 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 Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). But there are several areas where the service needs to make improvements.
We judged Essex County FRS to require improvement to the effectiveness of its service. It requires improvement to how it:
- understands the risk of fire and other emergencies;
- prevents fires and other risks; and
- protects the public through fire regulation.
But it is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. And its response to national risks is good.
The service’s efficiency requires improvement, in particular to how it uses resources. But it is good at making its services affordable.
The way Essex County FRS looks after its people requires improvement. We judged the way it promotes the right values and culture to be inadequate. It requires improvement to how it:
- gets the right people with the right skills; and
- ensures fairness and promoting diversity.
But it is good at managing performance and developing leaders.
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?
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. Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service needs to better understand the risk of fire and other emergencies. Its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) sets out its priorities. But there is no effective mechanism to translate this into operational activity.
The service needs to improve the way it prevents fires and other risks. There were some good examples of prevention work, such as road safety and in schools. But the service isn’t doing enough home fire safety checks. Other organisations pass on referrals for some of these checks to the service.
The service needs to better protect the public through fire regulation. The service is aware that it hasn’t met the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme. It is failing to meet its targets for the number of audits it plans to carry out. And it isn’t effectively targeting high-risk premises.
We have concerns about the service using operational staff to carry out fire protection visits to high-risk premises. They don’t have enough training to make judgments about fire protection issues.
The service is good at responding to fires and other emergencies. Incident commanders have good access to risk information to help them manage incidents. But the service should make sure that it is meeting its response standards. It needs to learn more from operational incidents.
The service is good at responding to national risks. And it has provided staff and equipment to support services in other parts of the UK and abroad.
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. Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The service has clear financial plans that balance its budget to 2024 and include making savings. An example is cutting costs by changing the crewing system at four of its fire stations. This is due to be in place by 2020 but is likely to take longer than expected.
The service invests in technology that will improve its service to the public. But we saw some computer systems that may increase staff workload.
There is a lack of planning for allocating resources to prevention, protection and response activities. For example, there is a shortage of fire protection inspectors. The service isn’t using its firefighters to carry out home safety visits. But it states in its IRMP that this is a big part of its day-to-day work.
The lack of annual leave policy potentially enables staff to affect fire engine availability by taking leave at short notice. The service addresses this by using overtime payment for other staff. But this is expensive.
The service has a range of business continuity plans to deal with potential impacts on its ability to provide a service. But most of these haven’t been tested or exercised.
The service has done some good work with other FRSs around joint procurement of uniforms and equipment. This has helped improve efficiency. It plans to work more with other services.
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, Essex Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
There is a need for significant improvement in the organisational culture of Essex County FRS. The service has a legacy issue of failings at all levels, including inappropriate behaviour and bullying. These failings were highlighted in an independent review in 2015. The service has since moved under the governance of a police, fire and crime commissioner and has appointed a new chief fire officer, who in turn has appointed a new service leadership team.
The police, fire and crime commissioner is clear about the need to continue to improve culture. There is a strong commitment from the chief fire officer and her team to address these issues, and recently introduced initiatives are designed to help with this.
A good start has been made, with positive feedback from staff on visible improvements. However, the scale of the challenge is significant. Embedding strong positive values through every level of the organisation will take time, and there is a lot of work to do. Poor data around workforce diversity makes effective analysis difficult. It is also clear that some staff don’t fully understand the benefits of, and need for, diversity. We were disappointed to find examples of behaviour that don’t reflect the service’s values, and concerned to find reports of bullying and harassment made by staff not being addressed by some managers.
Some firefighters have secondary contracts of employment outside the service. The service only has records of very few of these, although there is a robust policy in place. It should make sure that these staff are well rested and safe to work.
There isn’t enough assurance to make sure that competence levels among staff are being maintained through training. The service is taking this seriously and is investing £1.4m in improving operational training.
Significant work has been done to improve the appraisal process and completion rates have dramatically improved. Staff told us that they welcomed the new approach of senior managers, but they said middle managers needed to be braver in tackling poor performance.
The service has good processes for looking after staff wellbeing. This includes supporting personal issues outside work. Staff who have used these services have praised them. However, others don’t know this support exists. The service is good at looking after its staff’s health and safety, and it learns from accidents and dangerous occurrences.