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Hampshire 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

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

The service manages its budgets well. It has been able to make the necessary savings in recent years. It has made realistic plans based on sensible, if slightly cautious, financial predictions. Some of the savings that still need to be made rely on having a more flexible and cost-efficient workforce model. Use of the service’s reserves supports change projects. The service should review whether these funds are sufficient to support all the major projects it has planned.

The service should make better use of the data available which shows how efficient it is or not, compared with other fire services. There are several areas where the service could improve. In addition, there may be better ways to support the change programme and reduce the cost of its support functions.

The service is good at collaborating. It assesses whether these arrangements are working well and makes changes when necessary.

Hampshire FRS makes sure it can recover from unexpected events that might affect its services. It has plans in place and tests these regularly. However, it should extend these plans to cover a wider range of threats and risks, particularly at individual fire stations.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

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 developed its objectives in line with its IRMP. These include identifying existing and potential risks to its communities and assessing the effectiveness of the current preventative and response arrangements.

Hampshire FRS manages its budgets well. The chief finance officer and his accountants have extensive experience in the public sector. The service has achieved the savings required by recent government spending reviews. Deficits to the budget are clearly set out over forthcoming years.

The service takes a cautious approach to setting its budget. Hampshire FRS makes sensible assumptions about pressures such as inflation, pay awards and costs of supplies. There is scope to go further in modelling a range of future scenarios and to consider implications of different levels of business rates and changes in council tax precept.

Savings requirements are clearly identified in the medium-term financial plan. Of the £10m savings needed, £6m have been identified. The remaining savings are linked to the SDRP which includes a more flexible and efficient crewing model.

The service uses priority-based budgeting. This allocates funds according to the service’s priorities: across the areas of prevention, protection and response. The service may wish to consider its allocation to its protection activity in light of the concerns we have raised.

Hampshire FRS allocates funds to a transformation reserve to assist its change programmes. These reserves will also be used for forthcoming major projects such as the potential proposal to create a new combined fire authority with the Isle of Wight FRS. The proposed combination is currently the subject of public consultation. The strategic change manager is leading this work.

Productivity and ways of working

It is good that the SDRP includes plans to introduce a more flexible and cost-efficient workforce model. The model is currently being tested out, with smaller crews responding to some incidents in vehicles specially adapted for the purpose. These trials are due to finish at the end of 2018.

We consider that Hampshire FRS should make better use of comparative data with other fire services. This would help it make sure its costs and services represent value for money. Another aspect to consider is response times. As experienced elsewhere in England, average response times to primary fires in Hampshire have been increasing over the past 20 years. In the 12 months to 31 March 2017, the average response time to a primary fire in Hampshire was nine minutes four seconds, indicating that the service may not be achieving its targeted response times (within eight minutes to a critical incident on 80 percent of occasions).

We also believe there is scope for Hampshire FRS to reduce some of its non-operational costs. Several staff are currently removed from frontline duties to manage projects linked to the SDRP. This means that their day-to-day responsibilities are allocated to staff who are temporarily promoted, and several firefighters have been recruited on temporary contracts. Some of these abstractions from frontline duties are for a long time. This is causing uncertainty in the workforce and restricting promotion opportunities for some staff. The service should review how it uses staff to support the SDRP.

Collaboration

The service has collaboration arrangements in place with other emergency services, the NHS, local authorities and the voluntary sector. It is seen as a partner of choice for the other emergency services. In many places – for example at Rushmoor – paramedics, police officers and other public sector workers share premises owned by Hampshire FRS. As well as this leading to better working relationships, it is a good source of income for the service.

The service has an established track record of collaboration. This includes a fleet-maintenance programme shared with other fire and rescue services, and a shared back office function partnership with Hampshire Constabulary and Hampshire County Council.

The benefits of these collaborations are monitored carefully, and adjustments made when necessary. For example, the service has recently taken ICT services back in-house, as it identified that the current provider was no longer cost effective.

Continuity arrangements

Hampshire FRS takes business continuity seriously. It makes sure it can recover from unforeseen events affecting its services. This important area is the responsibility of chief officers.

Senior officers lead several exercises and tests to check that the service’s business continuity plans work effectively. For example, if the fire control centre lost power supply, the service has made checks to see how well 999 calls can be handled in neighbouring fire services. Evacuation plans have also been tested at Hampshire FRS’s headquarters and joint exercises are held with other organisations as part of the LRF arrangements to assess business recovery in times of crisis.

We saw how Hampshire FRS managed to maintain its levels of service during snowfalls earlier this year and recovered well from ICT failures because effective plans were in place.

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

The service is good at making savings and investing into new areas of business to secure its future. In the first government spending review period, Hampshire FRS far exceeded its savings requirement. It plans to assign £5m annually to support its investment programme. This aims to improve facilities in the service’s 52 buildings, 51 of which are fire stations, and introduce modern technology across the service.

Joint working with other fire services and commercial partners reduces Hampshire FRS’s operating costs and, in some areas, generates income. For example, the service told us that it receives in excess of £1m annually from other public sector services that base their staff in Hampshire FRS buildings.

Hampshire FRS also allocates funds to a transformation reserve to encourage improvements and make efficiencies. This has funded the recruitment of change professionals with proven track records in bringing efficiencies to the public sector. It also helps fund the service’s SDRP. It is too early to assess the extent to which the planned efficiencies will be realised. However, it is ambitious in that the service is introducing more flexible resourcing and aims to make sustainable service improvements at reduced cost.

The service intends to make use of Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy benchmarking practices. Joint services are in place with Hampshire County Council, including financial services, procurement and contract management.

Innovation

Hampshire FRS is committed to making changes and improvements to improve services and save money. It is digitalising its services, and already provides frontline staff with MDTs to assess risks at incidents. Its plans to introduce a more modern fleet of vehicles, and to deploy firefighters in a more flexible way are innovative and reflect well on the service’s ambitions.

Although plans are far-reaching, we heard from staff that the replacement of some ICT applications led to loss of data. The service should review whether this is the case and should make sure the benefits of new ways of working do not negatively affect existing systems.

Close working with other organisations, both within and outside the fire service, demonstrates good business sense. The service has been able to generate income from its extensive estate and the sale of its services.

Future investment and working with others

Hampshire FRS has been at the forefront of the ‘one public estate’ concept. It has already brought together some emergency services into joint use premises. Hampshire FRS and the Isle of Wight FRS are also considering a potential proposal to create a new combined fire authority. This is to make the services more efficient and provide other business benefits. The plans are currently the subject of public consultation.

The service already supports the ambulance service by responding to some medical incidents. Staff have been trained so that they have the necessary skills for this. The two organisations are currently discussing whether to extend this further.