Hertfordshire 2018/19Read more about Hertfordshire
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
We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure. But there are several areas where it needs to make improvements.
The service must improve its effectiveness. More specifically, it should understand better its risk and put in place a new integrated risk management plan (IRMP).
There has been a delay because of uncertainty about its future governance model. However, since our inspection we note that the service has proceeded with developing an IRMP. The service should also improve its prevention work.
Positively, we found it was good at:
- protecting the public through fire regulation;
- responding to fires and emergencies; and
- responding to national risks.
The service needs to be more efficient. It should use its resources better and it should ensure it offers, and continues to offer, an affordable service.
The service needs to do better at looking after its people. It should improve the way it:
- promotes the right values and culture;
- gets the right people with the right skills;
- ensures fairness and promotes diversity; and
- manages performance and develops 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?
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service does not have an up-to-date integrated risk management plan (IRMP), which is the central planning document that sets out local risks and how the service plans to manage them, and to allocate its resources. All fire and rescue services (FRSs) are required to produce an IRMP which is available to the public. IRMPs must be at least three-year plans which should be regularly reviewed, to make sure the service can properly understand the risks and make sure it is well equipped to respond to those risks and protect the public. Since our inspection we note that the service has proceeded with developing an IRMP.
Leaders in the service and the council are aware they need a new IRMP and have recently put plans in place to address this. However, there have been delays as a result of uncertainty about the future governance model for the service. We remain concerned that, given the importance of this plan in ensuring the effective and efficient provision of fire and rescue services, they are not tackling the situation with sufficient urgency.
Having an out of date IRMP has a knock-on effect on planning and effectiveness right across Hertfordshire FRS. For example, the service has not engaged meaningfully with the public or other local services to understand the current and future risks in Hertfordshire – this engagement would usually happen as part of the IRMP consultation. Much of its planned development work is on hold. Local risk profiles are out of date, and due to problems with technology crews are not always able to access the information they need to keep the public safe.
The service’s prevention strategy is about to expire, and it has done some work to target the people most at risk of fire and other emergencies, however this could be improved. Although we found evidence of some innovative work on community safety, campaigns are inconsistent across the county. The service does not adequately evaluate its campaigns, so it is not possible to know what effect they are having.
We found some good work on enforcement, with the service taking a range of measures to make sure that businesses comply with fire regulations. More should be done to tackle false alarms, or ‘unwanted fire signals’. The service is generally good at responding to fires and other emergencies across the county. It is also well placed to respond to national incidents.
Due to problems with its software and pagers, the service does not always allocate resources efficiently. Control room staff cannot accurately assess how many on-call staff are available, and so they tend to allocate more resources than they need.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
We are concerned to note that, in the absence of an up-to-date IRMP, Hertfordshire FRS cannot be confident that its plans are supporting its objectives. This is just as much the case in terms of the efficiency of the service, as it is of its effectiveness.
The service has not systematically reviewed how it allocates its resources against risks and therefore cannot be confident that it is using resources in the most efficient manner. There is no clear rationale setting out how and why the service divides its resources between prevention, protection or response activities. It cannot fully substantiate why it bases its response resources on needing 40 fire engines to be available at all times, or whether its target attendance times are the right ones. It also doesn’t evaluate its projects well enough to understand how each is contributing to achieving overall objectives.
The service collaborates with other organisations, primarily with the police and county council, as outlined elsewhere in the report. However, because of delaying the work on its risk management planning, the development of a number of major projects, including extending existing collaborations, has been put on hold. There is evaluation of joint working, but this is inconsistent.
We are satisfied that the service has plans for what it would do if there were to be an event that damaged its core functions – although not in the event of a cyber-attack.
We are concerned, however, that the service cannot demonstrate that it is providing value for money. The true cost of the service is unclear, as many of its back-office functions are provided directly by the county council and are not shown in the service’s budget. The budget allocated to fire and rescue services has been largely protected from the scale of cuts that have affected the rest of the council’s services over recent years.
The service’s inefficient use of technology is a real hindrance to productivity. Its new IRMP will need to include ambitious plans to make sure these problems are addressed.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Overall, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
The service has some policies in place to promote wellbeing, but it doesn’t do enough to make sure that staff can access them.
Service leaders could do more to guide the service’s culture and values. These are currently set by the council, and many FRS staff are not aware of them. The senior leadership group(SLG) is developing a ‘cultural principles statement’, but this is at an early stage.
Staff speak highly of the service’s open leadership style. They respect the chief fire officer and the deputy chief fire officer, and believe they are committed to delivering change and improvements but see middle managers as barriers to decision making.
Without an up-to-date IRMP to help determine future risks, the service cannot be sure that it is recruiting the right number of people with the right skills. It currently depends on overtime to make up for staff shortages. According to data provided by the service, the last firefighter induction course began with 21 candidates and finished with only 12. The service has not done enough to find out why, or to address the problem.
The service provides training in all risk-critical skills, but it cannot monitor staff competence effectively due to an inadequate ICT system.
There was inconsistent evidence that the service has responded to staff feedback. As a result, many staff lack confidence in feedback procedures.
As with many other services we inspect, Hertfordshire FRS’s workforce is not representative of its community. When looking at the whole workforce, as at 31 March 2018, only 2.8 percent were from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, compared with 12.4 percent in the service area’s residential population. Also, as at 31 March 2018 only 16.1 percent of the workforce were female. These proportions are lower when looking specifically at firefighters. The service does not have a clear policy for the recruitment of a more diverse mix of staff – although this is currently being reviewed. The chief fire officer is a champion for diversity, but not all staff understand the importance of a diverse workforce.
The service could do more to actively manage the career pathways of its employees. The performance review process needs improvement, and many staff felt that promotion processes are neither fair nor open.