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Isle of Wight 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

Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service’s budget is part of the total budget of Isle of Wight Council. It has made significant savings in recent years. This has been in part through the strategic partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service called ‘Delivering Differently in Partnership’ and identifying internal efficiencies. The service plans to achieve further savings from realising the outcomes of its service review. This includes reviewing how it responds to emergencies. The service should extend the scope of this review to take full advantage of potential benefits.

The service works closely with its neighbouring services to find new and improved ways of doing things. It could focus more on staff productivity and on increasing the number of retained firefighters.

Isle of Wight FRS works well with other fire services and other public sector services. This saves money and brings a better service to islanders. The service makes sure it can recover from unexpected events that might affect its services, or those of the council.

The cost of all public sector services on the Isle of Wight is high. This is because of its size and location. Despite this, the service compares its performance data with those of other services to try to make improvements. It has made a positive contribution to the council’s savings requirements. It has also been integrating its services with the council’s, to become more efficient and effective.

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

Isle of Wight FRS’s IRMP sets out the service’s objectives and provides direction for the organisation. The objectives include revising response standards to reflect risks, matching resources to the level of risk, and increasing the proportion of volunteers in the workforce. The IRMP links to the strategic partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service called the ‘Delivering Differently in Partnership’ programme and the service’s internal review to identify efficiencies. However, some of the intentions set out in the IRMP are under-resourced. The allocation of only two members of staff to protection and the ineffective risk-based inspection programme suggests that these areas lack investment.

The service’s budget setting forms part of the county council’s financial planning systems. This differs from other fire services in England. In other areas, some fire services are responsible for several council areas. Where this happens the fire service reports to a fire authority which represents several councils.

Isle of Wight Council has to save £19m before the end of the financial year 2020/21. This is in addition to the £70m saved in recent years. Isle of Wight FRS accounts for about 4 percent of the council’s expenditure. It needs to contribute £1.2m to the savings required.

The plan is to secure these savings through several sources. The service is exploring further efficiencies from the strategic partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. This has reduced the service’s operating costs by £1m in recent years. Additionally, the service’s internal review is examining whether it could reduce the number of firefighters it sends to lower-risk emergencies. Finally, Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Authority and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority are actively considering a new combined fire authority proposal.

Productivity and ways of working

The service works closely with its neighbouring services, primarily Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, to research new and improved ways of working.

The service is currently reviewing the number of firefighters that are required to respond to emergencies. The intention is to vary the number of firefighters on each fire engine depending on the type of emergency call. However, we found that the scope of this review is too limited. The service relies too much on traditional fire engines and adheres too rigidly to response times. In other fire services, firefighters are responding to incidents in smaller, more versatile vehicles with flexible crewing levels.

We also found that the low number of retained firefighters is restricting how well the service can deploy them. There are occasions when too few of them are available to respond to emergencies.

Staff productivity should be a more prominent consideration in all Isle of Wight FRS’s change and improvement programmes.

Collaboration

Isle of Wight FRS works well with other fire services and other public sector services. This saves money and brings a better service to islanders.

Joint workings with Hampshire FRS has reduced Isle of Wight FRS’s costs by over £1m in recent years. The potential new combined fire and rescue authority proposal with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service may provide opportunities for further savings. The business case for this combination is currently the subject of public consultation.

The service has joint arrangements in place with Isle of Wight NHS ambulance trust. Since 2006, firefighters with advanced medical training have been able to respond to medical emergencies under the co-responder scheme. Additionally, several firefighters are now qualified to give immediate emergency care. They can provide an advance medical response if paramedics are not immediately available. In common with other fire services where firefighters have received advance medical training, the finalisation of this scheme awaits national approval.

The service supports the council’s vision of ‘One public service’. It has been reorganised to support the three localities in the Isle of Wight. At two sites, the service shares premises with paramedics. There are also plans to bring police officers, firefighters and paramedics into a single emergency services hub in Ryde. Community outreach workers use fire and rescue service buildings to access Wi-Fi facilities and for their out-of-hours work.

Continuity arrangements

The service has business continuity plans in place. It is currently strengthening these through closer integration with the council’s business continuity arrangements. Specific plans exist to help the council if the island’s transport system or other critical infrastructure fails or is disrupted because of a major incident.

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 has to reduce its budget as part of the council’s savings requirement. This forms part of the medium-term financial plan to 2020/21. Since 2013, Isle of Wight FRS has reduced its operating costs by 25 percent through its strategic partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and by identifying internal efficiencies. This is a significant saving for a fire and rescue service of this size. The service plans to achieve further savings from realising the outcome of its service review.

The “Delivering Differently in Partnership” programme with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has provided the momentum for savings. It produces benefits for Isle of Wight FRS as well as Hampshire FRS. The service programme has also contributed to efficiencies and financial saving. The proposal to combine Isle of Wight and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services into a single combined authority has the potential to reduce overheads still further.

Isle of Wight FRS currently provides a satisfactory service at reduced cost to the taxpayer. Future programmes are set to ensure that the service represents good value for money.

Innovation

The service makes flexible and innovative use of its assets to reduce costs and generate income. For example, a supplier on behalf of a consortium of fire services provides fleet maintenance.

Isle of Wight FRS also makes good use of its ten fire stations, which belong to the county council. Income from Hampshire Constabulary offsets some of the overhead costs of these buildings, where police officers use them as patrol bases.

Future investment and working with others

Isle of Wight FRS works with Hampshire FRS and the county council to provide good value services. The service is also working with the council to make a case for an ‘island premium’. This is in preparation for the government’s review of funding and business rates allocations to local authorities, scheduled for 2021.

The cost of Isle of Wight FRS’s firefighter expenditure per head of population is the highest in England (£31.75 compared with £22.38 for England as a whole). High service costs are a phenomenon experienced by all public services on the Isle of Wight. This is because its geographic isolation limits the benefits of economies of scale. Benchmarking comparisons with other organisations form part of ensuring the service makes future savings. These comparisons also help with savings plans.

Senior council officers and members told us that the service contributes to the council’s savings plans in a positive manner. They are complimentary of Isle of Wight FRS’s change programmes and its willingness to help reduce the overall budget deficit.

Isle of Wight Council sets aside 5 percent of its financial reserves for use by the service. This is to cover unforeseen expenditure arising from major incidents or other operational pressures. In other fire services, reserves are sometimes set aside for research and development or projects to examine new and improved ways of working. Although this is not the case for Isle of Wight FRS, it works closely with Hampshire FRS to explore innovation and best practice.

The island’s ‘three localities model’ means that Isle of Wight FRS’s services are becoming more integrated with those of the council. A good example is its safe and well check programme, which is a service that is valued by the council’s adult social care department.