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Kent 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. Kent Fire & Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

Overall, the service is good at making the most of its resources. It matches its resources to relevant risks, and has made savings by reducing staff numbers when risks have reduced in some areas. It has worked hard to address the lack of on-call staff.

Leaders are prepared to make changes to improve the efficiency of the service, even when those changes are challenging. There are policies in place to promote flexible working. The service has invested in innovative technology, to help it respond to fires more safely and efficiently.

It works well with the police, ambulance service and Border Force. It shares stations with the police, and supports the ambulance service in attending incidents. But it could do more to evaluate whether these initiatives are good value for money.

The service has a joint procurement agreement in place with other services. It has led large national procurements for personal protective equipment (PPE), and is leading on workwear, specialist PPE, and training. It could do more to attract external funding and generate income. For example, the service doesn’t charge for its primary authority schemes, which help businesses to meet fire regulations.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

Kent Fire & 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 there is effective monitoring, review and evaluation of 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

Kent FRS’s plans meet financial requirements. The service’s financial planning addresses the risks set out in the customer and corporate plan. It has also matched resources to the risks identified in its safety and wellbeing plan. As the risk had reduced in some areas, the service has subsequently reduced the number of full-time equivalent staff from 1,896 in 2007 to 1,422 in 2018, following reviews of its fire cover provision.

The service has worked hard to address the reduction in on-call staff, increasing payment for providing daytime cover, moving staff around to plug gaps and enabling crews to ride fire engines with three staff. However, the service is still struggling to provide the necessary number of fire engines.

Productivity and ways of working

Kent FRS’s leaders are prepared to make changes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the service. They are not afraid to implement potentially challenging changes, such as closing ten fire stations since 2007, replacing the watch structure with a flexible working system and replacing the retained duty system with a contractually-based on-call system.

The service has policies in place to enable staff to work more flexibly. The flexible rostering system enables stations to manage their own work patterns, providing the necessary skills are available. That system includes two compulsory training days per month.

Since 2014, the service has changed its day-crewed system to a flexible rostering pattern, reducing staff per station from 14 to 12. In 2017, the service finished rolling this out across all wholetime stations, which allowed it to reduce its total number of staff. It also operates a ‘fifth watch’ which moves around stations as needed.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £20.57; this compares to the England rate over the same timescale of £22.38. However, many factors influence this cost, for example the ratio of wholetime to retained staff which is in part influenced by the rurality of the service.

Collaboration

The service collaborates with a range of partners, including the police, ambulance service and Border Force. It shares seven stations with the police and 11 with the ambulance service. The service control moved to the joint fire and police control centre at Kent Police HQ in 2012 and uses the police’s mobilising system. Between 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2018, the service carried out 28 joint exercises or training.

The service is working with Kent Police in eight areas, including gaining entry to premises, sharing equipment such as boats and operating drones to aid searches for missing persons. The service carries out joint training with the police and works with them on vehicle maintenance. It peer-reviews Kent Police’s health and safety work.

There are 26 on-call stations supporting the ambulance service in attending emergency medical response incidents. The service does not recover costs from the ambulance service for this; it argues that this benefits the public and helps attract and retain on-call staff in otherwise low-activity stations.

Despite an enthusiastic approach to collaboration, and positive examples of working closely with other emergency services, the service does not consistently monitor, review and evaluate these initiatives to work out whether they are delivering value for money. We found examples where the service could be doing more to recover costs for services and facilities it provides to other organisations.

Continuity arrangements

Fire control has business continuity arrangements, which it tests regularly with the police control room. It has a secondary control room and back-up mobilising system.

The service has comprehensive business continuity plans to ensure it can deliver critical services during times of disruption. It developed these as part of a regional framework agreement involving nine fire services. These plans will be renewed in 2020. It reviewed its business continuity arrangements during 2017, including no-notice exercises, testing loss of premises and ICT. 

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

We are satisfied that the service has a thorough understanding of the financial climate in which it operates. Its annual budget for 2018/19 is £69.8m, and its plans for using reserves demonstrate this is sustainable. General reserves for 2017/18 were just over £4m, which is approximately 7 percent of the service’s net expenditure. According to information provided by the service, it plans to reduce this to 5 percent in 2019. Earmarked reserves in 2017/18 were just below £29m, but £23m is for projects such as large upgrades to ICT, estate and mobile data.

There are clear plans setting out how the service would make further savings if necessary, starting from minor changes and working up to major cuts.

The service has a joint procurement agreement with other services, which it has used to buy uniforms and equipment, such as casualty smoke-hoods. However, the service could make better use of benchmarking or comparative information to make sure it is getting value for money.

Innovation

Kent FRS has invested in innovative firefighting technology to help it deal with incidents and respond to local risks. Every fire engine is equipped to begin fighting fires without the crew needing to enter the building until reinforcements arrive. The service’s fire engine pumps can be used without an operator. The service uses these technologies to free up a crewmember to carry out other tasks.

It has introduced enhanced training for on-call staff, enabling them to respond with three staff when necessary. Wholetime station staff independently self-roster; they manage their crewing locally. This has enabled the service to reduce wholetime staff, including reducing the number of watch managers from four to one per station.

Future investment and working with others

The service plans to bring together information from three databases from prevention and protection into one, making information more easily accessible. It will also replace on-call staff pagers with a mobile phone application; this will save money and potentially improve coverage in areas where pagers do not work. 

A project is underway to replace and upgrade existing radios with models that have a longer range. By summer 2019, the service plans to have two new MDTs fitted to each fire engine, one of which is removable for use by commanders. They will contain crash data to assist rescues from vehicles, improving service to the public. This project will cost £1.47m between 2017 and 2020 and will improve the reliability of risk information for operational staff.

The service aims to improve the security and reliability of its IT systems by moving to a cloud-based system. The full network of laptops and computers will be improved in 2019.

The service could do more to exploit external funding and income-generating opportunities. It evaluates benefits to its customers from joint working, and if a particular initiative contributes to the service’s strategic principles and is affordable, the service carries the cost. It does not charge for primary authority schemes in which the service advises businesses, for example hotel chains, to help improve their fire safety. While it does not have a trading arm, it has a contractual arrangement with Eurotunnel to provide 48 firefighters to give 24/7 cover, albeit not at cost recovery.

The service uses its risk register to prioritise how it conducts its internal audits, with the biggest risks audited first. It is managing most main risks well.