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. Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has made realistic and prudent assumptions about its future revenue and costs. It is aware of its main financial risks and has robust financial plans in place. In recent years the service has made £9m of spending reductions, £6m of which has been made since 2015/16.
That said, the service needs to improve the way it manages its budget and allocates resources. It needs to look at how it allocates resources between prevention, protection and response. And it needs to make sure its activities align with its IRMP.
The service has the capacity and capability it needs to achieve both change and operational performance. But to do so, it needs to keep introducing innovative and different ways of working. The service needs to make sure it has enough staff for the level of risk its community faces in the long term. It needs to make sure that its workforce’s time is being used effectively. It needs to find a way to check workforce performance. The service needs to routinely monitor, review and evaluate its collaboration activity. The service also needs to consider how it resources its protection team, so that it can meet its requirement for its high-risk inspection programme.
The service needs a comprehensive system for assessing and recording business continuity. And we found a general lack of testing around how the service would deal with an event that damaged its main functions.
In terms of future investments, the service has a trading arm; it works with the city and county councils to make savings and meet some staffing needs; and it has built and upgraded fire stations. It also lets some of its premises but needs to recoup some of its rental income.
How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?
Areas for improvement
- The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities.
- The service should ensure there is effective monitoring, review and evaluation of the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration.
- The service needs to prioritise implementing new business continuity plans and test them as soon as possible.
How plans support objectives
The service must improve the way it allocates resources. The city council took over the service’s budget management at a strategic level in 2015/16. The service is confident that it has robust and realistic financial plans in place to effectively manage its overall financial resources. However, within its overall budget, the service needs to improve how it allocates resources between prevention, protection and response.
It needs to make sure that activity is aligned with its IRMP. Local district plans for activity to address the risks identified in the IRMP aren’t directly aligned with the budgets that are set at a strategic level. The financial effectiveness of local district plans is therefore unknown.
The service has acted to reduce non-operational costs. However, this action has been limited due to unexpected additional resources being identified following the city council’s trategic review in 2015/16. The service identified and made proposals in its 2016–2020 IRMP for some efficiency savings, including the proposed closure of fire stations. Initially, the fire authority agreed for the proposals to be submitted for public consultation. However, the public and the fire authority didn’t support the closure of fire stations and the proposals were withdrawn.
Productivity and ways of working
In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £17.42. This compares to the England rate of £22.38 over the same time period. However, many factors influence this cost (for example, the ratio of wholetime to on-call staff. As at 31 March 2018, the service had 614 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff and at the same time 73.5 percent of FTE firefighters were wholetime.
The service has the capacity and capability it needs to achieve both change and operational performance. However, although it is lean, it needs to continue to introduce innovative and different ways of working to make sure it achieves this. The service has implemented day-crewing, and day-crewing-plus shift systems, at some of its fire stations. The crewing model is based on a minimum of four operational staff for each fire engine, and two for the tactical response vehicle.
Tactical response vehicles were introduced to allow the service to respond to some smaller incidents which don’t require a fully equipped four-person fire engine, for example a bin fire. Their use is still part of an ongoing wider trial. We found the vehicle principally used as a support vehicle to a fire engine, instead of being deployed to smaller incidents.
The service relies on firefighters working overtime to maintain its operational response. It also relies on managers spending excessive time planning moves and rescheduling planned training. This is proving to be an inefficient use of resources. The service also relies on on-call staff to cover shortages in wholetime crews at short notice. The service needs to assure itself that it has enough staff for the level of risk its community faces in the long term.
At the time of the inspection, both the service’s protection and prevention teams had backlogs of work, and staff didn’t have the capacity to complete work by the deadlines required. The service’s risk-based inspection programme was under-resourced. The service needs to consider how it appropriately resources its protection team to make sure it can meet its requirement for its high-risk inspection programme.
The service currently relies on staff manually filling in forms when they have completed a ‘safe and well’ visit or inspected premises. When they return, staff enter these details into a central management information system.
The service accepts that many important operational and administrative systems currently require high levels of staff intervention and could be more efficient. In the 2017/18 budget, a sum of £0.5m was made available for ICT modernisation. This is currently underway, as is the introduction of business intelligence systems to assist in transactional processes. The service needs to be certain it has the capacity to successfully achieve these changes. The service could do more to assure itself that its workforce’s time is being used effectively. It currently lacks a way to check workforce productivity.
The service proactively meets its statutory duty to consider emergency service collaboration. The service has a shared fire control function between Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire fire and rescue services. This means each service can mobilise each other’s engines. They also share the use of a fire investigation dog with the East Midlands fire and rescue services. In both cases, all costs are shared equally between the organisations and there are benefits to all organisations, linked to the IRMP.
The service has made savings of £150,000 per year from efficiencies in the control room, through changes to working practices and a subsequent reduction in the overall establishment. Further savings are anticipated up to 2019/20.
The service supports a number of local projects and works alongside the police, health and local authorities to prevent fires in areas that have been identified as vulnerable. The service is also involved in the local Road Safety Partnership.
The service doesn’t routinely monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and outcomes of its collaboration activity.
The service doesn’t have a comprehensive system for assessing and recording business continuity. Current procedures for the testing of business continuity are limited in both scope and regularity. For example, the control room system shared exercises with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services to address issues with call-handling only. The service has a back-up arrangement with Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, but this hasn’t been tested. Also, staff aren’t clear what their roles and responsibilities would be. The service has carried out a disaster recovery test on most of its IT systems, resulting in an action plan. But we found a general lack of testing of how the service would deal with an event that damaged its main functions.
How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself it fully exploits external funding opportunities and options for generating income, in particular that it is recouping costs for use of its premises by other emergency services.
Improving value for money
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has made realistic and prudent assumptions about its future revenue and costs. It is aware of its main financial risks and has robust financial plans in place to mitigate them, with advice received from the city council. The service has made savings and avoided any residual future budget gaps. In recent years the service has made £9m of spending reductions, £6m of which has been made since 2015/16.
As at 1 April 2017, the service had £2m as general reserves; this is equivalent to 6.7 percent of its net expenditure.
The service has created a capital fund of £3.8m as a result of prudent decision making, unanticipated additional funding and planned, targeted savings. Earmarked reserves have been used to buy new equipment that was previously leased, allowing leases to expire, releasing further revenue savings to invest back into the capital fund. The strategy until March 2021 is to continue making large purchases using revenue and earmarked reserves. The service recognises this is not sustainable in the longer term, however. A return to borrowing will need to be considered in the future, although this will be done pragmatically.
The service uses the greater procurement capacity of Leicester City Council to make savings when procuring IT. Recently, it bought 120 computers. The service recognises the opportunities that joint procurement offers. It works closely with other local authorities, emergency services and professional bodies to deliver value for money. By using the city council’s finance team and Leicestershire County Council’s legal service, the service has reduced its senior management team by two posts.
The service has considered several variables to predict future budgets. These include possible changes to funding, as well as austerity, real-term growth, pensions, changes in pay, business rates, and the impact of changes to crewing and duty systems.
In 2015 the service procured five tactical response vehicles to respond to road traffic collisions and small fires, and to give a first response in emergencies. The focus was to improve capacity and to be able to crew to a minimum of two, improving availability in rural areas. The service’s strategy was to increase capacity and to be able to improve response times. However, the service has yet to evaluate the benefits of introducing these vehicles.
The service has invested in virtual reality to promote road safety. The service regularly displays its virtual reality products at national events.
In recent years Leicestershire FRS has implemented some technical applications. However, due to limited capacity within the IT department, the service is yet to maximise opportunities presented by changes in technology to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.
Future investment and working with others
Leicestershire FRS has earmarked reserves to improve transport, premises and equipment. It has allocated £6m to addressing vacant space and upgrading existing premises. It has built a new fire station at Castle Donington and upgraded several others. The service has lease agreements in place with Leicestershire Police and East Midlands Ambulance Service to share some of its premises. However, the service has not received the amount of income from East Midlands Ambulance Service it had anticipated. While Castle Donington was built with the intention of it being shared with the ambulance service, the ambulance service withdrew from this arrangement after it was completed.
The service has sought external funding. It has recouped £311,000 from the Government, a cost incurred at the Hinckley Road explosion.
The service currently has a trading arm, known as Forge Healthcare. This gives occupational health services to both the service and external contracts. Staff are seconded from the service to Forge Healthcare. Time spent is proportioned on activity for fire and non-fire activities. In 2017/18 Forge Healthcare had a turnover of £227,000, of which £76,000 was returned to the fire and rescue service as profit. When asked, the service couldn’t substantiate some of the costs allocated to the company. We note that the service is currently reviewing this trading arm, in particular its cost effectiveness and value for money.