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

The service is good at managing its budget. It has made significant savings over the past seven years. It is good at linking the actions it is taking with the risk it has identified. This means it can achieve its aims. It has a good plan for using its reserve money to help with some of the financial difficulties. The service has changed all its shift patterns to help firefighters be more productive. It works well with the other emergency services.

The service is on target to deliver the savings it has shown in its plans. The number of firefighters, support staff, fire engines and fire stations will reduce without negatively affecting the public. It makes sure it gets good value for money from a range of contracts. It also looks to the future to prepare for potential problems. The varied shift patterns will help it provide the cover it needs to keep the public safe. The service is investing in technology to increase efficiency and minimise paper-based systems.

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’s plans for providing an emergency service, required by the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, are robust and come from sound business planning. There is a clear link between the risks listed in the service’s IRMP and the actions it is taking through individual departmental plans to minimise their negative effect on the public. We are therefore satisfied that the service can make changes without negatively affecting operational performance.

The service recognises the need for rigorous, inclusive planning to address the ongoing pressures brought about by continuously shrinking budgets. The service has reported that its budget has reduced from £73.6 m in 2010/11 to £59.9m in 2018/19. The service has therefore consulted with the public on what its priorities should be. To meet these priorities, it has published the principles it aims to follow when making financial decisions, alongside the change method it follows when amending its emergency response capability. In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £25.75. This compares with the England rate of £22.38 over the same time period. 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.

The service has shown the financial effect of its IRMP and resulting functional and departmental plans in its medium-term financial plan. It refreshes this every year to cover the following five years. This plan relies on spending most of the service’s £25.3m reserves. However, we are satisfied that the service has a good spending plan for its reserves in place. The plan focuses on building a more efficient estate by closing pairs of fire stations and replacing them with single stations at three locations. It also ensures the availability of a minimum number of competent firefighters up to 2025.

We were also encouraged that the service is factoring many of the issues that we identified during our inspection into its planning assumptions. This includes resourcing its protection department and reintroducing the role of crew manager.

Productivity and ways of working

We found that the service has made a consistent commitment to ensuring it provides its services in a productive manner. The changes it has introduced are for the benefit of the public.

The service has introduced various work patterns at its fire stations that it has matched to the operational demand in the surrounding areas. This ensures the service can meet the commitment to respond to all life-critical incidents within ten minutes.

We found that the service has adjusted the start and finish times for operational firefighters, so they are available when demand is highest to respond to emergency incidents. This also maximises the time they have available to interact with the public and businesses. Most firefighters work a 12-hour shift pattern. This is compliant with the national conditions of service for firefighters but allows productivity to be maximised as the service keeps rest periods to a minimum.

The service has robust workforce plans in place to ensure there will be no negative effect on the public from the high number of firefighters who will leave over the next five years. However, we found that the service hasn’t been able to keep ahead of similar gaps in its protection department.

Home Office data shows that the service consistently completes a high number of home fire safety checks. In the 12 months to 31 March 2018, the service carried out 37.1 home fire safety checks per 1,000 population. This compares with an England rate across the same period of 10.4. We were pleased to find that firefighters fully support this high level of activity.

The service offers staff the opportunity to sign resilience contracts, which has ensured the service has competent, trained staff to deploy during periods of industrial action.

Collaboration

The service is discharging its legislative duty to collaborate with its other blue light partners. It has strong oversight and working arrangements in place with these partners. These ensure that any collaboration the service undertakes are reviewed, evaluated to ensure they deliver benefits to the public and provide value for the service.

For example, the service reports that it receives income from the ambulance service to base ambulances at six fire stations. Merseyside Police made a capital contribution towards the construction of a joint command and control centre, and now pays an annual service charge. The service also told us that it recoups income from Liverpool City Council as part of a fleet management contract.

The service has entered into collaboration agreements for a variety of activities, such as assisting with wide area searches for missing persons. We were also encouraged to find that the service ensures any collaboration arrangements entered into are appropriately scrutinised so that they don’t detract from the service’s core duties.

The three emergency services have reviewed and shared information on capabilities that each can call on. They are working on the removal of existing information technology barriers to help with closer working in the future.

Continuity arrangements

The service has good business continuity plans in place. We found staff had a consistent level of understanding of these plans when we visited emergency control, various departments and fire stations. The service is holding planned and no notice exercises internally and with multi-agency partners. This is to ensure it can provide an uninterrupted emergency response for the public when extraordinary events do occur.

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 a strong track record of achieving savings. It presents its financial challenges to the public through its IRMP, and consistently returns a balanced budget.

The service has successfully managed a challenging reduction in funding from £73.6m in 2010/11 to £59.9m in 2018/19. The outcome is that, by the end of the current IRMP, the service is on target to have reduced frontline firefighters from 1,100 to 620; support staff from 425 to 290; fire engines from 42 to 26; and fire stations from 23 to 20.

As at 31 March 2018, the service had 14 wholetime fire stations and 9 fire stations with mixed duty systems, including 6 stations with wholetime firefighters who also have on-call contracts. It had 29 operational fire engines.

The service has informed the public that, although it will make £11m efficiency savings in its current IRMP, it is keeping the effect on the front line of its emergency service to a minimum. During the inspection, we found that the service is on track to deliver these efficiencies with just over £9m coming from back office functions.

The service has evaluated and continues to review non-pay costs against those of other services, to ensure it is improving value for money. For example, the service has entered into an agreement to service vehicles on behalf of Liverpool City Council. It has also contracted its information technology and pensions administration functions to an outside company. But it has rejected opportunities to do this with its payroll function, as this wouldn’t be good value for money.

The service is looking ahead to take account of financial risks and building these assumptions into its plans. These include changes that may arise from the Government’s fair funding review that could see funding redirected to less densely populated areas; changes in the government grant towards unfunded pension schemes; and potential reductions in the amount that can be retained from business rates.

Innovation

The service is working through a plan to streamline its estate of fire stations, which involves closing multiple stations and building a single new station where it is efficient to do so. So far, it has opened a new station at Prescot and is currently working through the statutory consultation and planning requirements to do likewise at St Helens and Saughall Massie. On each occasion, it is inviting other partners to co-locate services. Prescot is a joint police and fire community station.

We found that the service has various inefficient paper-based systems. However, it has invested in a team to develop a range of online applications with the intention of modernising these systems. For example, it plans to replace the paper-based systems it has for recording the results of protection audits, home fire risk checks, safe and well visits, and the risk-critical information it holds on high-risk premises. It is currently fitting tough-book style laptops in its fire engines to support their introduction.

The service has been innovative in introducing fire engines that are available during the day but covered by firefighters with dual on-call contracts overnight. Despite these changes, the service has been able to keep its commitment to respond to 90 percent of life-risk incidents within ten minutes, while it reports having these appliances on a maximum 30-minute delay overnight. This recognises that its primary role is to provide resilience for larger incidents.

Future investment and working with others

To introduce changes to working patterns and duty systems fairly, the service is placing new firefighters at those stations that are available during the day and on a 30-minute delay overnight. This allows existing firefighters to move to more traditional duty systems when this is possible, and if they wish to do so. The chief officer is committed to continuously reviewing duty systems to provide the most efficient service to the public. He plans to carry out a further review as part of the next IRMP process.

New entrants to the service have contractually committed to providing a marauding terrorist firearms assault and emergency first responder capability. These two areas are currently subject to negotiations nationally. But the service has been innovative in ensuring it will still be able to provide these two capabilities in the future.