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Nottinghamshire 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
Requires improvement

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. Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

Nottinghamshire FRS requires improvement at using its resources. It lacks targets and performance reporting, so doesn’t know if it is meeting its objectives. It also doesn’t know how productive it is, or how good or bad its service is.

The service knows it doesn’t always align resources to the risks identified in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It doesn’t manage performance against this plan, so can’t assure itself it is meeting its priorities.

The service has saved £2m since 2016. But it doesn’t invest these savings in improvements. Instead, it mainly uses them to meet budget shortfalls.

The service works with other organisations to reduce costs. It has some continuity plans, so it can still provide fire cover if something goes wrong. But it doesn’t test these plans. Nottinghamshire FRS should improve its affordability, now and in the future. The service doesn’t use its financial reserves sustainably or save for future investment. So, it may find it difficult to invest to improve efficiency. The service’s trading arm supplies fire safety equipment, maintenance and training. It expects an income of £15,000 a year from this.

The service understands the financial risks it faces. It set out potential savings in its sustainability strategy and is making some of these savings.

The service has strategies for its capital spending but should monitor these, so it knows if it is benefiting from them. It has tried new methods to meet its financial targets but should check these to make sure they are effective.

The service has an information communication technology (ICT) strategy and invests in this area, but staff told us ICT systems were inefficient. The service should find out how it can invest in ICT to improve efficiency.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should implement a clear performance management framework that directly supports the objectives identified in the IRMP.
  • The service should make sure it has a testing programme for all business continuity plans.

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

Nottinghamshire FRS acknowledges that risks identified in its IRMP aren’t always aligned with its resources. There is no performance management against the 2014–2019 IRMP. Departmental and business plans such as workforce planning don’t link to it. And staff told us prevention and protection business plans needed updating to provide clearer direction. All of this means it can’t evaluate capacity across the service.

We were told that, because of resourcing difficulties, staff were struggling to maintain the risk-based inspection programme and safe and well referrals. The service is aware of this problem and proposes to address it by training its firefighters to assist with fire safety work.

Nottinghamshire FRS has made savings of £2m since 2016. This has been through management restructuring and new crewing models. It mainly uses the money it saves to balance budget shortfalls, rather than investing them for the future.

The service is looking to collaborate to reduce costs. Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire FRSs’ control rooms are to merge from June 2019. There are also plans to have a joint police and fire headquarters from 2021.

Productivity and ways of working

In the year to 31 March 2018, Nottinghamshire FRS’s firefighter cost per head of population was £21.20. 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, which is influenced in part by the rurality of the service. As of 31 March 2018, 77 percent of FTE firefighters were wholetime.

The service acknowledges it needs to improve its on-call availability across the county, particularly for daytime cover. It has assembled an on-call sustainability group to meet this need. But it needs to be clear how it will measure the success of the new project.

During 2019, the service will be implementing different shift patterns at two fire stations. It has also introduced a six-month trial for alternatively crewed vehicles, using crews of three, in some low-risk circumstances. The intention of this new approach is to increase fire engine availability.

The consistent lack of targets and performance reporting throughout Nottinghamshire FRS is of concern. It means it doesn’t know enough about how productive it is or how good or otherwise its services are. As a result, it can’t always be sure it uses its staff in the best way to meet its aims and priorities. It has acknowledged it needs to improve its approach to performance management.

The service has a process by which it records station-based activity such as training and community safety. But it isn’t clear how it uses this information to meet its overall objectives. It hasn’t yet made the best use of ICT to make sure this process is productive. Staff told us that having to record their training on three separate IT systems was time-consuming.

Collaboration

Nottinghamshire FRS shares the fire control function between Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. This means each service can mobilise each other’s fire engines. Nottinghamshire FRS is to merge control rooms with Derbyshire FRS from July 2019. The service is already sharing some sites with police, ambulance services and Nottingham City Council, and a joint police and fire headquarters is planned from 2021.

Nottinghamshire FRS funds a seconded occupational therapist from Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. This will increase staff skills and help the service assess whether it is meeting its community safety targets.

There is some evidence that Nottinghamshire FRS evaluates the benefits of collaborating with partner organisations. Its business plan shows that, as well as having practical advantages, the control room merger planned for July 2019 will save £365,000. We encourage the service to monitor and evaluate the success of these collaboration activities at the earliest opportunity.

Continuity arrangements

Nottinghamshire FRS has some continuity plans in place. We saw records of continuity testing for call handling and resilience co-ordination between Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire control rooms. The service also has a dedicated person in the IT department with overall responsibility for testing ICT business continuity plans. But there is no programme to test the plans of every department or station. It should make sure it carries out testing across all areas.

2

How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to accelerate its plans to improve ICT so that it makes best use of available technology to support operational effectiveness and efficiency.
  • The service should ensure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which fully consider the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2020 so it can prepare to secure the right level of savings.

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

Nottinghamshire FRS states its budget to be £42m, rising to £45m by 2020. It forecasts an ongoing budget deficit in the region of £800,000 based on an assumption of a future council tax increase of 1.95 percent. This is also dependent on other planned savings being realised.

The service has a sustainability strategy for 2016 to 2020 in which it identifies the main areas in which it can make savings. These include:

  • the use of on-call firefighters at periods of lowest demand; and
  • crewing fire engines differently through a new collective agreement.

It has made savings through management restructuring, alternative crewing and reducing fire engines on stations. It uses frameworks to purchase goods, services and equipment. A framework is a joint purchasing agreement with another organisation that allows the negotiation of a better price – it saved £25,000, for example, by using a framework to buy anti-virus software.

The service shows a good awareness of its main financial risks. These include pensions, Brexit, the comprehensive spending review and business rates. The service carries out projections to calculate the positive or negative impact on its financial status of pensions and any grants that might be available. Its corporate and financial risk register records high and very high risks.

The service told us it is waiting for the outcome of the comprehensive spending review before it makes any major cuts. It should make sure that, by not making savings early, it doesn’t unintentionally delay opportunity to invest in innovation.

The service has a capital spending programme. It has strategies for fleet, property and ICT. It should make sure these are closely monitored and regularly updated so the benefits can be appreciated.

Innovation

Nottinghamshire FRS has devised alternative ways to meet the financial targets set out in its efficiency plan. This includes different methods by which to maintain fire cover and crew fire engines, including an on-call sustainability group to support availability. However, the service should evaluate the effectiveness of these changes and their effect on services to the public.

The service has an ICT strategy and has invested in maintaining its existing ICT infrastructure. But staff told us of ICT systems that aren’t supporting more efficient ways of working. For example, tablets supplied to carry out safe and well visits are unreliable, so they use handwritten forms instead. The service also collects fire protection and risk information on paper forms, which is inefficient as they then have to be typed up.

Some staff we spoke to said they spend a large amount of time managing and updating three separate training systems. The service should assess how it can invest in ICT systems to create greater efficiency.

Future investment and working with others

Nottinghamshire FRS presented the report Budget Proposals for 2019/20 to 2021/22 and Options for Council Tax 2019/20 to the fire authority in February 2019. It predicts general reserves of £5.5m as of March 2019. The service uses these reserves to cover legal risks and budget shortfalls. The fire authority sets minimum acceptable reserves at £3.9m, leaving £1.6m to address budget shortfalls. The service expects a shortfall in 2019/20 of £1.2m. This effectively uses up all its available resources. This is unsustainable.

The service told us it is using the majority of its savings to meet the future predicted funding shortfall rather than for future investment. This is of concern because it limits its scope to create more efficient ways of providing services to the public.

As of 1 April 2017, Nottinghamshire FRS had around £4.9m in earmarked reserves. According to the service, £1m is for the capital programme and £1m for the new multi-agency Emergency Services Network for critical communications. The service also has £250,000 allocated to support ICT infrastructure. Some staff we spoke to find the current ICT system inefficient and equipment unreliable.

The combined fire authority established a trading company in 2010 to provide fire safety equipment, maintenance and training. It became an ‘arm’s length company’ (that is, one in which buyer and seller act independently of each other) in 2016 and the fire authority is currently considering changing its constitution again, to that of a community interest company. It generates an annual income of around £400,000 and pays around £60,000 to Nottinghamshire FRS for support services such as human resources (HR), payroll and finance. There is no target set or agreed for dividends receivable, although the service budgets on receiving an income of £15,000 a year. The company has cash reserves of £200,000 at present.