Skip to content

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

The service is managing its people and resources efficiently. All parts of the service are working to targets based on the central service plan. The service uses data to create a dashboard that shows how well it is doing in meeting its targets. The service keeps spending under control. There are robust plans for managing the money it is given to keep people safe from fire and other risks. These plans are tested against possible future financial risks. Savings are made that allow money to be spent on projects to keep the service fit for the future, such as the plan to redevelop Telford Central fire station.

Serving a rural area, two-thirds of Shropshire’s firefighting strength comes from staff who don’t work full-time as firefighters. These on-call staff are vital. The service is right to be working on plans to make sure these jobs continue to attract good recruits. This is part of the planning needed to reduce as far as possible any risks which would make it more difficult for the service to do its job efficiently.

To make sure that it is ready to cope with major problems that could make it hard to keep working, the service could improve how it runs exercises to test the way the control room works.

Shropshire is working well with its neighbours to keep costs down, for example by buying equipment together to get a better price. The planned alliance with Hereford and Worcester should help to make the service more efficient.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

Shropshire Fire and 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 it has good business continuity arrangements in place that take account of all foreseeable threats and risks.

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 has a thorough integrated risk management plan (IRMP). This is known as the service plan and covers 2015–2020. We found that the service has an effective system to evaluate its performance against the targets and priorities in the IRMP.

The service has departmental plans which feed into the service plan. These include property, ICT, communications, response, fleet and protection. We found that each departmental plan has annual performance targets. These feed into the service plan and focus on departmental targets, priorities and performance against objectives as well as areas for improvement.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has developed a data warehouse system to store a wide range of performance data. Performance dashboards drawn from the data are used to ensure that the service is meeting operational performance targets for areas such as on-call availability, command and control system (SEED) and operational response.

We saw that the service is actively managing corporate risk at both departmental and organisational level. Both departmental and strategic managers are responsible for raising and reporting any issues that might prevent the service from meeting the commitments to the public stated in its plan.

The service has a medium-term financial plan. We found planning assumptions to be reasonable. The plan considers a variety of funding streams outside its control, such as central government grants and nationally set pay awards. It also considers the effect of varying levels of council tax.

The service uses data on incidents and other activity to determine budget allocation for prevention, protection and response resources. The finance team provides guidance and advice to departmental managers to support budget monitoring.

We found that the service is good at resourcing prevention and response activities. However, protection activity is not given the same priority. This means the service’s risk-based inspection programme has fallen behind.

Productivity and ways of working

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service describes itself as an on-call service with a wholetime core. On-call staff made up just under 52.6 percent of the total workforce headcount as at 31 March 2018. The service has invested in making the on-call role attractive and sustainable. Full-time support officers give back-up to on-call teams. This has ensured the service maintains the promised levels of fire cover and resilience to the public.

The service has exceptionally high on-call availability levels. It has set up an on-call sustainability project to address the problem of maintaining this for the future. For example, the service has introduced a smartphone app that lets on-call staff access an electronic availability system. Staff told us that they have found this much easier to use than previous systems which relied on computer access. This system has improved the service’s ability to monitor vehicle availability through real-time updates. However, we found that the command and control system is not compatible and relies on manual updating.

We found that the service has a tailored selection process and a modular training system for on-call staff. However, on-call staff who want to transfer into wholetime roles must still go through the same recruitment process as members of the public.

We were pleased that the service has reviewed its wholetime staff duty system. It introduced a flexible crewing model designed to maintain response standards with the minimum number of firefighters on duty. This is planned to save £450,000 by 2021.

Collaboration

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service collaborates with other agencies to promote fire safety compliance. It shares information and carries out joint initiatives such as seminars with local authority building control. The protection team works with a multi-agency targeted enforcement team on action days to improve public safety.

The service’s prevention team shares information and data with other agencies. Partners can make referrals to the service when risks are identified.

The service has a joint framework agreement with neighbouring services for buying fire engines to save on costs. The service also works with a neighbouring service to identify common efficiencies, for example by benchmarking budgets.

A quarterly audit performance management committee meeting provides details about achievements, milestones and budgets. Projects are co-ordinated through the transformation board and scrutinised monthly.

We found that the service is in the early stages of an ambitious strategic alliance with the neighbouring Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service. This offers opportunities for improved resilience and greater efficiency. However, it is not yet clear how quickly the expected financial savings will be realised.

Continuity arrangements

The service has a disaster recovery system in place for information technology (IT). IT continuity exercises are carried out, but there is no specific or set frequency.

We found that there is an inconsistent approach to business continuity testing in the control room. The control room does not have a set programme of business continuity testing and exercising. Staff were unable to give us examples of learning from the last exercise. However, we were pleased to see that there is a daily check on the 999 call back-up system.

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 an overall budget of £21.3m. We found evidence of sound scenario planning to challenge future financial assumptions. We are satisfied that there is sound budget control and management of funds. Purchases are scrutinised to justify, and keep control of, expenditure. The service is audited both internally and externally.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £23.69. This compares to the England rate of £22.38 for the same time period. However, many factors influence this cost, for example the ratio of wholetime to retained staff in a rural county.

The service has achieved savings of £3m since 2012 by redistributing workstreams and introducing a flexible crewing system. Some savings were achieved earlier than anticipated. The service is using these savings to fund capital programmes and reduce future borrowing.

The service has a transformation board that meets regularly to oversee and scrutinise projects and collaborative initiatives. It also seeks to identify more efficient ways of working. Transformation projects include on-call sustainability, extra-large fire engines and IT systems. We found evidence of joint procurement and use of established tenders to provide value for public money. However, we found no benchmarking information was available.

The service looks to the wider external environment when making financial assumptions. An example is bespoke specification of fire engines and equipment to meet individual community area needs.

Innovation

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is continuing to make savings to invest for future innovation. Projects include the redevelopment of Telford Central fire station and training centre.

The service has projects in place to improve IT infrastructure. These include upgrading data terminals for fire engines, accessible crewing rota systems and an improved risk information management system. It has also introduced better admin support systems.

There are several ICT champions who ensure that opportunities presented by changes in technology are considered. We saw examples of new technology in use. However, we found that staff are hampered by a shortage of IT workstations at on-call stations.

We found the fleet and estates strategies to be reasonable. They include resource life expectancy and maintenance requirements. Fleet maintenance is provided in house and through some working with West Mercia Police.

Future investment and working with others

The service has ambitious plans in place to reduce capital reserves to minimum acceptable levels over the medium term. The main capital project will be a rebuild of Telford Central fire station and training centre. We found other initiatives to upgrade older stations and minimise borrowing. The service considers the wider environment of collaboration and future needs when looking to upgrade estates.

As previously noted, the service has introduced extra-large fire engines. This initiative means fewer fire engines can maintain the same level of response to emergency calls. However, the response strategy has not been revised to reflect this.

We found a save rather than borrow approach to capital spending. The service has made a conscious decision to place any budget underspend into financial reserves. These additional funds are earmarked to reduce the impact of future borrowing costs on revenue expenditure.

The service has agreed key areas that will improve efficiency as part of its strategic alliance with Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service. The three main collaboration projects are:

Strategic alliance planning started in 2018, and we very much look forward to seeing the benefits of this collaboration.