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Surrey 2018/19

Efficiency

How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?

Last updated 20/12/2018
Inadequate

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is inadequate.

The service is inadequate at making the best use of resources. We are concerned that it does not use its financial and physical resources efficiently to manage risk and keep people safe. The service is working to manage its longer-term challenges but this is not resulting yet in sustainable change. It has reduced the size of its staff through people leaving and retiring but has not adjusted its ways of working accordingly.

It relies on overtime working to keep fire engines available. This is not sustainable financially, and could put crew members and the public at risk. The service does not have a robust workforce plan. It relies heavily on staff working overtime. This has led to inefficient ways of working, such as managers spending too much time on planning. We saw a number of examples of the service collaborating with other organisations. But we did not see much evidence of benefits to the service.

The service must improve the way it makes its service affordable now and in future. It is making the savings required by Surrey County Council between 2010/11 and 2020/21. But it is not clear whether the service can maintain this until 2021. It uses the council’s HR, IT and payroll, but does not check to see whether these provide good value. The service uses an effective tool that draws on historical risk data to map the need for cover. Frontline staff told us that the database they use for risk work is frustratingly slow and inefficient. The service needs to train staff fully in IT systems. The service is collaborating with others to save money but two such projects are delayed. A lack of investment in estate and fleet has left the service without some training facilities.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Inadequate

Cause of concern

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service doesn’t use its resources efficiently to manage risk or its financial and physical resources effectively to keep people safe.

Recommendations

By 30 June 2019, the service should ensure that:

  • its resourcing model meets risk demand sustainably;
  • its workforce model supports its operational model to manage risk efficiently and sustainably; and
  • it uses the available budget prudently to support its risk management activities.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it makes the most of collaboration opportunities and that they improve its capacity, capability, service to the public and are value for money.

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 lists nine proposals in its IRMP to manage its longer-term challenges and keep Surrey communities safe. It monitors these proposals regularly through the IRMP action plan. We could not find evidence that they are bringing about the sustainable changes that the service needs to make to meet its budgetary requirements. The service must look closely at areas like workforce planning, collaboration and operational deployment.

The service decided to reduce the number of its wholetime operational staff seven years ago. It has achieved staff reductions through people leaving and retiring rather than through voluntary or compulsory redundancy. But it has not refreshed its assumptions for its operational response modelling in line with the changing profile of the workforce. The service relies on paying staff overtime to maintain appliance availability. This is an inefficient use of resources. The service needs to assure itself that it has enough staff for the level of risk its community faces in the long term. It should not rely on short-term measures such as overtime payments. Until the service solves this for the long term, it needs more robust management to ensure crews are safe to work.

The service must consider the level of resources it needs to meet the risks in Surrey and manage its resources accordingly. The service has taken some steps towards this. For example, the service closed two fire stations and opened a new one, ensuring the same level of cover in both areas. But this project has not yet released the expected £900,000 in savings because of problems with property access.

Productivity and ways of working

As at 31 March 2018, of 558 full-time equivalent firefighter posts, 469 are wholetime firefighters and 89 are retained duty system firefighters. This is a reduction from the 641 full-time equivalent wholetime firefighters and the 103 full-time equivalent retained firefighters as at 31 March 2011.

Despite the service’s decision to reduce the workforce, it does not have a robust workforce plan. The service’s crewing model is based on four operational staff for each wholetime fire engine. In 2017, to increase the availability of crews, the service agreed to remove the limit on the amount of overtime that staff can work. The service now relies on firefighters working overtime to maintain its operational response.

The service could not show that it had enough controls to manage the welfare of its staff working overtime. Owing to this decision, there are inefficiencies throughout the wholetime workforce. This includes managers spending excessive time planning moves and visits and the rescheduling of planned training. The service recognises this problem and is trying to increase its wholetime workforce through recruitment and transfers.

The service uses its wholetime workforce to do prevention and protection activities. We found that the service could improve the links it makes between station plans and local risks. Adopting a more tailored approach to station plans could ensure a better match between activities and risk, and improve staff productivity.

Collaboration

The service recognises its duty to collaborate and has a long history of attempted collaboration. But there is little evidence to show this has increased capacity or improved service.

Transformation funding for emergency medical response has improved the service to the public and diversified the skills of the operational workforce. But this project is on hold. The service has recently collaborated with Surrey Police on the provision of occupational health. Both organisations now hope to offer a wider range of support to staff. The service has yet to fully understand the benefits of this.

Closer work with East Sussex and West Sussex fire and rescue services is starting to show some promise. The services are aligning their in-house processes to increase collaborative opportunities. One example of this is joint recruitment, although this has not done much to increase capacity, capability or savings.

Continuity arrangements

The service’s business continuity arrangements are externally audited each year. The service tests its control centre and its IT systems. Both have features to limit the risk in the event of a catastrophic failure. These include security accreditation of IT systems and fall-back arrangements for fire control.

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 ensure how it uses technology to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. It should ensure that efficient processes and appropriate training are in place for staff who use IT systems in their work.

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 told us that between 2010/11 and 2020/21, Surrey County Council required it to save £10.7m. The service has managed its savings to date through a programme of workforce reduction and restructure, income generation and station relocation. It has set out the savings plans in its IRMP and in its medium-term financial plan (MTFP). However, the service does not have future savings plans that meet the demands of the MTFP.

The main savings to date have come from reductions in wholetime firefighters (full-time equivalent) of approximately a quarter (641 as at 31 March 2011 to 469 as at 31 March 2018) since 2011. The fire cover reconfiguration project, which involved the closure of two fire stations and the opening of a newly located station, has experienced delays. The project has not realised its predicted savings in time.

The service has ways to generate income through a trading arm of the county council. Data provided by the service stated the income generated in 2017/18 was £531,000. It comes from areas such as contingency and training provision. The council supports the service’s savings plan.

The service does not have its own reserves. Financial contingency is provided from a reserve held by the Surrey County Council. Surrey County Council provides support functions, including HR, IT and payroll. The service showed us the costs of these functions. But the service does not scrutinise or review these costs to ensure that they provide good value for money.

Innovation

The service is innovative in how it manages its resources as incidents happen. An example of this is its dynamic cover tool. This database has five years of historical data. It feeds a live mapping system that shows where fire engines are, and where it predicts risk. Fire control uses this tool to manage resources according to risk in real time. The service knows it could do more with this to develop the concept of borderless mobilising. This could increase efficiencies with its neighbouring fire and rescue services.

The service also uses a range of IT-based systems to support operational activity, but they aren’t always efficient. An example is the database that the service uses for its prevention, protection and operational risk work. Frontline staff told us that this system is often slow and is not easy to use. It also creates inefficiencies by duplicating work, which staff find frustrating. The service also needs to ensure that it fully trains staff in the IT systems.

Future investment and working with others

The service has exploited opportunities for external funding. These include a £377,000 grant to provide emergency medical response with South East Coast Ambulance Service. The trial has now stopped. The service awaits the outcomes of negotiations at national level between the employers and the representative bodies. The service believes the ongoing benefits to the public would include better trained firefighters with access to more medical equipment.

In May 2015, the service received £5.95m in funding for its integrated transport function project. This is a collaboration between Surrey and Sussex fire and police. The aim is to increase capacity and reduce the cost of the transport function across these organisations. The project is happening more slowly than planned. It has not yet produced real financial benefits.

The service has not invested well in its estate and fleet. The service’s hot fire house is unusable for realistic breathing apparatus training. But it has alternative arrangements in place. The service is using fire engines for longer than was planned instead of renewing them. Although the service is purchasing new fire engines, it is unclear how it is collaborating to reduce the costs.