How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.
The service meets its objectives using planning and collaboration. It has identified areas for improvement – such as response times and prevention work – and has effective strategies to tackle them. Its working relationship with the county council has also improved.
There are some ways in which the service could improve productivity. We have particular concerns about the role of watch manager response commander, which was introduced recently. The responsibilities and duties of this role aren’t well defined, and resources aren’t being used efficiently as a result.
We were pleased to see evidence of several collaborations with other services, but these projects haven’t always been properly evaluated. Future collaborations should be more structured, with evaluation built in from the start.
The service has done good work to make sure it makes the best use of resources and stays financially viable, particularly setting up a partnership with West Midlands FRS. It has good asset management plans. We have some concerns about procurement though, as important contracts have been allowed to lapse without being renewed, and staff told us about technical problems with the service’s new fire engines.
How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that it allocates enough resources to protection work.
- The service should assure itself that its workforce is productive. It needs to clarify the role of watch manager, make staff fully aware of what the service expects from this role, and ensure best value from the watch manager role with a standard approach across the service.
- The service should ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration.
- The service needs to prioritise implementing new business continuity plans and test them as soon as possible, particularly for fire control.
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 is aware of areas where it has struggled with response times and has a clear objective to tackle this. Some of the failures have been in motorway locations, where access at certain junctions needs the neighbouring service to attend. Others relate to the availability of on-call fire engines, and fire engines having to travel further if the closest isn’t available.
In response to these problems, the service carried out a crewing review. This led to the creation of Gaydon 12–hour peak demand fire station, which was achieved by re-distributing existing resources. Data provided by the service shows that it has improved response times in a mostly on-call area, where daytime availability is limited. It has recognised the need to provide capacity for the periods of highest demand for service, by using more wholetime resources.
Data provided by the service shows it has increased its prevention staff by five full-time posts, using one-off funding from the county council. The team will focus on working with the people most at risk from fire. This followed a review by Staffordshire FRS after three fatal fires in the 12 months to 31 March 2018. There are no plans for how to sustain these positions once the funding ends, but the service is confident that the preventative work staffing model will become self-sustaining. They have a number of future prevention projects under development, including ‘Telecare falls response’ and ‘home from hospital’.
Productivity and ways of working
Warwickshire FRS is a county council fire and rescue service which is supported by a business partner model for ICT, human resources, communication and vehicle maintenance. The service is able to draw on council-wide support functions in these areas.
Service managers told us that the co-ordination between the service and the county council has improved under the current leadership. However, we found a lack of information about human resources. The service uses the county council’s system, which doesn’t support fire and rescue service staff in accessing up-to-date information such as sickness monitoring and staff-planning figures. This means that managers can’t monitor sickness absence or identify patterns in an employee’s absence, or trends of absence types.
There are also problems with the new role of watch manager response commanders. Watch commanders were previously in charge of fire engines, but as response commanders they, in theory:
- provide day-time cover;
- undertake managerial duties; and
- respond to incidents in liveried cars.
However, both managers and staff seem unclear about the purpose of this role. We were told that some watch manager response commanders had hardly been used in the last 12 months. This is clearly not an effective use of resources.
The deputy chief fire officer is in charge of managing performance. This involves overseeing the IRMP, business planning process and risk planning. Departments and stations have their own performance plans, which are the responsibility of station managers. The group commanders meet with the station managers every six weeks, and this feeds into the area managers’ group and into the brigade command team meetings.
This process is clear to senior leaders but is not well understood throughout the service. We found that accountability for performance in training and prevention is unclear, although the service is working to improve this.
For many years, Warwickshire FRS has collaborated with a range of partners, including the police, other neighbouring fire and rescue services, the NHS and local authorities. It works in partnership with Northamptonshire FRS on fire control, and with Hereford and Worcester FRS on fire engineering support. However, the service hasn’t properly evaluated these partnerships, so it was difficult to see what had worked, and what lessons the service has learned.
Recently the service announced a partnership with West Midlands FRS, which will initially look at collaboration in training, prevention and fire control. This is an important element of Warwickshire FRS’s plan to make savings and improve services in future. This project has clear documentation, a governance structure and three objectives as part of its initial phase. Both organisations recognise there are important ways that they could work together.
A peer review in 2016 found that the service’s business continuity arrangements were vulnerable. In response, it drew up a new policy. At the time of inspection this was only just due to be signed off, and until it is tested we are unable to evaluate it.
There is regular training and testing of equipment at the service’s secondary control in Wellesbourne, but it has never been fully tested as a control room. This is an area the service should address.
How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?
Warwickshire FRS is good at making the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service needs to demonstrate sound financial management of principal non-pay costs. It should improve its contract management and make sure it manages the risks for each contract. It should also use specialist resources available from Warwickshire County Council to make sure contracts are fully managed to get the best results for the service and the public.
Improving value for money
The service has identified that it needs to make savings of £1.5m by 2020. Managers in both the county council and the service are confident that the collaboration with West Midlands FRS and some other smaller savings will be enough to make its financial position tenable by 2020.
The service has a good asset management plan that provides a comprehensive analysis and options concerning the current buildings and vehicles to address risks identified in the IRMP. It has also looked at where it may need to locate stations in future, with options for new sites in Rugby.
The county council plans to improve how it oversees the service’s budget management. The financial plan for the service is produced at county council level, and the savings it needs to make are set out in the council’s ‘one organisation plan 2017–2020’. The county council has taken into account pay, inflation and precept, and the loss of the revenue support grant. We were told that the council had carried out some scenario planning for what will happen post-2020, and assessed the risk.
Procurement in the service is controlled by the service directly, or county council specialists, dependent on the stage and size of the contract. We found limited evidence of effective procurement, contract and risk-control measures. There are some examples of contracts ending before the new ones were in place, because their importance to the service and county council had not been recognised. The most significant example is the staff availability system which allows on-call staff to book on or off duty. The creation of interim and longer-term solutions added to workloads and made the service less effective.
The service has bought smaller, lighter fire engines, saving approximately £100,000 per vehicle compared with the larger models. Staff expressed concerns about the build quality and reliability of the new vehicles. We are concerned about the processes and expertise used to bring this vehicle in to the service, as they would be expected to minimise these sorts of problems.
Warwickshire FRS has developed its own in-house incident recording system, FireCrest, to collect data for statutory returns to the Home Office. It was built using a standard operating platform to make sure it was sustainable. Whereas many systems designed in-house prove impossible to maintain once the staff that designed them leave, this system allows operational staff to record what they learned from the incident when they are completing the report. This isn’t usually found on an incident recording system, and we consider it a good use of technology.
The service uses a personal electronic tally to record the testing of breathing apparatus. This provides a simple but effective audit trail of the testing regime.
The service has recently reviewed and altered its approach to ICT. As a result the ICT business partner is designing a development plan for the use of ICT in the future. The county council ICT department is currently assisting the service in actively speeding up processes that were paper based or labour intensive through the use of IT.
Future investment and working with others
As a council service, Warwickshire FRS does not have its own financial reserves. However, the service does have certain ear-marked council reserves (for example, for ill-health pensions for firefighters). It also retains a small budget, mostly accumulated through under-spends, which allowed the service to pay for overtime when there was a staffing shortfall in 2018.
The service currently trains local industry in-house firefighters on a cost recovery basis. There may be other ways that the service could generate income, but this isn’t currently a priority. We would encourage the service to monitor and evaluate the benefits of this activity.
The more recent prevention projects discussed above – ‘home from hospital’ and ‘Telecare falls response’ – are aimed at diversifying the service and working in partnership with other county council partners.