Skip to content

West Yorkshire 2018/19

Efficiency

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

Last updated 17/12/2019
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. West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service understands its financial climate. And its plans are based on realistic scenario planning. It takes into account its reduced budget and has plans to make the savings needed. This includes a procurement officer that also works with South Yorkshire FRS. This officer is able to negotiate better contracts on behalf of both services.

West Yorkshire FRS is good at allocating resources to best meet demand.

The service works with many organisations, which is bringing financial and non-financial benefits. It has a tri-service collaboration team and it has revised how it manages this, which has improved efficiency. It also plans to make further improvements.

The service has business continuity plans, but these haven’t yet been fully tested.

It generates income by sharing its stations with police and ambulance services. It plans to invest in better ICT equipment. This will make savings and improve efficiency. 

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?

Good

West Yorkshire 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 needs to prioritise testing 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

The service’s financial plans are based on sound planning assumptions. They take into account changes to pay, government grant, council tax, inflation and pension funding arrangements. The fire and rescue authority is briefed on the main financial risks. It provides scrutiny and challenge through its oversight committee. The service has solid financial plans to 2021–22 (the extent of the current IRMP). In the period after this, the service has completed scenario planning. This identifies many options that could make savings.

The service’s annual budget is £81.9m. It has a history of making savings, having saved £26.2m since 2010. These include a review of both non-pay and pay budgets, and changes to the way it provides operational fire cover. The service has planned savings of £2.4m. These have been included in the budget for 2019/20.

In the year to March 2018, the service had £18 million in earmarked reserves and £15.1 million in general reserves. These reserves support the medium-term financial plan. Earmarked reserves will fund the rebuilding and refurbishment of its 40 fire stations, headquarters and training centre. It will also be used to fund invest-to-save initiatives, including the procurement review and a more efficient operational crewing model. This will improve efficiency.

Financial and workforce plans make sure the service can continue to maintain the right level of operational response to manage the risks outlined in its IRMP. It is good at allocating its resources to meet the demands of the IRMP.

There was evidence of strong budget and workforce monitoring that has been put in place over the past 18 months. As mentioned before, the service is aware that it isn’t as good at distributing its resources in protection. It has plans to address this. 

Productivity and ways of working

The service manages performance at every level. Each area, including every station, has its own action plan. Called ‘our local action plan’, these flow from the service priorities, through the district priorities and then into the local station action plan. Staff were aware of what their action plans contained.

The service is introducing a revised operational crewing model. The aim is to use staff more productively. It expects to put this in place by September 2019. The service now has a system to help watch managers work more effectively. This involves them working independently of the watch, which frees up their time to deal with other work. Each watch manager handles two watches. This halves the number of managers needed at that level.

The alternative crewing model will mean that watch managers won’t be assigned to a fire engine. Instead, they will drive to an incident separately, only if needed. This means they will be available at incidents that are complex enough to need their skills. During more simple incidents, they will be able to continue with priority work such as risk visits or planning for training.

Collaboration

The service has a tri-service collaboration team which meets monthly. Its tri-service board and steering group meet quarterly to assess activity and progress made.

The service works collaboratively, which brings financial efficiencies. West Yorkshire FRS now governs the tri-service collaboration board. It has streamlined business cases going for approval to make sure more vital work is approved quicker.

Every year, organisations working with the service meet to discuss options for the coming year. This includes the tri-service board. The service assesses whether the expected benefits from collaborative work have been realised. This includes financial benefits.

The service is looking into strategic fire collaborations, such as ICT. It has a procurement officer that also works with South Yorkshire FRS. This means procurement is timed so that the services can jointly let contracts for equipment and services.

Continuity arrangements

The service has business continuity plans to deal with losing essential functions, such as mobilising and ICT. But these plans haven’t been fully tested. When we spoke to managers at fire stations, they didn’t have a good understanding of what to do. They relied on being told by more senior managers.

The service has an arrangement with South Yorkshire FRS to take emergency 999 calls for each other in case of a business interruption. This provides full cover. Each service has a room fitted out in the same way as their operational control rooms at each other’s premises. Each service will take calls on behalf of the other until the team can get to the temporary control room. This is tested regularly.

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 understands the financial climate in which it operates. And it has plans to make sure it remains sustainable in the future and deliver what is set out in its IRMP. It has shown that it has the flexibility to meet future financial challenges. There is evidence that important financial decisions it has made are linked to risk. The service is making credible decisions about financial plans.

It has invested reserves to improve efficiency and offer value for money. For example, it contracted the same procurement consultant as South Yorkshire FRS. This will improve joint procurement and better negotiate non-pay contractual arrangements. The service has also invested some of its reserves to reduce borrowing. The service’s figures showed a saving of £203,000 a year.

The service has completed an asset condition survey to inform its estate strategy. It also has a fully funded fleet strategy. This is resourced through capital and revenue budgets. The service has used telematics (tracking) to track the use of its vehicles. This has enabled it to reduce the number of vehicles it has, saving £110,000 a year. More savings are expected in the insurance premium because the service can prove how vehicles are being driven.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £20.47. This compares with the England rate of £22.38.

West Yorkshire FRS has addressed historical high levels of underspend through better budget planning and monitoring arrangements. All budget-holders now receive a regular report showing actual spend against planned spend. This shows if budgets are over or underspent.

Budget-holders must report the reasons to the chief finance officer. By doing this, it is more aligned with the IRMP. And underspent budgets can be reallocated to priority work quickly. Managers and fire authority members are trained in financial management. They are briefed on the times where the financial impact would be significant.

The service has detailed procurement regulations. And it is reducing non-pay costs through better procurement, national frameworks and benchmarking. For example, joint procurement of cutting equipment used at road traffic collisions. 

Innovation

The service has an ICT programme which is managed by the strategic board. It plans to make savings in this area. For example, a new rostering system will allow staff to make changes in real-time to show their availability to work. This will give the service flexibility in how they use crews and make the central staffing team more efficient. This is expected to save £200,000 a year. The mobile working technology means staff can access systems when working in the community. This reduces duplication because they don’t need to input data when returning to the fire station.

Future investment and working with others

The service doesn’t have a commercial trading arm. But it generates income by sharing its stations with other agencies, including the police and ambulance service. It has shared fire stations with police at Castleford, Pontefract, Slaithwaite and Killingbeck. It also shares eight of its stations with the ambulance service. Data supplied by the service shows it generated income of £600,000 through cost recovery schemes, including the charging of unwanted fire signals, primary authority schemes and the rental space on fire stations.

The service recognises that it has several outdated IT systems and that it needs to invest to make them fit for purpose. In some areas, the service is moving away from paper-based systems and is investing in better ICT.