Avon 2021/22Read more about Avon
This is HMICFRS’s third assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.
The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.
The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.
The extent to which the service looks after its people requires improvement.
Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
It was a pleasure to revisit Avon Fire and Rescue Service. I am grateful for the positive and constructive way that the service engaged with our inspection. I want to thank the service for working with us by accommodating a mostly virtual approach to this inspection. These inspections would normally be conducted using a hybrid approach, but inspecting against the backdrop of the pandemic meant we had to inspect more activity virtually. I also want to recognise the disruption caused by the pandemic. This has been considered in our findings.
In our last inspection, we identified three causes of concern. We are very pleased with the progress the service has made since to address these. It produced a robust action plan for resolving each cause of concern and has detailed the progress made against each area for improvement. I am delighted that I can now discharge the three causes of concern we found in our 2018 inspection.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service has made significant investments in its protection function. The service has seen this investment pay off. It has been able to more than double the number of staff working in protection and has enough resources to work on its highest risk premises.
We are very encouraged that the senior leadership team is now more visible to staff. The service consulted its workforce on its new values and behaviours framework, which is widely understood and accepted. It has also invested in provisions to support the physical and mental health of its staff, including dedicated outdoors wellbeing spaces.
In this inspection, we identified no further causes of concern. But there are several areas for improvement. The service needs to improve the way it gathers and maintains risk information to make sure firefighters have access to up-to-date and useful information that will help them in their work. And we found that some staff haven’t had the training they need to do their jobs. This means that they aren’t carrying out their roles with the right support.
The service’s IT infrastructure is out of date, which affects how well – how effectively and flexibly – staff can do their jobs. Rightly, the service recognises this deficit and is investing in new infrastructure as part of its transformation programme.
Overall, I am very pleased with the progress the service has made. The challenge now is for the service to keep up this momentum in making further improvements to make the people of Avon safer.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment
We are pleased with the progress that Avon Fire and Rescue Service has made in terms of its effectiveness in keeping people in its service area safe and secure. In 2018, we had a cause of concern about the lack of resources in the protection function. It has made good investments in this area. We were pleased to see that the service has changed its staffing model and, as a result, has been able to more than double the number of staff in that team. It now has enough qualified staff to meet the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme (RBIP).
It has also made investments in other areas like progressing the service’s compliance with the national operational guidance. It is experimenting with new staffing models to address crewing shortages in on-call stations and has increased response availability.
The service has published its own response standard. This is now based on risk, rather than more general factors like population density, and sets targets for its own response times to emergencies. We found that it is currently meeting the standards it has set itself, and its overall response availability is consistently high. The service is also well prepared for major incidents.
There are still areas which need to improve. The service gathers data regularly and has access to a range of data sets. But it doesn’t use this effectively. For example, the way it gathers and maintains risk information should be improved. And the service needs to make sure that lessons from operational activities are learned by firefighters.
Nonetheless, we were pleased with the improvements we found in this latest inspection.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment
We are pleased with the improvements the service has made since our previous inspection in 2018. The service has a good understanding of the financial challenges it may face in the future and has planned for a variety of financial risks. Our previous inspection identified as an area for improvement that the medium-term financial plan was not linked to the service plan, and we are pleased that this has now been addressed. The service scrutinises its spending to make sure it gets value for money, and can make savings and efficiencies without negatively affecting its service to the public. The service has exploited external funding opportunities, including a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme grant of nearly £1m, which we have noted as good practice.
It has made significant investment in protection staff, as well as other areas such as wellbeing. However, it still regularly has staffing shortages in its control room, and firefighters are often moved to other stations to cover shortfalls. The service has already recruited six new fire control officers and has firefighter recruitment courses planned for 2022. It is also trialling a new crewing model for some on-call stations to increase response availability.
The service needs to make sure that its IT systems are resilient, reliable, accurate and accessible. There has not been enough historic investment in IT infrastructure, and staff told us that this limits their ability to work flexibly. The service recognises this and is piloting new software and upgrading broadband in stations. The fire authority has approved a £1.5m investment in IT, and the service has funded a transformation programme to improve the way it operates through digital technology, which includes improvements to its IT infrastructure.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate in its 2018/19 assessment
In our 2018 inspection, we highlighted as a cause of concern that the service hadn’t clearly communicated with staff about its new values and how to demonstrate these in the workplace. We are pleased to see how much progress has been made since then. The service consulted with staff to develop a new values and behaviour framework, and its values are now well understood by staff. It has also published a leadership charter, setting out expectations of managers, and a substantial majority of staff told us they think that their line manager meets these standards.
There has also been good progress in how the service looks after the wellbeing and mental health of its staff, which we listed as a cause of concern in 2018. It now has wellbeing policies which are well understood and effective, and a good range of wellbeing provisions for staff. Despite this, some managers did tell us that they hadn’t received training in providing wellbeing support to their teams, and so weren’t always confident in doing so. The service has processes on issues like health and safety, and staff absence, although some of its policies are out of date and need to be reviewed.
In our previous inspection, we said that the service needed to improve the way it deals with succession planning. Its plan for this has not been finalised, and the service still needs to do more in this area. Staffing shortfalls have continued to be a problem. Firefighters are often moved to other stations, and the control room has gone below the minimum number of staff required. Some staff haven’t received the training they need to do their jobs, and non-operational staff can’t access the full range of training available to operational staff. Training in equality, diversity and inclusion has also been inconsistent. We recognise that the pandemic has affected face-to-face training, but the service still needs to do more.
The service also needs to improve its processes for addressing bullying and harassment, and for making its recruitment and promotion processes fair and open. It has made some improvements in increasing diversity at all levels of the organisation – it has identified parts of the recruitment process which could be a potential barrier to female or BAME applicants and is addressing these appropriately. However, staff do not always understand the service’s positive action initiatives.
Overall, the service has made good progress in some areas relating to how it deals with its workforce, but some areas still need improvement.