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Cambridgeshire 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Good

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

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service proactively collaborates to make savings and improve outcomes for the public. It also uses technology to increase its efficiency. And since our last inspection, it has improved its ways of working and performance monitoring.

However, the service’s departments are still planning in isolation. The service should improve its approach to financial planning so that it connects its estates, fleet and reserves strategies with scenario plans and the IRMP. Its reserves strategy should clearly show how it plans to promote new ways of working. And its fleet and estates management strategies should demonstrate an understanding of how future changes (to those strategies) may impact its service to the public.

The service should also make sure it has sufficiently robust plans to address medium-term financial challenges (that is, beyond 2024) and secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?

Good

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making best use of its resources.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should manage their resources properly and appropriately, aligning them with the service’s risks and statutory responsibilities. Services should make best possible use of resources to achieve the best results for the public.

The service told us its revenue budget for 2020/21 is £30.419m. This is a 1.07 percent increase from the previous financial year.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

The service could better align resources to the risks and priorities identified in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP)

The service uses its resources to manage risk. Its workforce plans, including allocating staff to prevention, protection and response, continue to reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP.

However, its forecasting and planning are short term. The service allocates resources to activities on an annual basis, after it has reviewed the previous year’s base budget and adjusted for inflation and savings. It does not look, for example, three to five years ahead to anticipate where it might need to make a significant change in the way it spends, operates or saves.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority provides overview and scrutiny of the service’s budget performance to ensure the appropriate use of public money.

The service monitors performance effectively

We are pleased to see the service’s arrangements for monitoring performance had improved since our last inspection.

Its operational excellence group evaluates important areas of performance and progress against its IRMP, action plans and strategic priorities. For example, better aligning operational resources, including response times and availability, to risk and demand. At the time of the inspection, the service was piloting using two of its day-crewed pumps differently to cover on-call areas when the on-call fire engine is not available.

The service has a governance structure – that is, layers of management, teams and functions – to monitor performance across the organisation. It sends the fire authority reports and makes quarterly performance newsletters available to staff via its intranet.

The service has improved its ways of working

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made to the way it works since our last inspection. It is taking steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible, including implementing new ways of working. For example, the service has moved to targeted community safety, prioritising over 65s and the vulnerable. We also found on-call staff being trained to undertake prevention and protection activities, to ensure their time is productive while on stand-by duties.

The service has a more joined-up approach to carrying out prevention, protection and response activities. For example, it has introduced wholetime monthly priority plans. Station commanders and community risk managers agree the community fire safety and business engagement priorities within the plans. Wholetime watches are then allotted community fire safety hours and technical fire safety (business engagement) targets of operational risk work per month, reducing duplication of activity.

The service responded to our last inspection and has reviewed its training provision to make trainers available during evenings and weekends. It is working with representative bodies to introduce more flexible contracts and improve trainers’ work-life balance.

The service recognises that further improvements are needed. It is in the process of training 20 assistant trainers. We are interested to see how this develops.

The service collaborates and improves outcomes for the public

We are pleased to see that the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders.

The service shares its information and communication technology (ICT) provision with Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. And it has purchased a new mobilising system with Suffolk and realises savings of approximately £400,000 a year (from a combined fire control).

The service also collaborates well with the health sector. It is currently volunteering to support the national COVID-19 vaccination programme, providing marshalling, logistics and vaccinators.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in its IRMP. For example, volunteers from The Bobby Scheme carry out home fire safety checks for the vulnerable and disabled people on behalf of the service.

The service actively explores opportunities to collaborate and improve services to the public. For example, it has made its stations available for free to host blood donation sessions. Since 2017, this has saved the NHS Blood and Transplant £6,500 in venue costs.

We are pleased to see the service monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of its collaborations. The service is not afraid to make difficult decisions when a collaboration does not provide value for money or causes significant delays. For example, the service decided not to renew its contract with its wide area network (WAN) provider when the cost went up. It switched provider and collaborated with Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to make savings of approximately £200,000 (for the length of that contract).

The service has good business continuity arrangements

The service has good continuity arrangements in place for high-risk areas. The threats and risks are regularly reviewed and tested so that staff are aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities. For example, during our recent COVID-19 inspection, we found that the service had a pandemic flu plan and business continuity plans which were in place and in date. It also has plans for industrial action and fall-back control which it reviews regularly.

Day-to-day financial management is good

There are regular reviews to consider all the service’s expenditure, including its non‑pay costs. And this scrutiny makes sure the service gets value for money. For example:

  • the service made savings of approximately £25,000 between 1 March and 31 July 2020 from BP’s national fuel offer; and
  • replaced diesel cars with petrol in 2019/20 which saved approximately £85,000.

The service has processes to ensure consistency of procurement. For example, the procurement team uses benefit cards (like prompt cards) to help ensure compliance, transparency, consistency and value for money.

Departmental underspend is reallocated to areas of need.

2

How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?

Requires improvement

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement for how it makes the service affordable now and in the future.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should continuously look for ways to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. This includes transforming how they work and improving their value for money. Services should have robust spending plans that reflect future financial challenges and efficiency opportunities and should invest in better services for the public.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which address the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2024 and secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks (R1 AFI).
  • The service should have a clear and sustainable strategic plan for the use of its reserves which promotes new ways of working.
  • The service should ensure that its fleet and estates management programmes are linked to the IRMP, and it understands the impact future changes to those programmes may have on its service to the public.

Innovative practice

The service has effective and efficient asset management systems. Staff use scanners and information tablets for:

  • undertaking equipment and appliance checks and inventories;
  • automating the recording of defects; and
  • alerting fleet and estates to action, significantly reducing administration.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

The service should ensure it has sufficiently robust plans to address medium-term financial challenges and secure an affordable way of managing risks including fire

The service has an understanding of its financial challenges. We are pleased to see that it has undertaken comprehensive spending review scenario planning for future spending reductions. However, it has not linked the scenario planning to its medium-term financial plan (MTFP) or IRMP. Its planning assumptions don’t adequately recognise the wider external environment and risk, which limits its ability to ensure it will be able to allocate resource to risk. It also means that savings will have minimal impact beyond 2024.

More could be done to align the scenario planning to the MTFP and IRMP to:

  • identify changes in demand/risk;
  • understand costs;
  • benchmark against other fire and rescue services; and
  • identify areas where the service has performed well or was comparatively expensive.

There is scope for the service to consider more sophisticated budget allocation models that would help do this.

The service is planning to spend a significant amount of its financial reserves over the next two to three years. This means it will be left with a much-reduced cushion against future changes in its income or spending; and will have limited opportunity to invest in service improvements

Reserves are set to fall significantly. At the start of 2020/21 the service had reserves totalling £12.2m, this total is set to fall to £3.6m by 2023/24. Around £6m from reserves is planned to be spent building the new training centre and station development in Huntingdon.

By 2023/24 the service plans to reduce its general reserve from £3.1m to £1.2m, and its earmarked reserves will be £2.4m; there is a risk that they will have been depleted too much. For example, the service overspent on some staffing budgets by around £0.5m and on supplies, services and IT by a further £0.7m in 2020/21; the remaining reserves will provide less scope to balance future annual budget shortfalls.

The service’s plans do not say how reserves will be used to promote new ways of working. They offer limited opportunity to invest, save or cushion any unexpected reduction in income/increase in costs.

More could be done to link fleet and estates strategies to the priorities in the integrated risk management plan (IRMP)

The service has fleet and estates strategies, but they are not clearly linked to the risks in the IRMP.

The service does not routinely or systematically monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of its fleet. For example, the service has identified local performance indicators that could be used to understand existing and future trends to deliver service improvements, but they have not been developed yet.

The service is not properly assessing the impact any changes in estate and fleet provision or future innovation may have on risk. For example, there are no performance measures other than budgetary spend. Budget planning is done annually and simply set to increase incrementally year to year.

The service uses technology to improve efficiencies

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. For example, it uses scanners and tablets for fire appliance (fire engine) equipment checks and inventories. This improves the efficiency and effectiveness of its asset management process.

The service has invested in a service transformation and efficiency programme (STEP) that automates and streamlines business processes including:

  • on-call payments;
  • sickness;
  • performance and development reviews;
  • recruitment; and
  • budget information.

STEP has removed the need for paper forms and reduced duplication, as a single data entry populates multiple systems.

The service has put in place the capacity and capability needed to achieve sustainable transformation, and it routinely seeks opportunities to work with others to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future. For example, it is developing its own interface (through STEP) for a new mobilising system (Systel) and on-call availability system (Gartan) to make savings.

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