Cheshire 2021/22Read more about Cheshire
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 is good.
The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.
The extent to which the service looks after its people is good.
Andy Cooke, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
It was a pleasure to revisit Cheshire 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 the virtual approach of this inspection. Inspections normally involve more in-person activities but inspecting against the backdrop of the pandemic meant we had to inspect virtually. Future inspections will involve a hybrid approach. I also want to recognise the disruption caused by the pandemic. This has been considered in our findings.
Overall, the service is effective and efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire. And, on balance, it looks after its people well. It has made an impressive investment to promote culture and values, and equality, inclusion and diversity throughout its organisation.
The service worked in line with government and National Fire Chiefs Council guidelines to provide prevention and protection activities throughout the pandemic. More than 100 staff have been trained to administer the vaccine and support the vaccination programme. Staff are also visiting vulnerable members of the community to encourage vaccine take up.
We are pleased to see the service working on the areas for improvement identified in our 2018 inspection. There has been good progress, for example, to increase protection resource and capability. We watch the restructure of its protection team with interest, as it is yet unfinished.
The service has developed an effective integrated risk management plan. It is based on data and intelligence from a range of sources, which it regularly reviews and updates. Staff can easily access the information they need to assess and respond to vulnerability and risk in individuals and groups, and when responding to incidents. But access to information should be improved for staff from fire control. The service should also work with fire control to review its business continuity plans.
It is encouraging that the service has made plans to secure savings in the medium term by improving its budgeting process, widening its scenario planning and testing for future financial arrangements. But its fleet strategy is unclear and lacks detail.
This year, we identified three areas for improvement relating to people.
The service should improve the way it manages performance and development across the organisation to diversify its leadership pool. Some staff feel that promotion processes are unfair, and promotion opportunities for non-operational staff could be improved. And finally, the service would benefit from more women and people from BAME backgrounds being represented at all levels.
We know from the service’s progress since our last inspection that it is capable of focused work to make improvements. We look forward to seeing it develop further, especially in relation to its people, who make the service what it is.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.
The service has developed an effective integrated risk management plan. It uses data and intelligence to identify a range of risks and describes how it intends to respond and reduce them. Additionally, it has good processes for gathering and sharing risk information with staff, although it could improve the processes for sharing risk information with its fire control.
Prevention activities, such as safe and well visits, initially focus on those most at risk. However, the service doesn’t always effectively target activity at some high-risk groups, such as people with a disability. We also believe it could make better use of information from such visits to identify where additional support is needed.
Despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the service has continued to visit high-risk individuals. It has been part of a wider response to the pandemic – for example, supporting other organisations it works with and providing staff volunteers to support the vaccination programme.
The service is good at protecting the public through fire regulation. It has assessed the risk of each high-rise building in its service area and continues its campaign (acknowledged in our 2018 inspection) to fit them with sprinkler systems. It has also acted on protection-related improvements identified in our 2018 inspection to increase the resource and capability of its protection team. A full restructure of the protection team nears completion.
We are pleased to see that the service routinely reviews its policies to assure itself that staff command incidents in line with operational guidance. Additionally, incident commanders have been given more guidance and training on operational discretion (this allows them to use their professional judgment to make decisions in an unforeseen situation at an incident).
Operational staff routinely carry out local or ‘hot’ debriefs following incidents. However, we found that formal debriefs aren’t always being carried out in line with service policy as we would expect.
The service is prepared to respond to major and multi-agency incidents. Since our last inspection, it has extended the risk information it holds for neighbouring services.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.
We are encouraged to see the efficiency-related improvements the service has made since our last inspection. These include plans to:
- secure savings in the medium term, by widening scenario planning and testing for future financial arrangements; and
- ensure that estates and procurement are well placed to achieve efficiency gains, by reducing CO2 emissions and joint procurement with police.
However, its fleet strategy is unclear and lacks detail.
The service makes good use of its resources. It has effective measures to assure itself that staff use their time to meet the priorities in its IRMP. It also collaborates with other emergency responders, and recently introduced a framework to monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and end results of its collaboration activities.
It should improve and increase the regularity with which it reviews its business continuity plans with fire control.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.
The service has well-defined values and an inclusive culture. It offers a range of wellbeing support. And it has made good progress on the areas for improvement identified in our 2018 inspection, as well as its own initiatives. For example:
- senior managers are perceived to be more visible and approachable by staff;
- a dedicated mental health officer has been appointed (and positively welcomed by staff) as a result of feedback from the newly established staff engagement forum;
- the service has introduced robust processes to ensure that staff don’t work excessive overtime;
- it has improved its absence management processes, and now provides additional guidance and support for staff; and
- it has improved its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and has a dedicated EDI lead.
However, there is room for improvement. The processes for managing staff performance and development aren’t consistently applied. And although the service has developed its processes for recruitment, promotion and progression, more work is needed to improve opportunities for
non-operational staff and to ensure that promotion processes are fair.
The service should consider putting more formal arrangements in place to identify and support all members of staff to become senior leaders, especially those from under-represented groups. The service would benefit from more female and BAME representation at all levels.