Cumbria 2021/22Read more about Cumbria
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 is inadequate.
The extent to which the service looks after its people requires improvement.
Matt Parr, HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
It was a pleasure to revisit Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, and I am grateful for the positive and constructive way that the service engaged with our inspection.
I must immediately address the grade of inadequate we have given to the service for efficiency. The first thing to say is that this is not a failing of the service. At the time of inspection, the service was facing a near unprecedented uncertainty about its future governance. Local government reorganisation means new, and untested, local governance arrangements will come into force on 1 April 2023. When we inspected, over summer 2022, it was far from clear what these arrangements would be. At that stage, we could not guarantee there would be no risk to the public as a consequence of the changes.
It has obviously been impossible for the service to do the sort of financial planning we would normally expect. I made a specific further visit to the service in November 2022 for an update. The service has carried out significant work since our inspection, but there remains a risk that the transfer to new arrangements will not go as smoothly as the service expects. I will accordingly look again in March 2023 and – assuming plans are on track – close the cause of concern we have identified and effectively rescind the inadequate grade. In the meantime, I urge all parties to concentrate their efforts to finalise plans so that the transfer to new arrangements present no risks to the service Cumbria receives.
Looking elsewhere, I have concerns about the service’s performance in keeping people safe and secure from fires and other risks. And I have serious concerns about how the service gets the right people with the right skills, and about the future affordability of the service. In view of these findings, I have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer as I do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.
My principal findings from our assessments of the service over the past year are as follows:
- We judged it to be good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies.
- The service’s efficiency requires improvement, particularly in making best use of resources and in making the service affordable.
- It requires improvement in the way it looks after its people. It is inadequate at getting the right people with the right skills. It requires improvement in the way it ensures fairness and promotes diversity, and in the way it manages performance and develops leaders.
Overall, while there are some good aspects to the performance of Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, there are several areas in which performance has declined since the 2019 inspection. I expect to see the service make progress in these areas. We will continue to monitor progress through our usual monitoring arrangements.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
The service has taken some action to respond to the areas we identified in our first inspection, but it still needs to make significant improvements. We are disappointed to see that the service has made no progress in the way it evaluates and shares learning from operational performance.
The service needs to do more to ensure it carries out prevention work for those most at risk, and that it evaluates activity to understand if it is improving community safety.
Since our 2019 inspection, the service has allocated more resources to its protection function. It has also responded to our 2019 inspection by improving the way it engages informally with businesses to make sure they comply with fire safety legislation.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is inadequate.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
At the time of our inspection, a local government reorganisation was taking place in Cumbria. This means Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service wasn’t certain of its future governance arrangements as of 1 April 2023. These unusual circumstances have restricted its ability to have financial plans in place. For this reason, we were unable to grade the service as anything other than inadequate.
We are disappointed to find that the service isn’t using its workforce in the most productive way. Some paper-based systems are still in place, and some IT systems are inefficient and create duplication. The service has made some investment in technology but could do more. As part of the governance restructure, it might consider what systems it needs to support the activities set out in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP).
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment
The service has taken some action to respond to the areas we identified in our first inspection, but it still needs to make significant improvements.
We are concerned about the service’s processes to provide, record and monitor risk-critical training to make sure staff maintain skills, and to ensure there is effective corporate oversight of this process.
Senior leaders show strong strategic intent to improve the culture, ensure values are accepted and understood and promote Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). But the service isn’t making enough progress in this area. Staff widely misunderstand the benefits of a diverse workforce. Despite a high proportion of staff members understanding the service’s values, there are still examples of behaviours that are contrary to those values.
The service has a range of appropriate policies and procedures to manage workforce concerns such as grievances and disciplines. But it inconsistently applies these policies and there are managers throughout the organisation who don’t understand them.