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East Sussex 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Good

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment

East Sussex Fire and Rescue have good financial management in place and some assurance measures to keep control of spending. Scenario planning is used effectively so that strategic plans are robust.

The service has an understanding of future challenges. But the plans the service has identified to make savings or generate further income are under development.

The service is continuing to invest in technology, such as its risk management system, to create more efficient ways of working and information sharing between departments.

The service collaborates with other emergency responders, for example sharing a joint control room and functions such as occupational health with West Sussex Fire and Rescue and Surrey Fire and Rescue. The service also collaborates with local authorities and partners on IT hardware.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Good

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

East Sussex 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 services’ risks and statutory responsibilities. Services should make best possible use of resources to achieve the best results for the public.

The service’s budget for 2022/23 is £41.766m. This is a 4.3 percent change 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 has enough resources to achieve the objectives in its integrated risk management plan

The service’s financial plans, including allocating staff to prevention, protection and response, continue to reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP.

In our 2019 inspection report, we said the service needed to ensure that it allocated its resources appropriately and prioritised activities that address the risks identified in the IRMP. We are encouraged to see the improvements made.

The service has completed a comprehensive operational risk review that has informed its current IRMP. As a result, the service has made sure it is resourcing prevention and protection adequately to meet the risk identified in the IRMP. It has also increased capacity by moving its control room into a joint control room with West Sussex Fire and Rescue and Surrey Fire and Rescue.

The service is changing its day-crewed shift system at some fire stations. It is also introducing a flexible crewing pool. These changes are intended to improve the availability of its fire engines.

Plans are built on sound scenarios. But the budget is balanced using reserves and the service needs to find savings in the medium term. The fire authority provides overview and scrutiny of the service’s budget, to ensure public money is being used appropriately.

Staff productivity is effectively monitored

We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing performance clearly link resource use to the IRMP and service’s strategic priorities. Wholetime firefighters carry out home safety visits and low-risk fire safety audits. On‑call firefighters also carry out home safety visits. All staff have set targets to achieve, which are monitored monthly by line managers either by viewing productivity spreadsheets or having one-to-one meetings.

The service is planning how it will contribute towards the national productivity target (using an extra 3 percent of national wholetime firefighter capacity to carry out additional prevention and protection work).

The service is taking steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working. For example, the service offers flexible working arrangements for staff, which are agreed by their line manager. The service has plans to help staff to work from fire stations across the county so it makes the most of its estate.

The service had to adapt its working practices because of the pandemic, and these are still part of its day-to-day activity. These include working in a hybrid way, both remotely and in the office.

The service works collaboratively with other partners

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. Since our last inspection the service has moved into a joint fire control with West Sussex Fire and Rescue and Surrey Fire and Rescue. It currently shares a headquarters with Sussex Police. It shares an occupational health function with West Sussex Fire and Rescue and Sussex Police. The service is working with West Sussex Fire and Rescue to purchase cameras for their fire engines.

We are satisfied that the service monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. But we found limited evaluation of the financial benefits of collaboration.

The service should make sure all continuity arrangements are tested

The service has good continuity arrangements in place for areas where threats and risks are considered high. Some plans such as dealing with multiple calls about flooding or fire survival guidance, mobilising system failures and joint fire control evacuations are tested regularly. However, the service should ensure all business continuity arrangements are tested.

The service recognised that cyberattacks have become an increasing threat and hope to include exercises and testing for these in the future.

The service shows sound financial management

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 has external auditors who review the financial management and its long-term plans. The fire authority also reviews the service’s expenditure on a regular basis.

The service is taking steps to make sure important areas, including estates, fleet, and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. The service uses a working group called 4F, which includes West Sussex, Surrey and Kent Fire and Rescue services to benchmark and share practices. Also, the service is part of a Southeast Grid consortium with local authorities and various NHS bodies. This was recently used to provide better purchasing power for the telephony and wide-area network upgrades.

2

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

Good

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.

East Sussex 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 they should invest in better services for the public.

Areas for improvement

The service needs to make sure that it has adequate plans in place to close the budget gaps identified.

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

The service understands its future financial challenges, but needs to fully develop its savings plan

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It has some plans to mitigate its main financial risks, but it anticipates a future budget shortfall and is still developing its savings plan.

The underpinning assumptions are relatively robust, realistic, and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment and some scenario planning for future spending reductions. These include changes to future funding and inflation.

The service has provisionally met around two thirds of its savings target in 2021/22. Although the service has identified savings of £778,000, a total of £432,000 from the reserves is being used to balance the budget in 2022/23. Further identified savings of £663,000 are included between 2023/24 and 2026/27. However, the service has forecast that it needs to find additional savings of £990,000 in 2023/24 rising to £1.516m by 2026/27 to avoid a budget deficit.

The service has identified areas where savings could be made, such as through alternative delivery models for community safety work and by sharing services with other organisations. At the time of inspection, these savings options have not been evaluated or prioritised. The service should ensure it identifies all the savings it needs to make and has plans in place to meet these savings requirements.

The service has a clear plan for the use of its reserves

The service has plans to reduce its reserves from £16.727m in 2022/23 to £3.602m in 2024/25. This includes investment in estates, fleet, IT and communications systems and equipment. It anticipates being able to keep a satisfactory amount in the general reserve for unforeseen spending not included in the base budget. However, it plans to keep its use of reserves under regular review due to the risk and uncertainty around its future savings plans and funding.

The service makes good use of fleet and estate

The service’s estate and fleet strategies have links to the IRMP. There are regular monthly meetings with the IRMP team who review the capital programme against the IRMP priorities. For example, the design of a fire station was adapted quickly so it was suitable for a change in duty system from wholetime to day crewed.

Both strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. A recent review of the support vehicles has identified what efficiencies the service could make in the future with the removal of some. Also a full review of estates has been completed and work will be prioritised to ensure facilities are in line with the national design guide which sets out the characteristics of a well-designed place.

The strategies are regularly reviewed so that the service can properly assess the impact on any changes in estate and fleet provision, or future innovation have on risk.

The service invests in technology to support change and improve efficiency

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. The service has continued to improve its community risk management system, which will be used by prevention, protection and response for recording and sharing risk information.

It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. For example, tablets have recently been introduced to prevention and operational crews to replace paper-based systems. These will support the collection of risk information and automatically update information across the service.

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.

The service takes advantage of opportunities to secure external funding

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income. Where appropriate, it has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. These include a community infrastructure levy funding of £289,000 from Lewes District Council, which will be used to part fund improvements to fire stations. The service is also receiving additional funding from local authorities to carry out some additional prevention activity.

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