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Essex 2021/22

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This is HMICFRS’s second full 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.

Roy Wilsher

Roy Wilsher, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services

HMI summary

It was a pleasure to revisit Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, and I am grateful for the positive and constructive way that the service engaged with our inspection.

I am satisfied with some of the improvements in performance of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure from fires and other risks, but there are more areas where the service still needs to improve.

We were pleased to see that the service has made progress since our 2019 inspection with developing an effective planning framework and aligning its strategic plans, assessing and modelling risk, learning from operational activity, improving its culture and adopting service values, and providing out-of-hours support for technical fire safety advice.

But we were disappointed to see that the service hasn’t made the progress we expected since our 2019 inspection. For example:

  • the service isn’t aligning resources to risk, including meeting its prevention and protection strategies;
  • the service hasn’t addressed future financial challenges and appropriate use of resources;
  • workforce productivity still needs to increase;
  • the service isn’t meeting its own response standards;
  • it hasn’t implemented national operational guidance;
  • it doesn’t fully understand and address equality issues;
  • it doesn’t address disproportionality in recruitment and retention;
  • it needs to do more to drive out all unacceptable behaviour and tackle bullying and harassment; and
  • it needs to make sure staff are trained well enough to carry out all their responsibilities.

These are the findings I consider most important from our assessments of the service over the last year.

During our inspection in 2019, we found that significant improvement in the organisational culture was required. I do not underestimate the scale of that challenge and I am encouraged by the improvements that are being made, but there is still work to do. The service has a clearly defined set of values, which are now more widely understood, but it must make sure they are fully embedded and that all staff understand what is expected and behave appropriately to maintain a professional and effective service to the public, and a working environment where all staff feel safe and supported.

The service’s resources need to better align to risk across prevention, protection and response. We found that although the service has addressed the previous area for improvement in identifying and understanding the risks it faces, this has not yet translated into the reduction in risk the service has stated it will achieve. The service still doesn’t have enough resources to meet its risk-based inspection programme and the cause of concern from 2019 remains. I am disappointed to see the lack of involvement by station-based staff in prevention work.

I have asked the inspection team to revisit the service to review the progress being made against the cause of concern and areas for improvement, and to monitor overall progress through continuous engagement.

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

We are encouraged by the work the service has done since our last inspection to identify and better understand the risks it faces, including the tools it is using to do this. It must continue working to make sure that all risk information is up to date and available to staff who need it, particularly the information gathered from its protection activity.

It now has clear prevention and protection strategies based on its integrated risk management plan (IRMP), but there has been very little improvement in allocating resources to carry out the work it has identified as needing to be done. The cause of concern from our last inspection remains, as the service still doesn’t have enough trained specialist staff to carry out fire safety audits of its highest-risk premises and it isn’t meeting its own targets.

The service is still not meeting its own response standards. It must better align its resources to risk. The service is implementing a new response strategy and it must make sure it has the right resources in the right place at the right time.

Only staff at a few locations are trained and able to respond to marauding terrorist attack-type incidents, but all emergency responders could be required to attend this type of incident and if firefighters aren’t following the same procedures as other responders then public safety could be compromised.

View the five questions for effectiveness

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

We found that the service still lacks resource planning that clearly links to strategic priorities, so it cannot rationalise how it allocates resources to prevention, protection and response activities.

The service has made improvements to the way it scrutinises its budgets, with senior managers having better oversight of financial plans. But it must address the future financial challenges it faces, and plan for the anticipated £4m cumulative budget shortfall by 2025. The service’s use of reserves is not sustainable, and it does not make clear how it uses reserves to promote better ways of working.

The workforce could be more productive. The arrangements for managing performance are weak and don’t clearly link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. Station plans are too generic and not widely understood by staff.

Collaboration opportunities with emergency service partners are actively pursued through regular group meetings and established working relationships. We heard examples of joint working with emergency service partners and were told about plans to create a joint police and fire workshop facility. At the time of the inspection, though, we found little evidence of significant efficiencies through collaboration, and no clear evidence of collaborations offering value for money.

The service now has a digital and data strategy that guides developments in information and communication technology. Since our last inspection, new systems to improve how it records and uses information have been implemented. We look forward to seeing how these improve effectiveness and efficiency.

View the two questions for efficiency

People

How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

We are encouraged to find that the culture of the service is improving since our last inspection, as it continues to address previous failings. Senior leaders have been more visible to staff and are driving the change. But there is still lots more work to do, for example, the service needs to make sure that its values are fully embedded, and that staff feel able and supported to challenge unacceptable behaviour. The service must review the effectiveness of its policies and do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination. More needs doing to improve support for victims and to remove barriers to reporting problems.

The service must do more to increase the diversity of its workforce. More work is needed to address disproportionality in recruitment and retention to make the workforce representative of the community.

Workforce planning must take full account of the skills and capabilities needed for the service to be able to meet the requirements of its IRMP. Staff need to be appropriately trained, particularly to carry out their managerial responsibilities, and should have easy access to resources. Staff in specialist roles should be afforded opportunities to undertake continuing professional development. The service doesn’t manage temporary promotions well. We found evidence of them being in place for longer than they should be.

The service should improve how it manages career pathways and make sure its processes to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders are open and fair.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2020/2021

Service Area

1,417 square miles

Population

1.86m people
up4% local 5 yr change

Workforce

62% wholetime firefighters
38% on-call firefighters
0.56 per 1000 population local
0.56 national level
local 5 yr change
down5% national 5 yr change

Assets

50 stations
67 fire engines

Incidents

2.3 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.4 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
3.1 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
3.8 national

Cost

£23.30 firefighter cost per person per year
£25.22 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria

English Cymraeg