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Gloucestershire 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

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

There has been limited progress since the last inspection.

The service’s budget, financial and staffing plans aren’t clearly aligned to its IRMP, nor do they support its objectives. Its performance management arrangements need improvement. They should also show a clear link between the use of resources and achieving the service’s objectives.

The service still needs more capacity to plan for and manage future change.

Some new controls and scrutiny have been introduced. But we found the service needs to take a more systematic approach to achieving value for money.

There isn’t a current IT plan to link future provision to the service’s plans and objectives. Mobilising systems need more robust and resilient support. We also saw that a lack of personnel system integration is hampering workforce efficiency.

The service needs a better understanding of its future financial challenges. This will allow it to make sure it has enough long-term funding and that its future plans are affordable.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 2021/22 is £17.7m. This is a 2.06 percent increase from the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure it has resilient 24/7 support for its mobilising and associated IT systems.
  • The service should make sure there is a testing programme for its business continuity plans, particularly in high-risk areas of service.
  • The service should make sure that it is taking action to reduce non-pay costs and can demonstrate how it is achieving value for money.
  • The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This should be linked to risks and priorities set out in its IRMP.
  • The service should ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration.

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

The service’s financial plans don’t clearly support its objectives

The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there are several weaknesses that need to be addressed. For example, there is no clear rationale for the allocation of resources to prevention, protection and response. The plans for these activities aren’t clearly linked to the service’s IRMP action plan and the risks they are intended to manage.

While there has been some progress profiling future requirements for staff skills and numbers, there isn’t yet a consolidated workforce plan to bring these together.

We are concerned the service doesn’t have enough information to determine the level of resources it needs for its future risk mitigation plans. As a result, the service isn’t able to make clear, risk-based funding submissions to its parent authority. It was given additional in-year funding to support service improvements that hadn’t been included in the formal budget build cycle. To address this lack of information and planning, it has started to prepare business cases to support future funding increases. We look forward to seeing how this approach develops and how the service will link funding to its IRMP and risk mitigation plans.

We were pleased to see the service had taken action to improve its financial controls. There are clear internal budget monitoring and reporting processes. Additional oversight and challenge is carried out by the member-led Gloucester County Council fire scrutiny committee. As this oversight was a recent development at the time of our inspection, it was too early to see tangible benefits.

Better performance management arrangements are needed

The service needs to improve its performance management arrangements so it can clearly link its use of resources to its IRMP and strategic priorities. We saw examples of reports and information that are used to monitor and report service activity, but these didn’t support a clear, senior-leader focus on performance management and effective prioritisation of the service’s risk mitigation work.

We saw examples of how service managers had the flexibility to plan the work of their teams to improve productivity. These included:

  • operational staff being redeployed to make sure fire engines stayed available;
  • a range of contract times available for on-call staff, to match resources to fire engine requirements; and
  • training being planned at a local level to make sure on-call staff training time was used to maintain operational competence.

But more needs to be done. For example, there were limited examples of the service reviewing its working patterns to see if they meet the needs of the CRP. The service told us it plans to review operational cover during the first year of the new IRMP (2022–23). We look forward to seeing this work progress, and to seeing how the service shows the best use of its resources after the review.

IT support for emergency systems needs to be stronger

There has been a recent change in how the service’s IT systems are supported. The reason for the change was to improve robustness by integrating with Gloucester County Council’s IT department. But at the time of the inspection, the service was unable to assure itself there were resilient arrangements to support its emergency mobilising and associated systems at all times.

Some of the service’s IT systems are either cumbersome to operate or don’t meet its needs. For example, because the centralised staff management system is slow to be changed, some managers who take on temporary new responsibilities have to continue carrying out some of their old responsibilities that should be passed on to someone else. The service should assure itself that the IT systems it uses meet its needs and are efficient.

Collaboration work has stalled

The service has continued some collaborative activity which we saw during our last inspection in 2019. These include sharing a control room and headquarters building with Gloucestershire Police, and a joint private finance initiative training centre with Avon Fire and Rescue Service and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service. However, we found that plans for further collaboration have been slow to progress.

Following changes in leadership in both organisations, the service is in discussion with Gloucestershire’s police and crime commissioner to explore future collaborative opportunities with police. These include:

  • sharing premises;
  • a community safety partnership, which will allow a closer working relationship on road safety; and
  • training and development.

There was still no evidence of the service reviewing or evaluating its existing collaborative work. As a result, it isn’t able to clearly quantify the benefits of its current or planned collaborative work. The service recognises this is an area it needs to develop for the future.

This was an area of improvement we highlighted in 2019, and the service has not made enough progress since.

Continuity arrangements are in place, but they need to be tested

The service has good continuity arrangements in place in the event of industrial action. The plans were comprehensive and robust. However, there was no record of them being tested. This means staff aren’t fully aware of the continuity plans or their associated responsibilities.

The service needs to take a co-ordinated approach to making sure it gets value for money

The service doesn’t take a co-ordinated and consistent approach to demonstrating value for money in its purchasing decisions or when improving efficiency.

There were some examples of collaborative and framework procurement. However, it uses different approaches for its fleet, estates and other purchasing arrangements, with no single process to ensure consistency throughout the organisation. There also isn’t a consistent process to monitor, review and evaluate the effectiveness of the service’s purchasing decisions and other resource commitments. Without this, the service can’t make sure that the planned benefits have been achieved, that they represent value for money, and that they don’t have an adverse effect on other areas of its work.

2

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

Requires improvement

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 should make sure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which address the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2021–22 and secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks.
  • The service should make sure 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.
  • The service should ensure it has sufficient capability and capacity to manage future change.

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

Better understanding of future financial challenges is needed

The service has a limited understanding of future financial challenges, which weakens its ability to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. It doesn’t have coherent plans linked to a clear IRMP and objectives for mitigating community risk. Without these, and without an integrated workforce plan, the service has limited information about its probable future demand, workforce and resource needs. This hinders its ability to make long-term, informed budget submissions to Gloucestershire County Council.

There are clear arrangements to access and use reserves

Gloucestershire County Council holds the service’s reserves. There is a robust process for the service to access reserves if it needs them. In 2021–22, the service received additional in-year funding of approximately £480,000 to support its improvement plans. In 2020–21, the service also received funding to offset the additional expenditure it had incurred in responding to the pandemic.

Fleet and estate plans should be clearly aligned to the IRMP

The service didn’t have an up-to-date fleet plan at the time of the inspection. The previous plan was dated 2016–21. It didn’t clearly align to the IRMP and hadn’t been completed, in part due to delays in approving funding to purchase new fire engines. The plan doesn’t link provision of fire engines to mitigating risk. The specification (design and equipment) of the fire engines that were being purchased at the time of the inspection weren’t being matched to the community needs identified in the IRMP.

The service’s estate needs are included in the parent council’s corporate asset management plan. The service plans to review its emergency response model in 2022–23. This may lead to different estate requirements.

It isn’t clear how the service’s future requirements, based on its IRMP, would be provided for through the corporate asset management plan. We look forward to seeing how the service engages with the council to address its future needs.

The service needs more capacity for future changes

The service doesn’t always consider how changes in technology and future innovation can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its workforce. For example, staff sickness and attendance are recorded in different systems, which aren’t integrated. Local managers need to manually check reports from one system against the other to make sure the information is recorded correctly in both. Additionally, on-call managers don’t have access to both systems, so must rely on their managers to check the reports for them. The service should work closely with its IT providers to make sure its systems and support are effective and fully meet its needs.

The service doesn’t have an up-to-date IT plan, the last IT strategy ended in December 2020. As a result, it was unable to show us that it had considered where modern technology might improve its efficiency and effectiveness and support the delivery of its IRMP. The service should consider how it will plan for and demonstrate that its IT provision supports its IRMP, meets its needs and improves its efficiency and effectiveness.

Disappointingly, the service still has limited capacity and capability to bring about lasting change. We identified this as an area for improvement during the 2019 inspection. Many departments lack enough resources to both carry out their routine work and make changes now and in the future. Workloads are high in many departments and some managers have multiple roles.

The service’s progress in addressing the findings of our 2019 inspection has been slow, in part because of this limited capacity. The service has received additional funding from its parent authority to support its plans for change by increasing its available staff and resources. We look forward to seeing these plans develop and the speed of change increase.

There are no future plans for income generation

The service does generate some income through its control centre by taking out-of-hours calls for another council department, but it doesn’t routinely consider external funding opportunities or options for generating income. It told us it had previously considered introducing a trading company as a way of generating income but concluded the financial benefits wouldn’t justify the resources and commitment needed.

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