Skip to content
Promoting improvements
in policing and fire & rescue
services to make everyone safer

Greater Manchester 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

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

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement in terms of its efficiency. It needs to improve how it makes best use of resources, but it is good at future affordability.

The service plans well financially. Its plans help to make sure that the service is sustainable.

The service could do more to make sure its workforce is productive, including increasing the number of staff in its protection department; it still doesn’t have the number of staff it needs in this department to carry out its risk-based inspection programme. Also, the service still relies on overtime to meet staff shortages and has one of the highest overtime spends. However, this situation is better than it was during our last inspection and the service does have recruitment plans for existing vacancies.

The service has shared its fire control function with Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire fire and rescue services since 2014, but it has yet to evaluate collaboration activities.

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. We are pleased to see that it has made significant savings through its Programme for Change. It has also secured a range of external funding, including a COVID-19-related grant. It is addressing concerns about the management of its fleet. It now needs to continue to prioritise its ICT infrastructure, which is ineffective. It also needs to be more confident in its ability to make future changes to its ICT system.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How does the FRS make best use of its resources?

Requires improvement

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

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

Fire and rescue services should manage their resources properly and appropriately, aligning those resources to meet the services’ risks and statutory responsibilities. They should make best possible use of their resources to achieve better outcomes for the public.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should have effective measures in place to assure itself that its workforce is productive and that their time is used as efficiently and effectively as possible to meet the priorities in the IRMP.
  • The service should ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration activity.
  • The service should assure itself that its IT systems are resilient, reliable, accurate and accessible.

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 current financial plans support its objectives

Since our last inspection, the service’s Programme for Change has led to savings of £5.8m so far, with a further £1.4m to come. The service has now replaced the programme with a service improvement plan. This is consistent with the new Fire Plan and supports its operational plans.

The Fire Plan has clear links to other supporting strategies, such as those for estates and IT, and the medium-term financial plan. The link with other areas of work such as protection, prevention and response is less clear, as they have no current strategies.

Since our last inspection, the service has allocated staff and funding to protection. It has also invested in training. Fire control is staffed to meet demand, and contingency arrangements are in place to address any shortfalls.

The service had intended to save money by reducing the number of fire engines and crew. It has now delayed doing this until after 2022. This is because it has received £4.7m additional precept funding (the amount people pay through their council tax for fire and rescue services).

The service plans well financially. The plans help to make sure that the service is sustainable. Financial controls underpin the plans and reduce the risk of misuse of public money.

The service should continue to prioritise its IT systems, which are ineffective

During our inspection, we found that the service has invested in IT hardware (such as audio-visual equipment and second mobile data terminals). But staff consistently told us that IT has hampered their ability to work efficiently, and delayed changes they are trying to make within their departments. The service is seeking to make a range of improvements, many of which are awaiting IT systems so that the changes can be implemented. These include changes to the prevention triaging system, the risk information system, the accident recording system, as well as the service’s risk-based inspection programme and its intranet.

The service should assure itself that the combined authority can complete these projects against other competing priorities.

The service could use wholetime firefighters more productively

The service has an effective system in place to monitor performance. Managers have regular access to performance data. (Among other things, they can monitor which core competencies are due to expire, and they can view the key performance indicators that are relevant to a role.) The service has a structured process for reviewing and reporting on performance at all levels.

However, it could do more to make sure its workforce is productive. We were told that the service sets targets that aren’t challenging. For example, firefighters are supposed to make at least one fire prevention visit a day per fire engine. Staff told us they could do more.

During our previous inspection, we found that the service relies too much on overtime and has a significant number of vacancies. The service still relies on overtime to maintain fire cover, but the situation has improved. It has plans to recruit the firefighters it needs.

As previously mentioned, both above and in our previous report, the service still doesn’t have the number of staff it needs within its protection department to carry out its risk-based inspection programme.

The service could do more to record and evaluate collaboration activities

The service could do more to consider and participate in collaborative activities with others. The service has several shared fire stations and it plans to look at more as part of its new estates strategy.

Since 2014, the service has shared its fire control function with Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire fire and rescue services. The service doesn’t routinely record and evaluate collaboration activities. Doing so would allow it to see the benefits or savings it is making.

The service has business continuity plans in place

The service has business continuity plans in place in the event of industrial action by operational staff. The plans focus on maintaining critical functions. Recently, the service reviewed these plans and is making sure it has enough trained staff to maintain these functions.

The service has business continuity plans in place at North West Fire Control. However, we found that the service hasn’t tested a full evacuation to the secondary control room.

The service has sound financial managements processes in place

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. The chief fire officer has weekly meetings with the deputy mayor and presents reports every six weeks.

Savings and efficiencies made have had no disproportionate impact on operational performance and the service to the public.

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. For example, the service compares IT purchases against other pre-negotiated rates that have been through a tender process, to ensure value for money. The service uses the National Fire Chiefs Council framework when buying vehicles.

2

How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?

Good

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Greater Manchester 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 should invest in better services for the public.

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 effective financial plans

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. For example, the service has considered the impact of increased costs of pensions and the comprehensive spending review.

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 a potential reduction in business and council rates.

We are pleased to see that the service has identified savings and investment opportunities to improve the service to the public or generate further savings. For example, the service has made savings of approximately £5.8m from its Programme for Change, with a further £1.4m to come. The service is considering opportunities for further non-pay savings and is using them to balance the budget.

The service has access to reserves

As of March 2021, the mayor holds reserves totalling £48m. The service reviews reserves regularly. Most of the £48m is earmarked for non-fire purposes.

There are reserves which are specifically identified for Fire. The service reports on these as part of the formal budget setting process each year.

The service needs to review its fleet strategy

The service has a comprehensive fleet strategy. The service is due to review it in order to reflect the new Fire Plan. The service recognises that it hasn’t managed the fleet as well as it might have. It is addressing these concerns.

We were told that the current service estate is in a poor state. We were also told that the service has rewritten the new estates strategy, and that it has agreed substantial funding for investment in a prioritised list of premises.

The service must have the capability and capacity to make future technical changes

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. For example, the service has been trialling a high-reach fire engine to address the risk of the increased number of high-rise properties. It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. For example, the service has new audio-visual equipment at fire stations and plans to install a second demountable mobile data terminal in each fire engine. The service is an early adopter of the Emergency Services Network. It already has a system connection and has allocated funding for the project.

As previously mentioned, we found that many changes within the service were being delayed by IT infrastructure. The service should assure itself that it, and the combined authority, have the capability and capacity to make future change.

The service takes advantage of opportunities to secure external funding and generate income

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income. Currently, it generates income from the sharing of estates. Recently, the service invested in new training facilities which have the potential to generate further significant income.

Where appropriate, it has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. For example, the service has received a COVID‑19-related grant, an additional protection uplift grant, and funds from the Building Risk Review Programme.