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Hereford and Worcester 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

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

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

The service displays some sound financial management. But it requires improvement at making best use of resources. It needs to show a clear rationale for allocating resources between its activities, and this should be in line with the risk and priorities as described in the CRMP. The service needs a testing programme for its business continuity plans. And it needs to better monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and outcomes of future collaborations.

The service requires improvement in making itself affordable now and in the future. It is financially secure but could do more to plan for future financial challenges. The service is developing a plan for the use of its reserves. It should regularly review its fleet and estate strategies.

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since our last inspection. For instance, the service now actively considers the relationship between technology, future innovation and risk. We note that it has moved its fire control mobilising system to West Mercia Police headquarters, and is seeking to use changes in technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness. But at the time of writing, the service has limited capacity and capability to bring about sustainable future change.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How does the FRS make best use of its resources?

Requires improvement

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

Hereford and Worcester 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.

The service’s budget for 2021/22 is just under £32.4m. This is around a 3.2 percent increase change (£31.4m in 2019/20) from the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection, and response activities. This should reflect, and be consistent with, the risk and priorities set out in its CRMP.
  • The service should ensure there is a testing programme for its business continuity plans, particularly in high-risk areas of service.
  • The service should ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any future 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 plans don’t effectively support its objectives

The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there remain weaknesses that need addressing. Since our last inspection in 2018, the service has put additional staff into fire control. And it is using additional government funding to improve capacity and capability in protection. However, the service has only recently applied these investments and it is too early to identify the results.

The service doesn’t have a workforce plan that is designed to make sure it has the staff to meet the risks identified in the CRMP. Also, there is no linkage between the budget and medium-term financial plan (MTFP) to provide the CRMP.

The way the service allocates resources to prevention, protection and response functions is mainly based on previous funding allocations. This is affecting the service’s ability to deliver its responsibilities in these areas, as reflected in the section on effectiveness (page 7) in this report.

There is limited performance management oversight of important functions. So the service isn’t evaluating activity to make sure it is sufficiently staffed to deal with the priorities in the CRMP.

The service has a suitable financial position and has made reasonable and potentially prudent assumptions in its financial planning. We found some limited financial controls in place through the monitoring and scrutiny arrangements. This reduces the risk of misusing public money.

The service isn’t using its workforce in the most productive way

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since our last inspection. The service has addressed areas identified for improvement in terms of clarifying the role of watch managers and managing the replacement of faulty smoke alarms. Watch managers now have clear roles on fire stations and in departments. And a new supplier has remedied the defective alarms.

The pandemic necessitated changes to working practices which are being implemented as business as usual. These include protection staff carrying out remote fire safety audits for businesses using desktop audits.

However, the service should do more to make sure its workforce is as productive as possible. For example, we found that staff on some stations were on differing contracts and shift patterns. This was affecting productivity, and there were instances of fire engines becoming unavailable due to insufficient staffing.

It was also unclear how the service measures the productivity of firefighters in terms of home safety and business safety activity. It is understandable that the pandemic has significantly affected these areas. But we don’t know how the service intends to best use the capacity of operational firefighters due to the absence of strategies.

The service is collaborating with a range of partners, but isn’t effectively monitoring and evaluating the benefits

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. The service now shares a headquarters with West Mercia Police, and a joint police and fire station at the Wyre Forest Hub. However, the service couldn’t fully quantify the financial benefits of this collaboration work.

The service is exploring the potential for a joint-training facility with the police in North Herefordshire. It is actively working with other emergency services on operational activity, and is considering further opportunities to improve working together. And the service is working collaboratively on:

  • supporting the police in the search for missing persons;
  • MATES inspections with a wide range of organisations to improve community safety;
  • the joint use of aerial drones with the police (Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has bought the drones and trained staff); and
  • gaining entry to premises. This is to help the ambulance service to quickly access people who may need medical assistance.

The service has also committed to a strategic alliance with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service. They are working together on the four main aims: procurement, fire control, information and communications technology (ICT) and joint development of the services’ separate CRMPs.

The alliance has made some progress in the joint procurement of vehicles and equipment. But, again, there has been limited evaluation of the financial benefits of this collaboration. Both services worked closely together in the formulation of their new CRMPs, which were published on 1 April 2021. There has been limited improvement regarding ICT and fire control.

During our 2018 inspection, we found that the service didn’t comprehensively monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and outcomes of its collaborations. Disappointingly, this is still the case.

It was also evident that although the service has done continuing work with West Mercia Police on the joint use of drones, the agreement for this work (including the terms for cost recovery of expenditure) is still awaiting formal sign off.

The service hasn’t fully tested its continuity arrangements

The service has business continuity plans in place for industrial action and fire control. However, there was an absence of testing to make sure that the plans are effective. The service hasn’t fully reviewed and tested the business continuity plans for fire control, with an evacuation to the secondary control in Droitwich, since autumn 2018. This means that the service isn’t appropriately testing back-up arrangements in the event of a significant failure. Also, staff aren’t fully aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities.

The service displays some 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 reports finance and performance through processes that an independent external audit has reviewed. The audit found the service’s finance and performance arrangements to be satisfactory. Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority also provides review and scrutiny on a quarterly basis.

The service has made savings and efficiencies, which haven’t affected its operational performance and the service it provides to the public. The service is taking steps to make sure that important areas, including estates and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. For fleet procurement, the preferred method is using frameworks to make sure that the service gets best value for money. It is investing in future innovation in the form of smaller fire engines to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The service’s MTFP takes a prudent approach to government funding, as the full impact of the pandemic isn’t yet known.

2

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

Requires improvement

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

Hereford and Worcester 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.

Areas for improvement

The service should ensure that its fleet and estate strategies are regularly reviewed and evaluated to maximise potential efficiencies.

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 the future financial challenges but could do more planning to address this risk

The service has a secure financial position and has developed an understanding of future financial challenges. The underpinning assumptions are relatively robust, realistic and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment.

It has some plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. For example, the service has acted on the pension court ruling for the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme, and made provision for increased employer contributions. It is also actively monitoring the implications for future judgments.

However, the service could take more action to develop and consult on the range of potential savings and investment opportunities to deal with financial uncertainties. The service makes limited use of scenario planning for future spending reductions.

The service is developing a plan for the use of its reserves

The service has maintained a robust level of reserves. It is now planning to make considerable investments in frontline services while keeping the general reserve at approximately 4 percent of its budget.

At the time of the inspection (May 2021), the service was considering bid proposals for funding allocation from the reserves. It was not clear if the proposals to utilise the reserves have been carefully considered as part of a co-ordinated investment programme linked to the CRMP or the MTFP. We look forward to seeing how the future investment has improved the service’s effectiveness and efficiency.

The service isn’t maximising efficiency through its fleet and estates

The service doesn’t fully exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in fleet and estate provision. The service’s investment in estates, fleet and equipment doesn’t clearly align with the requirements of its latest CRMP.

The service doesn’t properly assess the effect any changes in estate and fleet provision, or future innovation may have on risk. For example, since our last inspection the service has bought new smaller compact fire engines. It did this to explore any potential long-term savings (capital and revenue), but primarily to improve operational response in remote rural areas, and in narrow and congested roads. During our inspection, staff gave a variety of views about the effectiveness of these new fire engines. The service should evaluate the overall impact of these changes.

Following the end of the service’s participation in the Place Partnership Project, it is to procure the services of the West Mercia police and crime commissioner for the provision of property management. The agreement was due to start on 1 April 2021. However, when we reviewed the agreement, it didn’t contain key performance indicators or standards of service. The service should assure itself that it is getting best value for money and service levels from this service agreement.

The service has invested in some technologies, but needs to improve its capacity and capability

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection. The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. The service has moved its fire control mobilising system to West Mercia Police headquarters. It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. Since the pandemic, the service has accelerated its use of virtual technology to communicate effectively with staff. The service has installed large screens in stations so that whole teams can participate in calls or training sessions.

However, the service has limited capacity and capability to bring about lasting future change. The service has developed some in-house IT solutions (such as the debrief system). However, it doesn’t have capacity to maintain and improve these systems and has procured external IT consultants to provide support. The service also wants to improve environmentally and has written a specification for electric vehicles. But it isn’t yet in a position for procurement, until a charging infrastructure has been put in place in the service.