Isles of Scilly 2021/22
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
Despite some improvement, there are areas of efficiency where more work is needed. The service needs to make clear links between the plans for managing risk in its new community risk management plan (CRMP) and its future financial plans.
It should make sure the agreements it uses to commission services and work from other organisations meet its requirements. Its oversight of these agreements should be strengthened, to make sure it gets what it has agreed and pays for.
The service improved the sustainability of its funding, financial plans and budget management support. This is partly due to work carried out by its parent authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly. It uses its buildings well and collaborates effectively with other agencies and organisations on the islands. It has made good use of new IT systems to improve communication, productivity and share risk information.
The service’s assessment for efficiency is now requires improvement.
How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?
Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.
Isles of Scilly 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 £558,293. This is a 1.9 percent increase 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 risks and priorities set out in its integrated risk management programme.
- The service should review the agreements it uses to commission services to make sure their scope is clear and meet its needs. It should also strengthen its governance arrangements so there is adequate oversight and scrutiny of the agreements and the services its partners are providing.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
More clarity is needed about how resources are allocated to reduce risk
The service’s parent authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, has carried out significant work in recent years to improve its funding position and properly account for the resources it uses. The service has seen improvements as part of this work, including more sustainable revenue funding, the introduction of a funded ten-year capital plan and budget management support.
The service has allocated resources to its prevention, protection and response work. However, it wasn’t able to clearly show us a rationale for the allocation of resources and how it links this to the risks and priorities identified in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). For example, its revenue budget shows inflation-based increases, rather than being aligned specifically to the risk-reduction plans set out in its IRMP.
The service recognises this as an area where it needs to improve. It sees the development of its next CRMP as an opportunity to better show the link between its funding decisions and its risk management plans. We look forward to seeing this progress.
Better scoping and oversight is needed for commissioned services
The service has recognised that it isn’t practical or cost-effective to commit its own resources to providing some of its functions. These include protection, prevention work on the island of St Mary’s, and providing the range of specialist advice and supporting services it needs. As a result, it has adopted a different way of providing some of its services and support needs, by commissioning these from partner organisations in the South West.
However, the agreements used to commission work from partners need to be reviewed and updated. The existing agreements have been in place for some time, and it isn’t clear if they fully meet the service’s current requirements. The service should also strengthen its governance and oversight arrangements. This will allow it to make sure it is receiving everything it has commissioned and to hold its partners to account if needed.
The service recognises that it needs to review the content of, and management arrangements for, its agreements with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Isles of Scilly Airport. It plans to do this by the end of 2022.
The service reports progress on its plans publicly in its annual assurance statement and to the Council of the Isles of Scilly. However, it doesn’t use a proportionate set of performance measures to show the public and its parent authority the effectiveness of its risk management plans. It had plans to develop a set of performance measures in 2021/22, but this hadn’t been completed at the time of the inspection. We look forward to seeing this progress.
The service has continued to use the working arrangements it adopted during the pandemic. The provision of new IT to fire stations has improved communications between service managers and stations on the off-islands in particular. Team meetings have become more effective, with staff no longer needing to take a boat journey to meet with colleagues and the service manager. The IT improvements have also been used to make it easier for staff to read up-to-date policies, safety information and briefings.
Collaborative arrangements are in place for delivering services
The small size and location of the service and the community it serves means it needs to collaborate with other organisations to provide resilient and cost-effective services. It has established several collaborative agreements to achieve this. These include:
- Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, which provides specialist training, emergency call handling and management, protection, IRMP development, and fire and rescue strategic support and management advice.
- The Isles of Scilly Airport, which completes prevention work on the island of St Mary’s and carries out equipment maintenance and testing.
- Cornwall Council, which provides budgeting, financial management, and IT equipment and support.
The arrangements with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Isles of Scilly Airport align with the prevention, protection and response objectives set out in the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service’s IRMP.
The service also maximises the use of its accommodation by sharing space at its fire stations with other emergency service partners. South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and HM Coastguard have response bases in all the off-island stations. South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Devon and Cornwall Police, and HM Coastguard also have access to meeting space at St Mary’s Fire Station.
Business continuity arrangements are in place
The service has effective, up-to-date business continuity arrangements in place to maintain its operational response. It also worked closely with the Isles of Scilly operational incident cell and its partners to develop and test resilience arrangements prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.
The service doesn’t formally test its business continuity plan in full. However, due to the nature of the islands and the service’s limited resources, elements of the plan are validated during operational deployment.
Arrangements are in place to reduce costs where appropriate
The service faces challenges in reducing its costs. This is due to its small size and the additional expense related to providing goods, materials and services to a remote island location.
Wherever possible, it seeks to reduce costs by making purchases through its parent authority or Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. For example, it purchases workwear through a contract held by the Council of the Isles of Scilly. It buys firefighting and protective equipment through purchasing frameworks held by Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. The service recently negotiated with another fire service to buy a second-hand fire engine, which is specifically suited to the challenges of the island’s narrow roads. This allowed it to get an appropriate vehicle at a considerably reduced cost.
It has also changed the way some of its operational training is delivered. Staff from Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service now visit the islands to train and assess incident commanders. This reduces travel and accommodation costs as staff used to travel to the mainland for this training.
The service should consider how it builds on its existing approach so it can consistently show how it is reducing costs and achieving value for money.
How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?
Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service is good at making the service affordable now and in the future.
Isles of Scilly 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.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Better budget management and financial plans are in place
The service has focused on improving its financial plans and budget management alongside its parent authority since our last inspection. The majority of this work sits with the parent authority.
We are pleased to see the service now has a better view of its future financial requirements and plans its budget accordingly. It has a balanced three-year budget and has developed a ten-year capital replacement programme.
These improvements have allowed the service and its parent authority to properly account for their use of public funds and make investments for the future. For example, following a management restructure in 2020, it now employs a full-time station manager.
The station manager carries out most of the day-to-day management of the service. They work closely with council and emergency service partners on the Isles of Scilly, and with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. This helps to make sure the service has an effective emergency response and contributes to the One Island approach to maintaining community resilience on the islands.
There are examples of decisions the service has taken to improve the value for money it achieves. These include the partnerships with Cornwall Council, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Isles of Scilly Airport. The service should use examples from these partnerships to show a more systemic approach to achieving value for money.
Adequate reserves are available if needed
As a department of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the service doesn’t hold its own reserves. The council has improved its financial position in recent years and holds appropriate reserves. The service can call on these if needed.
We found that the service’s plans have sustainable revenue and capital funding for three and ten years respectively. As a result, the service doesn’t need or plan to use reserves to fund its work. We found that should there be a specific need, the service will be able to make a business case to the council for additional funding. This would be subject to appropriate officer and political scrutiny. We were assured that the service would be funded according to need.
There is effective provision of buildings and vehicles
As a very small service operating across five isolated islands, the service has limited scope to make changes to its buildings. It has 5 stations, all of which have been either replaced or upgraded in the past 12 years. It has accommodation in its stations for staff from South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, HM Coastguard, and Devon and Cornwall Police. As a result, the service increases the community benefit of its stations while reducing costs for partner services.
Maintenance of the service’s buildings is carried out by the council as part of its wider asset management plan. The council has taken this approach to improve the quality of service provided while reducing costs.
The service has six emergency vehicles, which it uses to serve the five inhabited islands. Its choice of vehicles has been influenced by the terrain and other features of the islands. This is particularly important as there are small communities where narrow, uneven roads make access difficult.
The capital plan includes funding to replace all the service’s emergency vehicles over a ten-year period. One vehicle has already been replaced. The current plan is to replace the vehicles on a like-for-like basis. The service should make sure its capital plan is also aligned to its risk management plans. It can do this by reviewing the outcomes of the community risk assessment carried out in preparation for the development of its new CRMP. It can then consider if it needs to change the specification of any replacement vehicles so they better meet the risk and demographic profile of the islands’ communities. We were assured that there was flexibility within the capital plan to make such changes if needed.
The service makes good use of IT to improve effectiveness
The service has taken advantage of new technology to achieve changes since the last inspection. Introducing new laptop computers with video conferencing technology to its stations has led to improvements:
- Staff and managers from the off-islands can meet with the service’s station manager on a regular basis, without the time and cost associated with travelling to a single location.
- Training records are held on a central system, which allows management oversight without the need to travel to each island.
- Risk information, operational policies and learning materials are also held and managed in central systems. Staff can see consistent, up-to-date information.
Additionally, the service told us it will shortly provide mobile devices on its fire engines. These will allow firefighters to check risk information and operational policies when they are at an emergency incident. We look forward to seeing this work progress.
These are positive changes that have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the service and its staff. However, they aren’t always recorded and shown as part of an overarching organisational improvement plan. In particular, the service doesn’t feature in the Cornwall Council IT strategy, and its parent authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, doesn’t have its own IT strategy. The service should consider how it will link its future plans for its ways of working and its IT systems to the risk management work it includes in its new CRMP.
The service needs better resilience for continued improvement and future change
The service has made notable improvements and change since the last inspection. It has achieved much of these through an organisational restructure and introduction of a full-time station manager.
There is an openness and acceptance that further improvements and change are needed. It should assure itself there is enough resilience to the station manager role, so it has the capacity to deliver further change and improvements.