How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment
We found that Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has made some progress in efficiency since our last inspection.
There are now sufficient resources in prevention, protection and response; however, the service should consider how these could be used more effectively to achieve its outcomes.
The service understands its future financial risk and has made sound planning assumptions. Encouragingly, the service has plans to move away from the day crewing plus duty system.
The service’s arrangements for managing performance don’t always link resource use to the integrated risk management plan (IRMP) and the service’s strategic priorities. There is a lack of performance oversight in some key business areas.
We found that the service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations with other organisations. We are also pleased to see the service generating income from its estate. These were areas for improvement we identified in the last inspection.
The service still needs to test business continuity arrangements in some high-risk areas.
There are plans to improve the use of technology to improve effectiveness and efficiency, but these aren’t fully realised yet.
How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.
Leicestershire 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 2022/23 is £43.4m. This is a 7.4 percent increase from the previous financial year.
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that all processes in place to support performance management are effective.
- The service should make sure it has appropriate business continuity arrangements in place which are regularly reviewed and tested that take account of all foreseeable threats and risks.
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 plans to support objectives, but resources can be better used
In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service needs to show clear reasoning for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities.
We are pleased the service has addressed this area for improvement. The service’s financial and workforce plans, including allocating staff to protection and response, mostly reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP. The service has now produced a Risk and Resource Methodology 2020–24, which provides detail and reasoning on how the service delivers prevention, protection and response activities.
However, there is a weakness that needs addressing with how resources are allocated to some prevention activities. Resources could be better used to manage risk. For example, the backlog of home safety checks (HSCs) from partner referrals isn’t being resourced effectively.
Some performance processes need to be reviewed
The service’s arrangements for managing performance don’t always link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. Some processes need to be reviewed.
The senior team meets regularly with department heads to monitor, review and manage service performance. Each quarter, the service’s performance is scrutinised by the fire authority governance committee.
However, we found a lack of performance oversight in some key business areas, for example, the prevention backlog from partner referrals, which are high-risk homes in the community. The service should make sure that all processes in place to support performance management are effective.
The service is taking steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working. For example, the service has introduced Microsoft Power BI dashboards that are used by managers to drive prevention, protection and response activity. We found detailed fire station district plans that link to the IRMP and targets included are based on local risk.
Although the service has a relatively small, on-call workforce, we are pleased to see they are also carrying out prevention activity to reduce risk.
The service had to adapt its working practices because of the pandemic, and these are still part of its day-to-day activity. These include some staff being able to work in a hybrid way, using a mix of remote and office working.
The service collaborates effectively with others
We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. For example, the service works with Leicestershire Police and the East Midlands Ambulance Service to respond to incidents where it can reach people faster, gain entry and help individuals get attention sooner. The service also works closely with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Services who share their mobilising system. Arrangements are in place for overflow emergency calls to be taken when the service has high demand.
Collaborative work is mostly aligned to the priorities in the service’s IRMP. For example, the service collaborates effectively with organisations in the community to educate and reduce the risk of fires. But the service needs to improve the training provided to partners, so they assess risk correctly when making HSC referrals.
The service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. We are pleased the service has addressed this area for improvement. It records all its collaboration activity and evaluation, and this work is monitored and reviewed at management team meetings every six months.
Testing of business continuity arrangements requires improvement
In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service needs to prioritise implementing new business continuity plans and test them as soon as possible.
We were disappointed to find the service still has gaps in its continuity arrangements for areas where threats and risks are considered high. For example, the service would benefit from carrying out an exercise in a full evacuation of its control room. The service has also been slow to address contractual matters to allow fire control staff to work out of county during a business continuity incident.
However, business continuity plans for industrial action are good.
The service has sound financial management arrangements in place
Financial plans are built on sound scenarios. They help make sure the service is sustainable and are underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money. For example, the city council scrutinises the budget and the fire authority has oversight.
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 fire authority reviews the service’s expenditure on a regular basis. No weaknesses have been identified by the service’s external auditors who review the service’s financial management.
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 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 actively manages its ICT and estates contracts to provide value for money. National framework procurement is used in areas such as fleet and ICT, and the service monitors the use of its fleet and moves fire engines around to make the best use of them.
How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.
Leicestershire 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 they should invest in better services for the public.
Areas for improvement
The service needs to assure itself that it is maximising opportunities to improve workforce productivity and develop future capacity through use of innovation, including the use of technology.
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 its future financial challenges
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 planned to assign £1.7m from the 2024/25 budget to meet the expected costs from removal of the day crewing plus duty system. It has a preferred option for changing duty systems, which it intends to consult on as part of the community risk management plan consultation process in 2023/24. And it has plans to recruit more wholetime firefighters than it currently needs to manage this change.
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 council tax precept flexibility, which has enabled an increase of £5 (7.8 percent) for a Band D property in 2022/23. This will generate an additional £1.8m.
We are pleased to see that the service has identified investment opportunities to improve the service to the public. Its capital programme is funded from its revenue budget and covers estates, fleet, ICT and other equipment. It also plans to increase its estates’ reserve using its revenue budget to fund improvements.
The service has a clear plan for its reserves
The service has a sensible and sustainable plan for using its reserves. Several reserves are earmarked to mitigate financial risks and deliver on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations. The service plans to invest in a new learning and development facility and has plans to invest further in transformation projects that support the delivery of its corporate and IRMP.
The service makes good use of fleet and estate
The service’s fleet and estate strategies have clear links to the corporate and IRMP. Both strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
The service is investing £5.2m in new operational vehicles including 12 fire engines and other smaller vehicles. This investment supports delivery of the fleet replacement programme.
The service has plans to refurbish Western, Eastern and Loughborough fire stations in 2022–23. These include improvements to facilities for female staff. In addition, £6m is earmarked for a new learning and development centre.
The strategies are regularly reviewed so that the service can properly assess the effect any changes in estate and fleet provision, or future innovation, have on risk.
The service should use technology to improve efficiency
The service has an ICT plan for 2021–24, which sets out how the service will improve and innovate. The plan includes a roadmap to address the service’s key ICT challenges over the next few years. We found the service has made some progress in delivering the roadmap, such as introducing Microsoft Power BI dashboards.
However, we found staff recording the same prevention, protection or response information twice in different systems. Also, we found manual audits being carried out to monitor staff overtime. These activities are affecting productivity.
The mobilising system used in control to send resources to operational incidents could be more efficient. The service is an active partner with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Services in managing the current contract for the system. There is a tri-service project to purchase a new mobilising system.
The service recognises there is more to do to deliver on its plans. We look forward to seeing these improvements. The service should ensure its plans for innovation and ICT improvement are evaluated to make sure the benefits are being realised.
The service generates income from its estate
In our last inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it fully exploits external funding opportunities and options for generating income, in particular that it is recouping costs for use of its premises by other emergency services.
Since our last inspection, we were pleased to find the service has addressed this area for improvement. It now has formal arrangements in place for sharing premises and renting space out to Leicestershire Police and East Midlands Ambulance Service. These lease arrangements clearly detail the rent and utility charges made back to the service.
Trading company is under review
There is a fire trading company called Forge Health Limited. It provides occupational health services to small and medium-sized businesses and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service. Forge Health employs no members of staff directly but instead uses Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service staff. It is charged for staffing costs based on the percentage of time that staff work for the company. And it is charged for other costs such as equipment and utilities.
The board of the trading company comprises two directors: one from the service and one from Leicestershire County Council. There is no up-to-date business plan. A previous business plan stated that a formal update of progress against financial forecasts, strategic objectives and risk would be reported to the fire authority annually. We found no evidence of this taking place.
At the time of the inspection, a review of the future of the trading company was taking place. This should include assurance that adequate governance and controls to safeguard against conflicts of interest are in place. It should also include assurance that the performance of Forge Health is subject to annual reviews so legal obligations and its duty to obtain value for money can be satisfied.