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London 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

London Fire Brigade required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

We were disappointed to find that London Fire Brigade’s overall efficiency at keeping people safe and secure hasn’t improved as we would have expected since our 2019 inspection.

Without an up-to-date CRMP, it isn’t clear how the brigade’s budget, finance and staffing plans will meet identified risks. Because of this, plans for the efficient and effective use of estates and fleet haven’t been developed.

There is a good level of scrutiny applied to the brigade’s finances, but it needs to do more to reduce costs, especially the way it uses overtime, to make sure it can respond to incidents.

The brigade is aware of its future financial challenges but doesn’t have plans in place to meet all of them.

The brigade has made some improvement in how it collaborates with others but is still not evaluating the benefits of these arrangements, meaning it can’t show how effective this work is. We also found that the brigade’s IT systems don’t always help staff do their work efficiently.

The brigade is changing how it operates as an organisation, but it acknowledges it doesn’t have all the skills or resource to carry out its plans.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at making best use of its resources.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade’s budget for 2021/22 is £405.4m. This is a 1 percent increase on the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it reviews how it allocates its resources to activities, based on the risks set out in the LSP.
  • The brigade should make sure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any contractual arrangements, collaboration, or other improvement projects.
  • The brigade should make sure it has good business continuity arrangements in place across the whole organisation, which are understood by all staff, that take account of all foreseeable threats and risks.
  • The brigade 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 IRMP, the LSP.
  • The brigade should make sure that it is taking action to reduce non-pay costs and can demonstrate how it is achieving value for money

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

The brigade’s resourcing plans need more work

The brigade sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there are several areas that need addressing.

The brigade’s IRMP, the LSP, hasn’t been updated since 2017. The new CRMP hasn’t been fully developed.

We are concerned that without a CRMP, the brigade doesn’t have enough information to determine what level of resource it needs to meet future risk. Departmental plans for areas such as estates and IT were not in place or updated because of this.

Our first inspection in 2019 found the brigade’s strategic direction wasn’t aligned to the LSP. We are disappointed to find this hasn’t changed. It was not clear how prevention, protection and response resources are allocated to the risks in the LSP.

The brigade has done some work to understand what skills and resource it needs, but it needs to do more to turn this into a clear workforce plan.

The brigade has made little progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure it reviews how it allocates its resources to activities, based on the risks set out in the LSP.

The brigade has a good level of financial scrutiny

We found a good level of scrutiny over the brigade’s finances. The brigade has used financial scenario planning. It has outlined different options for meeting budget challenges through its medium-term financial plan. Scrutiny is provided by the Mayor of London through the Fire and Resilience Board. This makes sure budgets are based on sound planning assumptions before they are approved.

Further scrutiny of financial controls is carried out by the brigade’s audit committee. This helps make sure the brigade has long-term financial stability which is underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money.

Performance monitoring is in place but there is too much reliance on overtime

Arrangements for managing performance are linked to the brigade’s Transformation Delivery Plan (TDP). This plan details how the brigade will change and improve its operations. The brigade has recently set up a performance board, which scrutinises its performance and progress against the plan’s most important and long-term aims. Performance against the TDP is also reported quarterly to the Fire and Resilience Board.

The brigade is taking some steps to make sure its workforce’s time is as productive as possible. For example, firefighters carry out business fire safety visits. Targets are in place for operational crews to complete a set number of home fire safety visits (HFSVs) each month.

The brigade had to adapt its working practices as a result of the pandemic, and these are still part of its day-to-day activity. These include the use of hybrid working and virtual meetings. This helps staff to work in a more flexible way.

But the brigade relies on overtime to maintain its operational response. Figures for 2019/20 show that £4.48m was spent on overtime. This increased in 2020/21 to £8.12m. Eighty-nine percent of this was spent on wholetime firefighters.

Worryingly, casual overtime continues to increase. This type of overtime is usually more expensive than other overtime types. In 2019/20, £2.86m was spent on casual overtime. This increased to £3.49m in 2020/21. The brigade spends £605.30 on casual overtime per head of workforce. This is above the England rate, and is the highest amount compared to other predominantly urban services.

When the LSP was published in 2017, the brigade committed to exploring alternative crewing models. Almost five years later, we found firefighters continue to work the same shift pattern. The brigade should review its crewing arrangements to determine the most effective and efficient way of addressing risks faced in London.

The brigade is improving its focus on collaboration

We are encouraged to see improved focus on exploring opportunities to collaborate. For example, the brigade told us that:

  • a police safer neighbourhoods team is based at Purley Fire Station;
  • the Greater London Authority now shares two floors of London Fire Brigade’s headquarters;
  • a trial has been completed for a single call-handling centre for emergency services; and
  • operational staff supported London Ambulance Service by driving ambulances throughout the pandemic.

Despite this improvement, the brigade has been slow to progress some collaboration work. For example, a single call-handling service for fire, police and ambulance was referred to in the 2017 LSP. At the time of this inspection, the trial had only just been completed. The brigade told us that COVID-19 had delayed some progress.

We found the results of collaborations aren’t always evaluated. This means it is difficult to show the effectiveness and efficiency gains of collaborative work.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should make sure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any contractual arrangements, collaboration, or other improvement projects.

Staff need better understanding of continuity plans

There are continuity arrangements in place for areas where threats and risks are considered high. We found good continuity plans in place for the brigade’s estate and in the event of loss of the fire control room.

We were disappointed to find that most staff we spoke to at fire stations were not aware of continuity arrangements or their associated roles and responsibilities. We found that control operates from the fallback control centre when IT work is being carried out on the control system. But this isn’t classed as a test of continuity plans and no debrief takes place. Control would benefit from regular testing of its continuity arrangements and being fully debriefed to share learning from these tests.

While the brigade has made some progress, the following area for improvement identified in 2019 remains. The brigade should make sure it has good business continuity arrangements in place across the whole organisation, which are understood by all staff, that take account of all foreseeable threats and risks.

More work is needed to reduce costs

Though the brigade has taken some actions to reduce non-pay costs, they are limited. Without plans in place for fleet and estates, we couldn’t see how costs would be reduced in these areas.

Some of the savings and efficiencies made have had a disproportionate effect on operational performance and the service to the public. For example, the brigade introduced a recruitment freeze for 2021/22, to address budget gaps. This has contributed to the brigade having a high level of vacancies, and to difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, especially in the protection department.

We found more evidence of the effect of the savings and efficiencies during our inspection. Overtime spend is increasing, especially for operational staff, to cover shortfalls in staffing. Departments like protection don’t have enough staff, so can’t provide the full range of services available to the public. The brigade is now investing in more protection staff.

We were encouraged to find improvements being made to procurement processes. The brigade has introduced a new contract management approach to manage its contracts more efficiently. Some collaborative procurement work has taken place with Kent Fire and Rescue Service on national PPE contracts. The brigade should continue to develop its procurement work to achieve greater efficiencies through national initiatives and contracts.

2

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

Requires improvement

London Fire Brigade requires improvement at making the service affordable now and in the future.

London Fire Brigade 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 brigade should make sure it has strong enough plans in place to address financial challenges beyond 2023 and secure an affordable way of managing fire and other risks.
  • The brigade should make sure it has the right skills and capacity in place to successfully manage change across the organisation.
  • The brigade should make sure that it develops fleet and estates management programmes that are linked to the new CRMP, and it understands the impact future changes to those programmes may have on its service to the public.
  • The brigade 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.
  • The brigade should make sure that it takes full advantage of opportunities to secure external funding and generate income to improve services and increase efficiency.

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

Plans to meet future financial challenges aren’t clear

The brigade understands its future financial challenges. These challenges are recorded in its risk register. They include reductions in future government funding and additional costs resulting from a court ruling in a dispute over firefighter pension costs.

At the time of our inspection, a financial plan had been set until 2022/23. However, until costs arising from future financial challenges like the pensions dispute are made clear, then long-term plans to mitigate such challenges are difficult to put into place.

The brigade hasn’t developed a new CRMP. Because of this, strategic plans such as those for fleet and estates haven’t been developed. The brigade has yet to develop a clear workforce plan. This means the brigade has limited understanding of what its future needs will be. It also affects budgeting decisions and weakens the brigade’s ability to mitigate any significant financial risks.

The brigade has secured additional grant income to cover pandemic-related costs. It also hasn’t recruited for several staff vacancies. This has helped to achieve an underspend of 2.1 percent (£9.37m) in its 2020/21 revenue budget. Some other modest savings have been achieved through staff restructuring.

On 28 September 2021, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector wrote a letter to the Commissioner of London Fire Brigade. This was to express concern that firefighters were being offered a pay increase to compensate them for performing fire and rescue duties in the case of a marauding terrorist attack, in effect paying them twice. We are yet to be satisfied that these funding proposals are an efficient use of public money.

The brigade has made limited progress in addressing the following area for improvement identified in 2019. As such, the area for improvement remains. The brigade should make sure it has strong plans in place to address financial challenges and secure an affordable way of managing fire and other risks.

The brigade has a medium-term plan in place for use of reserves

The brigade sets its minimum general reserves requirements at 3.5 percent of its annual budget. The level of general reserves is risk assessed every year against exposure to unbudgeted losses. The reserves held by the brigade have been assessed as being adequate by auditors.

The brigade has some plans for the use of its reserves. For example, at the end of 2021/22 it held £31.4m in a budget flexibility reserve to meet future budget gaps and fund organisational change. It also intends to use reserves to support the development of projects and activities when the new CRMP is in place.

Fleet and estate strategic plans haven’t been developed

The brigade has yet to develop strategic plans for its estate and fleet. Without these it isn’t clear how the brigade will exploit any opportunities presented by changes in fleet and estate provision to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

We found fleet replacement is based on demand and the age of the appliances. As ;the brigade’s arrangements mean a third party runs its engineering workshops, it has limited opportunities to collaborate to improve efficiency.

During our inspection we found that some of the brigade’s estate was in a state of disrepair. Staff we spoke to told us that this was because a strategic view of estates couldn’t be taken until the condition of the building stock was assessed. A £50m capital receipt from the sale of the brigade’s old headquarters has been budgeted for in its financial plans, but this sale will not be completed.

We found the brigade has significantly underspent on its capital budget. The brigade has subsequently told us that the underspend was anticipated and is partly due to external factors, including the impact of COVID-19 on work schedules and prices rising, which have required projects to be rescoped.

The brigade has limited capability to make future change

The brigade has a plan in place to change the way it operates. This work is
detailed in its TDP. A director of transformation has been employed to manage this. The brigade’s transformation board provides governance and scrutiny of change programmes and their end results. A framework has been developed to make sure the project work is being managed properly.

The brigade still has much work to do to meet its plans for change. We were disappointed to find that it still acknowledges it doesn’t have the skills or capacity to achieve the level of change needed. It doesn’t know how many projects are running throughout the organisation, nor understand what the benefits are. This means the brigade can’t effectively co-ordinate its project work to support its plans.

Some staff we spoke to said change was slow. Some of the reasons given for this included bureaucracy and lack of training in project management.

IT systems don’t support productivity

We found that the brigade has an IT plan, but a review and update of this plan hasn’t been completed. This is because the future IT requirements of the new CRMP aren’t clear.

The brigade has some major IT projects underway. For example, it is working on a new database that will allow staff to access all premises’ risk information in one place. However, this and other IT projects are behind schedule.

During our inspection we found IT systems that didn’t support productive working. For example:

  • the brigade’s protection database frequently crashes;
  • systems to run the brigade’s finances were out of date; and
  • paper-based systems are still in use, including the recording of HFSVs. This means staff have to transfer information from paper onto computer systems.

The brigade has limited plans to generate income

Outside obtaining funding through grants and leasing space at its headquarters to the Greater London Authority, the brigade has limited plans to generate extra income.

For example, the brigade’s arrangements mean a third party runs its engineering workshops, so it has less opportunity to collaborate. The brigade did set up a trading company to generate income, but the company is no longer trading.

English Cymraeg