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Merseyside 2021/22

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This is HMICFRS’s third assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.

The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.

The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is outstanding.

The extent to which the service looks after its people is good.

Andy Cooke, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services

HMI summary

It was a pleasure to re-visit Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. I am grateful for the positive and constructive way that the service engaged with our inspection. There are many positives to report. I thank the service for working with us by accommodating the virtual approach of this inspection. Inspections usually take a hybrid approach but inspecting during the pandemic meant we had to adapt. I also want to recognise the disruption caused by the pandemic. This has been considered in our findings.

We judged Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service as good at our last inspection in 2018. There were six areas for improvement, which the service is working on. It continues to make progress and the direction of travel is most definitely forward, and I am pleased that the service is outstanding in three areas.

An area for improvement from our last inspection was for the service to allocate enough resources to a prioritised, risk-based inspection programme. We are pleased to see that it now has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme.

Staff now know how to command fire assets assertively, effectively and safely at all incidents. This was previously an area for improvement. Since then, the service has trained and accredited incident commanders who are assessed regularly and appropriately. The service has improved its workforce planning but, there is still more to do, since it is only effective for operational roles.

The changes it has made to contracts and shift patterns mean more staff are on duty during the day when demand is higher. There is still resilience at night. It is a good example of a public sector organisation using its money and resources to get the best return for the public. Most staff are positive about the changes.

Merseyside is an effective fire and rescue service. It uses a range of information to identify, assess and prevent risk and to review its response standards. Staffing and location of fire stations have also changed to better serve the communities of Merseyside. It is doing its statutory responsibility in all areas, and even more in some. Its prevention work around high-rise buildings is a notable example.

The pandemic restricted some activities but has been good for rapidly introducing technology and flexible working, as well as making the service less reliant on paper‑based systems. Its investment in technology is now motivated by the ability to make risk information more readily available and increasing efficiency.

The service makes innovative use of its resources. For example, it has used reserves to clear debts and reinvest in frontline services.

There is a positive working culture. Its values are understood and reflected in the behaviour of most staff, except some middle managers. Staff have access to an excellent range of services to support their physical and mental wellbeing. There are effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place.

It has introduced a new command strategy with processes to train, develop and assess competence every two years. Training records show that the service adequately records training and competence in core skills. But fire control room staff don’t do practical training in fire survival guidance, which is a risk-critical area. This should be addressed.

The service recently introduced network groups for BAME, gender equality and LGBT. This is to understand the needs and experience of people with protected characteristics, and to promote equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation. This focus should continue.

Finally, the service has made significant progress on an area for improvement to create an open process to identify, develop and support high potential staff and aspiring leaders. Gateway, a development process, has been built to help staff access opportunities for development and learning, and to gain qualifications.

We very much look forward to seeing further improvements at our next inspection.

Effectiveness

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Good

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service has identified and assessed a range of fire and rescue-related risks that could affect its communities. It has used a range of information, and consulted widely, to produce a comprehensive integrated risk management plan. The information in the plan has enabled the service to review its response standards, as well as change the staffing and location of fire stations to better serve its communities.

Staff from the service’s prevention, protection and response teams can readily access this information to prevent or mitigate risks for the public. They also contribute regular updates as they complete visits, inspections and audits.

The service has taken learnings from the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry to reduce risk. It is on track to have assessed the risk of each high-rise building in its service area by the end of 2021 and has completed a fire safety audit for all high-rise, high-risk buildings in its area. It is good that the service has also reviewed how many fire engines are sent to fires in high-rise buildings to determine the right level of response. (There are 256 high-rise buildings in Merseyside.)

The service works closely with other organisations in the public and voluntary sector, as well as with the police and ambulance services, to identify people at greatest risk from fire. For example, a recent study with Liverpool John Moores University.

It is good at sharing risk information with other organisations when it identifies vulnerability. However, it doesn’t review the number of referrals to other organisations generated by home fire safety visits. This means it is missing opportunities to review how it targets this activity.

In 2018, we gave the service an area for improvement to ensure that it allocates enough resources to a prioritised, risk-based inspection programme. We are encouraged to see that it now has enough qualified protection staff to meet the requirements of its (risk-based inspection) programme.

The service consistently uses its full range of enforcement powers and, when appropriate, prosecutes those who fail to comply with fire safety regulations.

It has prioritised resources to be able to respond to a range of incidents in its area. It also trains and works closely with other fire and rescue and emergency services so that it can respond effectively to multi-agency and cross-border incidents. We are impressed with the service’s approach to maintaining staff skills and competency in this area, particularly its innovative Sunday Six training plan.

View the five questions for effectiveness

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
Outstanding

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is outstanding.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service’s medium-term financial plan shows how it will finance the priorities in its integrated risk management plan. Priorities include:

  • recruiting firefighters to improve fire cover; and
  • changing shift patterns to increase capacity.

It is unusual for a service to recruit to increase establishment in such austere times. And it is innovative, some might say bold, to change traditional shift patterns. It is clear the service plans and uses its resources effectively to reduce risk and meet its statutory responsibilities.

The service has worked/partnered with a range of external organisations since long before emergency services were obliged to do so. Some collaborations generate revenue, some make savings. An ambitious capital programme is currently underway to develop a new training and development academy with the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), which, the service anticipate, will contribute £3m to the facility.

Technology is another significant part of the service’s capital programme, which strikes a good balance between replacing obsolete systems and digitalising frontline services. Our last inspection found the service to be over reliant on paper-based systems. It is positive that this has been addressed through the issue of digital devices such as mobiles and tablets.

The service continuously looks for ways to improve its effectiveness and efficiency, including transforming the way it works and improving value for money. It has:

  • a good understanding of future financial challenges and makes good use of its reserves; and
  • a good track record of making savings and efficiencies without compromising front line services.

Additionally, its buildings programme and fleet management are linked to the priorities in its integrated risk management plan.

The service’s response to COVID-19 has created lasting flexible and agile working benefits for staff. It has been a valued partner in the regional response, helping co‑ordinate mass and surge testing. Volunteers from the service have vaccinated over 10,000 people.

View the two questions for efficiency

People

How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 15/12/2021
Good

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service has a positive working culture. Its values are understood and reflected in the behaviour of most staff, except some middle managers. Staff have access to an excellent range of services to support their physical and mental wellbeing. Effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures are in place. They are readily available and promoted to all staff.

Since our last inspection, the service has improved its workforce planning. However, there is still more to do, as it is only effective for operational roles. Additionally, there is an outstanding action in the people strategy to create a succession planning policy.

The service has introduced a new command strategy with processes to train, develop and assess competence every two years. Training records show that it accurately records training and competence in core skills. However, fire control room staff do not do practical training in fire survival guidance, which is a risk-critical area. This should be addressed.

A culture of continuous improvement is promoted across the service where staff are encouraged to identify areas for learning and development. Most are satisfied with the provision. The service has made significant investments in a new training and development academy, which will further enhance the service’s ability to train its staff.

The service is improving its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion. For example, it has introduced staff network groups for BAME staff, gender equality and LGBT inclusion to help identify issues that affect people with protected characteristics. However, only some staff have received equalities training. This was due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.

At the time of inspection, the service did not have a live recruitment and positive action strategy or equality impact assessment. However, the service is doing more to increase the diversity of its workforce, as it has only taken limited positive action during the pandemic.

The service has a good performance management system in place to effectively develop and assess individual performance. Since our last inspection, it has reduced the number of staff in temporary promotions through permanent recruitment processes. It has a consistent, fair recruitment process.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2019/20

Service Area

252 square miles

Population

1.43m people
up3% local 5 yr change

Workforce

89% wholetime firefighters
11% on-call firefighters
0.49 per 1000 population local
0.57 national level
down8% local 5 yr change
down8% national 5 yr change

Assets

23 stations
29 fire engines

Incidents

3.9 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.8 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
3.1 national
3.9 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
4.1 national

Cost

£24.54 firefighter cost per person per year
£24.53 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria