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Norfolk 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

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

In our last inspection, Norfolk FRS required improvement at how it uses resources to manage risk. It also required improvement at how well it is securing an affordable way of managing risks including fire, now and in the future. It hasn’t made enough progress in this area.

The service continues to base its annual financial planning on its previous budget, with changes for inflation. There are no clear plans to address the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2024. These plans are needed to secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks.

The service doesn’t have workforce plans linked to or aligned with medium-term financial plans or risk analysis, nor does it take full account of the skills and capabilities and succession planning needed to carry out the IRMP or adapt to changing future risk.

The service scenario plans for future spending reductions don’t do enough to recognise the wider external environment and risk, including how the reductions would affect services to the public.

More positively:

  • The service uses various contractual arrangements effectively, which has improved on-call
  • Its continuity arrangements are effective.
  • The service collaborates well with other organisations.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

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

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service required improvements 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 2019/20 is £27.4m. This is a 3 percent decrease from the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure that resources are appropriately allocated to support the activity set out in its integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should ensure that it makes best use of the resources available to it, including from elsewhere within Norfolk County Council, to increase resilience and capacity.

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

The service needs to make sure it has resource plans to support its objectives

In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that the service should make sure that resources are appropriately allocated to support the activity set out in its IRMP. It hasn’t made enough progress in this area.

The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there are still weaknesses that need addressing. For example, its financial forecasting and planning is done on a short-term basis. The service allocates resources to activities annually, after it has reviewed the previous year’s base budget and adjusted for inflation and savings. The service doesn’t plan far enough in advance for its fleet requirements. This is adversely affecting the fire engine replacement programme.

The service doesn’t have workforce plans linked or aligned to the IRMP, medium-term financial plans or risk analysis. Staffing levels in the control room are regularly below minimum staffing levels, with call handling and crew turnout times increasing. The service has plans to address this. The protection team is also under-resourced, which is affecting work with local businesses and large organisations. Limited prevention activities are taking place.

The service’s delivery plan lacks detail. The service has listed its strategic aims under the headings Prevent and Protect, Response, People, Logistics, and Planning, but it is unclear how it will achieve them.

The service should make sure that resources are appropriately allocated to support the activity set out in its IRMP.

The service must do more to make sure it fulfils its main functions effectively and efficiently

We are encouraged to see the service adapt its working practices as a result of the pandemic, and these adaptations are still part of its day-to-day activity. For example, the service gave support staff personal financial packages to help them to work from home.

The service has varying types of contracts available for staff (wholetime, on-call, etc), and the service makes good use of them. It supplies additional contracts for all firefighters, so that, for example, wholetime firefighters may take on on-call duties. The service also makes varying-hour contracts available to on-call staff, in order to maintain operational availability. It is using central government uplift grant money to recruit and train protection staff.

However, the service’s arrangements for managing performance are weak and don’t clearly link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. We found a lack of effective prevention and protection performance management. Staff are unaware of performance targets, and there is little corporate oversight. On-call staff don’t undertake prevention and protection activity, and wholetime staff do minimal prevention activity in comparison to others, and don’t do protection audits.

The service could do more to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible, to carry out prevention, protection and response functions effectively and efficiently.

The service would benefit from monitoring and evaluating its non-pay costs

In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that the service should make sure that it makes the best use of the resources available to it, including from elsewhere within Norfolk County Council, to increase resilience and capacity. It could do more to improve in this area.

We are encouraged to see that the service has taken steps to make sure important areas, including estates, fleet, information and technology, and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. Savings and efficiencies made have had no disproportionate effect on operational performance and the service to the public.

However, we found limited monitoring and evaluation of the effect of these savings, and there is a lack of scrutiny of the fleet management to make sure that it is gaining efficiencies and getting value for money.

The service collaborates with other emergency services

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders, most notably the shared premises with the police.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s IRMP. Activities included:

  • recovering and protecting vehicles in dangerous positions;
  • supporting pedestrian safety on highways; and
  • gaining entry to private properties to get access for the ambulance service.

But the service could do more to monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and results of its collaborations.

The service has good business continuity plans in place

The service has good continuity arrangements in place for areas where threats and risks are considered high. These threats and risks are regularly reviewed and tested so that staff are aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities. For example, during our recent COVID-19 inspection, we found that the service had a pandemic flu plan and business continuity plans that were in place and in date. It also has plans for industrial action and fall-back control, which it reviews and tests regularly.

2

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

Requires improvement

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making the service affordable now and in the future.

Norfolk 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 must make sure scenario plans for future spending reductions are subject to rigorous analysis and challenge, including the impact on services to the public.
  • The service should assure itself it has effective budget management planning in place, with appropriate levels of financial management capability and capacity. The service should make sure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which address the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2024 and secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other 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 should make sure it has robust plans in place to address the medium-term financial challenges and secure an affordable way of managing risks including fire

The service understands its financial challenges. We are pleased to see that it has undertaken a spending review scenario planning for future spending reductions.

However, it hasn’t linked the scenario planning to its medium-term financial plan (MTFP) or IRMP. Its planning assumptions don’t do enough to recognise the wider external environment and risk, which limits its ability to make sure it will be able to allocate resources to areas of risk. It also means that savings will have minimal impact beyond 2024.

The service could do more to align the scenario planning to the MTFP and IRMP in order to:

  • identify changes in demand and risk;
  • understand costs;
  • benchmark against other fire and rescue services; and
  • identify areas where the service has performed well or was comparatively expensive.

There is scope for the service to consider more sophisticated budget allocation models that would help it to do this.

It doesn’t have clear scenario plans for reducing future spending, for example, in three to five years, to anticipate where it might need to make significant changes in the way it spends, operates, or saves. Appropriate action also needs to be taken to lessen the main financial risks linked to staff turnover, in particular at senior manager level.

The service has identified ways to make savings or generate further income, but these opportunities are limited. In 2021/22, these include back-office savings made by reducing fuel costs, printing, photocopying and advertising expenses (amounting to £101,000), and equipment purchases and the staff training budget (amounting to £261,000).

Clear arrangements for use of reserves

Norfolk Council holds the service’s reserves. There is a robust process in place for the service to access them. Current reserves are approximately £300,000, of which £150,000 will be used to cover 2020/21 overspend.

The service could do more to consider changes in estate and fleet strategies for future service provision

The service has fleet and estates strategies, but it doesn’t exploit the opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in fleet and estate provision.

The strategies aren’t clearly linked to the IRMP or to future changes in the service’s premises.

The service doesn’t plan far enough in advance for its fleet requirements, and the fleet replacement programme is adversely affected by this.

We found significant problems with vehicles, equipment repairs and delays in returning operational equipment. More needs to be done to monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and results of its service provisions. This scrutiny will make sure the service gets value for money.

The service is replacing its petrol and diesel vehicles with electric and hybrid vehicles, with 14 vehicles on order for early 2022.

The service is investing in future innovation and technology

In our previous inspection, one area for improvement was that the service should make sure it makes the best use of the available technology to improve operational effectiveness and efficiency. It has made good progress in this area.

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. It has plans and is preparing for the new Emergency Services Network.

It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. The service is updating the computer systems in fire stations, and the communications and mobile data terminals on the fire engines.

The service, in collaboration with the East Coast and Hertfordshire Control Room Consortium, also has plans to improve call handling and fire appliance mobilising systems.

The service is taking action to reduce its carbon footprint by replacing its diesel and petrol vehicles with electric and hybrid versions.

The service has secured £250,000 and established a significant change programme known as ‘concept of operations’. This is designed to review its operating model, (shifts systems, appliances and stations) and its organisational structure (teams, functions and departments) to support the implementation of its IRMP. But it could do more to communicate the project’s objectives to staff and the community, and to make sure public money is spent efficiently.

The service’s income generation is limited

The service considers options for generating extra income internally, but it isn’t actively considering and exploiting external funding opportunities or options for generating income. Income generation is limited to cost recovery from non-emergency incidents and petroleum licences.

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