Skip to content
Promoting improvements
in policing and fire & rescue
services to make everyone safer

Northumberland 2021/22

Read more about Northumberland

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 requires improvement.

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

The extent to which the service looks after its people requires improvement.

HMI Andy Cooke

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

HMI summary

I am very grateful to the staff at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service who worked diligently with us on this inspection. I want to 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 everyone had to adapt. I also want to recognise the disruption caused by the pandemic. This has been considered in our findings.

The service has made significant improvements since our last inspection in 2019. It has made progress against most of the areas for improvement we found two years ago, especially in protecting the public through fire regulation. In this category, I was pleased to see the service has moved from requiring improvement to good. But the service has made poor progress in improving its prevention work through quality assurance and evaluation.

We were impressed that the service proactively engages with local businesses and other organisations to promote understanding of and compliance with legislation. It uses different platforms to raise awareness of current themes and to offer support and advice. We look forward to seeing how successful the new website for the service is, and how the service evaluates its use.

The service has got better at protecting the public. But it still needs to improve several areas of its effectiveness. For example, by doing more to engage with its communities to understand risks, and to broaden its approach to risk. Risk information needs to be consistently gathered and recorded and kept up to date and relevant.

The service will reap huge benefits, and create a more representative workforce, by doing more to access new talent and different ways of thinking. There are still several barriers to open and fair recruitment that need to be overcome. The service should, for example, direct recruitment campaigns at under-represented groups and treat on-call and wholetime staff equally for operational roles.

In 2020, still only 0.8 percent of its firefighters have a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background and only 7.7 percent of firefighters are women. This latter figure is slightly higher than the England average of 7.0 percent but, in real terms, wholetime women firefighter numbers have stayed the same for the past five years.

There are lots of positives in the service’s financial management, which is generally good. The service now has more funding than when we inspected last. This is positive. We saw improved resourcing of the service’s prevention, protection and response functions. Reserves are well used and we are pleased with how well the service manages its fleets and estates. But the link between the integrated risk management plan (IRMP) and the fleet and estates strategies isn’t clear enough.

The service can, however, show how allocating staff to prevention, protection and response reflects the risks and priorities identified in the Year 5 update for the IRMP.

The service has also developed a sound understanding of future financial challenges, but it needs to work on protecting itself against foreseeable risks.

The service collaborates with the county council and other fire and rescue services but would benefit from being more ambitious in this area. It still needs to improve its plans and exercising for business continuity.

There are some new areas for improvement in its response to incidents. It needs to better inform the public about ongoing incidents and improve its debriefing system.

I saw positive improvements in culture and in the behaviours of staff and crews. But the service needs to do more work on this, alongside developing its leaders and managers better. The negative effects of this can be seen throughout the service. And the service still isn’t managing working hours effectively. We are concerned that arrangements for managing rest periods between on-call and wholetime commitments aren’t suitable or adequate. The service needs to address this issue as a priority.

While the improvements we saw during this inspection aren’t enough for a significant grade improvement, we look forward to seeing the improvements the service has already made being replicated in other areas.

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
Requires improvement

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

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

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has improved its effectiveness since our inspection in 2019. It has made progress against most of the areas for improvement that we found. And we saw improvements in the way it protects the public.

The service is working from an IRMP that has been extended by a year. It will have a new plan from 2022. We saw some good use of data to create risk profiles. But the service has not engaged with its communities as well as it should to understand risks. So, its approach to risk is too narrow.

There are some new areas for improvement in its response to incidents. It needs to better inform the public about ongoing incidents. And it should improve its debriefing system.

The service has made poor progress in improving its prevention work through quality assurance and evaluation.

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
Requires improvement

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

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

We found Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service to be making positive changes. But it has made limited progress against some of the recommendations from our 2019 inspection.

Its financial management is generally good. It has made good use of its reserves. We saw improved resourcing to the service’s prevention, protection and response functions. But support services are still stretched.

The service collaborates with the county council and other fire and rescue services. It could be more ambitious in this area. It still needs to improve its plans for business continuity and for exercising.

We were pleased with how well it manages its fleet and estates. But the link between the IRMP and the individual strategies for fleet and estates are not explicit. The service has only limited funding and ambition for generating income.

View the two questions for efficiency

People

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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

Overall, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

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

We were pleased to see the service has recently made changes to improve its culture. We look forward to seeing the full benefit of these once they are established.

The service has got better at ensuring it has the right people with the right skills. But it still has work to do in this area.

It needs to keep improving its understanding of equality and diversity. And it needs to do more to engage its staff. It also has work to do in developing leaders and managing talent.

Overall, the service is moving in the right direction to improve how it looks after its people.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2019/20

Service Area

1,942 square miles

Population

0.32m people
up2% local 5 yr change

Workforce

51% wholetime firefighters
49% on-call firefighters
0.79 per 1000 population local
0.57 national level
down22% local 5 yr change
down8% national 5 yr change

Assets

15 stations
21 fire engines

Incidents

4.2 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
2.4 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
3.1 national
3.8 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
4.1 national

Cost

£29.97 firefighter cost per person per year
£24.53 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria