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Shropshire 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

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

The service has good financial management arrangements in place and a range of assurance measures to keep control of its spending. Scenario planning is used effectively so that strategic plans are robust.

Staff productivity continues to improve, and the service is collaborating well with other organisations to increase capacity and capability. But it could improve further with better use of technology and enhanced evaluation of its partnerships.

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges and has a good track record of effective financial management. But the future opportunities the service has identified to make savings or generate further income are limited in scope.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making best use of its resources.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service was good 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 2020/21 is £23.221m. This is a 4.2 percent increase on the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

The service should make sure it has appropriate business continuity arrangements in place, which are regularly reviewed and tested, and 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’s financial plans support its objectives

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection. The service’s financial and workforce plans, including allocating staff to prevention, protection and response, are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the CRMP. For example, the service has increased resources in protection to make sure it has enough capacity to fulfil its risk-based inspection programme and to give specialist protection advice out of hours. The service has also maintained good fire engine availability while reducing overtime costs. From 2018/19 to 2020/21 the service reduced annual overtime by 36.5 percent, so it is one of the services in England with the lowest overtime spend.

Strategic 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. The corporate planning process clearly links together the CRMP, medium-term financial plan, service strategies and departmental plans. The service gives appropriate assurance through a range of controls, such as internal audit and performance monitoring. The CRMP action plan is updated annually.

Productivity of staff continues to improve

We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing performance clearly link resource use to the CRMP and the service’s most important and long-term aims. The service uses wholetime and on-call staff to make safe and well visits, and it sets targets as part of its prevention strategy.

The service is taking some steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working. For example, the service uses flexible working arrangements. Its second Telford fire engine moves to Tweedale overnight to cover the changing community risk profiles. But its inefficient information and communication technology (ICT) systems and paper-based processes affect productivity.

Since our last inspection in 2018, the service has maintained exceptionally high levels of on-call availability. In November 2021, the service implemented a new research project to better understand and mitigate the challenges of on-call availability and to sustain good availability.

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, both remotely and in the office.

The service explores opportunities to collaborate 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. The service supports the police by searching for missing people and helps the ambulance service gain entry to properties for emergency medical treatment.

During the pandemic, the service:

  • had over 220 staff working with other organisations;
  • had 69 trained COVID-19 vaccinators; and,
  • administered over 20,000 vaccinations to the local community.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s CRMP. For example, the service has developed a strategic alliance with Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service to enhance capacity and resilience. The alliance has made some progress in jointly procuring vehicles and equipment. The services worked together closely to formulate their new CRMPs, published on 1 April 2021.

We are satisfied that the service monitors, reviews and evaluates some of the benefits and results of its collaborations. But we found limited evaluation of the financial benefits of collaboration.

The service hasn’t fully tested its continuity arrangements

In our last inspection in 2018 we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it has good business continuity arrangements in place that take account of all foreseeable threats and risks.

The service has gaps in its continuity arrangements for areas where threats and risks are considered high. For example, we found that ICT business continuity arrangements hadn’t been regularly reviewed and tested. This means that staff aren’t fully aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities.

The service shows sound financial management

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 service has internal and external audit processes in place that involve Shropshire Fire and Rescue Authority in review and scrutiny every quarter. It also produces annual governance statements.

The service has made savings and efficiencies that haven’t affected its operational performance or 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 uses national and local benchmarking (comparing its spending in particular areas to that of other fire and rescue services) to show value for money.

2

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

Good

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making the service affordable now and in the future.

Shropshire 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 considers and plans for 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 considered the medium-term uncertainty of the one-year government funding settlement for 2021/22. It has made reasonable funding assumptions and can show a balanced budget over the medium term.

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 pay and employer pension contributions.

The service has a good track record for achieving savings and avoiding residual budget gaps. But the future opportunities the service has identified to make savings or generate further income are limited. The service has, however, prepared extra plans to provide flexible working opportunities for staff, which aim to reduce overtime and increase productivity. We look forward to reviewing the impact of these proposals.

The service has plans for using reserves

The service has a sensible and long-term plan for using its reserves. Most of the reserves have been earmarked for major capital investment in redeveloping the Telford fire station. The service acknowledges that its reserves will decline markedly over the next year. It is important that the level of reserves is kept under close review, so the service retains appropriate levels to deal with future risks.

Fleet and estates plans have strong links to strategic plans

The service’s estate and fleet strategies have clear links to the CRMP. The locations of the fire stations in Shropshire have been assessed and the service is satisfied that they are suitably positioned to meet its response standards. The service provides a specialist fire engine fleet to support the specific needs of a rural and sparsely populated county. This includes fire engines with more space, for up to nine firefighters, and greater capacity water tanks.

Both strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The service has jointly procured incident command units with Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service. The service also collaborates with Shropshire Council to provide compliance testing and planned and reactive maintenance for its buildings.

The strategies are covered by an overarching asset management plan. This is regularly reviewed so that the service can properly assess changes in estate and fleet provision, and the impact future innovation may have on risk.

The service has invested in some technologies but needs to improve its capacity and capability

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. Staff can access service IT systems containing information like staffing rotas and risk updates remotely via their mobile phones.

It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. The service has introduced an IT platform to improve communication and give live updates from fire control to the incident ground. It lets real-time information, such as where people are trapped in buildings, to be automatically uploaded to the incident command vehicle at the scene. This can improve the situational awareness for incident commanders dealing with a dynamic and changing operational incident.

The service doesn’t always have the capacity and capability it needs to change completely how it works. This is especially true for ICT. The service’s ICT systems haven’t improved as quickly as expected and the strategic alliance with Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has provided limited ICT gains.

The service doesn’t actively exploit opportunities to generate income

The service has considered options for generating extra income. It used to rent out parts of its premises, but it plans to give up space for free in future. The service operated a trading company that was placed into hibernation in February 2018 and was wound up in October 2019.

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