South Yorkshire 2021/22
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
The service’s efficiency has deteriorated in some areas and so has not improved as we would have expected since our 2019 inspection.
We found that the service does not demonstrate a clear rationale, linked to the comprehensive community risk management plan (CRMP), for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. And it doesn’t always exploit the opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness that are presented by changes in fleet and estate provision.
However, we are pleased to find that the service’s financial planning, financial systems and audit arrangements are all satisfactory. And it collaborates well with the police in the joint delivery of community safety activity.
Since the 2019 inspection the service has improved its medium-term financial planning to consider future budgetary pressures.
But we were disappointed to find that the service isn’t using its workforce in the most productive way. The service’s response model relies on the use of overtime. At the time of our inspection, a high level of vacancies was affecting resource availability.
How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.
Fire and rescue services should manage their resources properly and appropriately, aligning those resources to meet the services’ risks and statutory responsibilities. They should make best possible use of their resources to achieve better outcomes for the public.
The service’s budget for 2022/23 is £57.865m. This is a 4.45 percent increase from the previous financial year.
Areas for improvement
- The service needs to make sure that it uses its resources across prevention, protection and response functions in a more joined up way to meet the priorities in its community risk management plan.
- The service should have effective measures in place to assure itself that its workforce is productive and that their time is used as efficiently and effectively as possible to meet the priorities in its community risk management plan.
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 plans don’t effectively support its objectives
The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk. For example, it approved increased investment in the protection team at the annual workforce planning event. And it uses operational fire crews to carry out a large proportion of the service’s HFSCs.
But there are several weaknesses that need addressing. Implementation of the service’s plans, including allocating resources to prevention, protection and response activities, aren’t consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the CRMP. For example, the service hasn’t caught up on the HFSCs identified and awaiting a visit since the pandemic. Also, the service can’t clearly explain how resources are allocated to protection work, including how firefighters are reducing risk with business safety visit activity.
However, financial 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. Financial planning, financial systems and audit arrangements are all satisfactory. Planning assumptions prudently consider the various funding uncertainties that the fire and rescue authority is facing over the next few years.
The service isn’t using its workforce in the most productive way
The service has arrangements in place for managing performance, however, these could be improved. The service has re-introduced targets for firefighters, for the completion of HFSCs, business safety visits and operational risk information visits. Performance of firefighting crews is monitored through a computer dashboard and through station audits. But it is unclear how station-based activity is connected to service-wide prevention and protection strategies. The service carries out limited performance management of the specialist prevention and protection teams so it can’t measure how well they are mitigating the risks identified in the CRMP.
The service hasn’t identified the contribution it will make towards the national productivity target (using an extra 3 percent of national wholetime firefighter capacity to carry out additional prevention and protection work).
The service has measures in place to assist firefighting crews to be as productive as possible, such as station plans with targets for each watch to achieve, tablet computers to speed up administrative work and a watch performance system to monitor training activity and maintenance of competence. But the service should do more to make sure its workforce is as productive as possible.
At the time of our inspection, we found the service was relying too much on overtime. In the year 2018/19 the service spent less than half as much on overtime as similar fire and rescue services. By 2020/21 overtime had risen over 3 times the expenditure in 2018/19 and the service spent significantly more on overtime per head of workforce than the England rate. The service also had a significant number of vacancies, particularly at crew manager level. This was affecting its ability to keep its fire engines available. But we did find that it has plans to fill these vacancies.
The service shares resources effectively as it collaborates 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 joint community safety department (JCSD) partnership with South Yorkshire Police since 2017 is now well established. The JCSD is based at the Lifewise Centre. This is an impressive facility that contains a wide range of true-to-life simulations and offers a realistic learning environment. Bespoke educational programmes are provided for school pupils at primary and secondary levels. Prince’s Trust courses are also provided to young adults to build confidence and improve their job prospects.
Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s CRMP. For example, the service has established a network of over 400 partner agencies that can refer people who they consider may need an HFSC. This helps the service to target their prevention work more effectively.
We found that the service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. This was an area for improvement we identified in the 2019 inspection. The JCSD provides performance reports to an assurance board on a quarterly basis. The service also commissioned external consultants to evaluate the impact of the programme of collaboration between the service and South Yorkshire Police. The review concluded that the social return on investment for joint community safety work was £3.23 for every £1 spent.
The service has robust continuity arrangements
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. The service has plans in place for the control room in the event of a failure of the system to mobilise fire engines or industrial action by service staff. These plans are tested regularly and learning points are identified and acted on.
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, it has used external auditors to carry out a value-for-money review and it spends the fourth lowest amount on non-pay costs out of the 15 predominantly urban fire and rescue services.
The service has made savings and efficiencies, which haven’t affected its operational performance and the service it provides to the public. Since our 2019 inspection procurement savings of around £1.3m have been obtained through joint purchasing with other services, reduced tendering costs and closer working with stakeholders, such as firefighters and support staff who will be using or maintaining the equipment purchased.
The service is taking steps to make sure important areas, including estate and fleet, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. The service operates a joint vehicle fleet management department with South Yorkshire Police. Improvements have been made in the sharing of specialist skills and knowledge. Reviews of the financial benefits of the partnership are ongoing. An external evaluation of the joint vehicle fleet management department determined that a social return on investment of around £2.56 is being achieved for every £1 spent.
The estate function was also shared with the police but following an evaluation it was decided in early 2022 that each organisation will now operate independently. We will be interested to see how this progresses.
How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service 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 service needs to make sure that its fleet strategy is regularly reviewed and evaluated to maximise potential efficiencies.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
The service understands the future financial challenges but could do more planning to address this risk
In our 2019 inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should ensure it has sufficiently robust plans in place that consider the medium-term financial challenges, so it can secure the right level of savings. We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since then.
The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks, such as the possible future effect of changes in government funding, business rates, pay and pensions, which could lead to less money being available. The service has set aside an emerging risk reserve to deal with budget deficits if necessary.
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 are included in the medium-term financial plan as the most likely, reasonable, best case and the most likely, reasonable, worst case, based on the service’s assessment of the current and future financial conditions.
We are pleased to see that the service has identified savings and investment opportunities to improve the service to the public or generate further savings. These include savings of around £560,000 for 2022/23, linked to reductions in rental expenditure, and efficiencies obtained following the move to hybrid working during the pandemic.
However, the anticipated budget surplus of around £950,000 can largely be attributed to a one-off grant. The service anticipates a budget deficit of £1.007m by 2024/25. Savings options to reduce this shortfall have yet to be finalised. The service should identify a range of options so that it is able to meet the future savings requirements.
The service has a good reserves strategy
The service has a sensible and sustainable plan for using its reserves. This plan includes the maintenance of:
- a robust general reserve that is prudently held at around £5m for any financial uncertainties;
- a reserve, which will decline over time, that is earmarked for key schemes;
- an emerging risk reserve that the service has built up through savings due to staff vacancies and financial support provided during the pandemic; and
- a service improvement reserve to aid improvements in efficiency and new ways of working.
The service needs to improve its fleet and estate plans
Despite the savings obtained principally as a result of the pandemic we are disappointed to see that there has been little improvement since the 2019 inspection. The service has estate and fleet strategies, but it doesn’t always exploit opportunities presented by changes in fleet and estate provision to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The service has ended the estates collaboration with South Yorkshire Police and brought in a new management structure. We look forward to seeing how this improves its estates function.
The service doesn’t properly assess the effect any changes in fleet provision, or future innovation, may have on risk. The planned 2019–21 replacement programme for fire engines identified during our 2019 inspection hasn’t yet taken place. Although it was noted that the service has placed an order for new fire engines.
During our latest inspection, we heard that the lifespan of fire engines had been extended from 10 to 12 and then to 15 years. Many staff told us there were numerous safety reports being logged due to defects with the ageing fleet.
The service has invested well in technology and capacity to support future change
The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. It has prepared well for the introduction of the Emergency Services Network, the critical communications system that is being developed with the Home Office.
It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. It has embarked on a digital transformation project and made some notable improvements. For example, it has:
- developed several ICT systems in-house, including operational debrief and performance management systems; and
- increased efficiency by replacing paper-based systems, for example by providing tablet computers to crews to carry out HFSCs and business safety visits.
The service has put in place the capacity and capability needed to achieve sustainable transformation, and it routinely seeks opportunities to work with others to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future. It has identified further incorporation of agile working and investments and efficiencies as 2 key priorities in the 2022/23 annual plan. Further capital investment in ICT is planned over the next 3 years with £1.035m earmarked in the medium-term financial plan.
Income generation is limited
The service considers options for generating extra income, but its track record in securing extra income is limited. In the past, it has operated a trading arm, although it wasn’t effective, and the decision was taken to close it down. It is, however, open to the idea of considering this or other commercial opportunities in the future.
Where appropriate, it has obtained external grant funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. This funding includes grants provided to the service following the Grenfell Tower fire and the pandemic. The service has allocated this funding in appropriate areas. Internal bids for funding from this reserve are robustly reviewed and approved, based on the benefits that will be realised from the investment.