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Staffordshire 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Requires improvement

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

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

We found the service to have good financial management arrangements in place so it can understand how it spends its money. And it has good plans in place for future reductions in its funding.

It collaborates well with the police which means it can be more efficient in the way it uses its fleet and buildings. But we did find that the technology it uses doesn’t always help staff to do their jobs effectively.

We were disappointed to find since the last inspection that the service isn’t using its workforce in the most productive way. It doesn’t clearly understand whether the work they do is directed to the risks identified in its IRMP. The service’s response model relies on the use of overtime. At the time of our inspection, a high level of vacancies meant this impacted on resource availability.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

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

Staffordshire 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 2021/22 is £41.9m. This is a reduction from £42.4m in the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

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 the IRMP.

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 support its objectives, but the service should make sure it has enough resources to meet its objectives

The service’s financial plans are built on sound scenarios. For example, the service has calculated the resources it needs to deliver its prevention and protection activity and training requirements. This helps make sure the service is sustainable and is underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money.

The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed. The service has allocated enough resources to prevention, protection and response to deliver the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP. But we found that delays in recruitment and training, which may have been impacted by the pandemic, have affected the service’s ability to have enough resources available. This has resulted in lower response standards and backlogs of work in prevention and protection.

The service doesn’t use its workforce in the most productive way

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. Service delivery teams manage the performance of stations locally, but the stations aren’t integrated with the three service delivery areas or with the central prevention and protection teams. The service doesn’t set any performance targets for the central prevention and protection teams so it can’t measure how well they are mitigating the risks identified in the IRMP. The service has a performance dashboard that measures service performance against six strategic measures on a quarterly basis, but these don’t clearly link to the IRMP.

The service should make sure its workforce is as productive as possible. This includes considering new ways of working. We found that the service sends a level 2 commander to every incident with 2 or more fire engines in attendance, regardless of the severity of the incident. This means their time is often taken up on paperwork instead of more important work.

Technology isn’t used to help staff be productive. Station-based staff told us that they can’t take the mobile data terminals off the engines, so waste time printing out risk information. We also heard that service-issued mobile phones aren’t smart phones, so crews can’t use technology easily and quickly to locate an incident.

We also found that on-call staff don’t routinely make risk familiarisation visits, and operational staff haven’t restarted prevention work that stopped during the pandemic. We heard some stations with low demand have long periods of downtime that isn’t used to support other important areas of work.

We noted that the service decided a few years ago to use its workforce more efficiently by reducing the number of posts and using single-rate overtime to supplement shortages. However, at the time of our inspection we found the service was relying too much on overtime and had a significant number of vacancies. This was affecting its ability to keep its fire engines available. This may have also been affected by the pandemic where staff may not have been available to carry out overtime.

In the year 2019/20, the service spent twice as much on overtime as similar fire and rescue services. While this has reduced slightly in the year ending 31 March 2021 it still remains significantly above the rate for England. But we did find that it has plans to fill these vacancies.

The service is good at collaborating with others

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate. It routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders and shares support functions with the police, such as finance and human resources. This saves the service money on staffing costs. The service has also redeveloped the stations at Hanley and Tamworth as shared sites with the police. Again, this saves the service money and helps police and fire colleagues to work more closely together for the benefit of the public.

The service works collaboratively with several partners to carry out prevention activity, like the Road Safety Partnership and the schools’ Safe+Sound programme. It also plans to collaborate with other fire services to increase expertise in enforcement work. These activities are clearly linked to the IRMP priorities of preventing fires and protecting people, buildings and the environment.

The service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. The police, fire and crime commissioner chairs a strategic collaboration board to which projects are presented for approval and scrutiny. There is a shared service operational management group that monitors the progress of collaboration projects. The service also evaluates specific collaboration work such as the Safe+Sound programme.

The service has good business 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 continuity arrangements for the control room were tested in August 2021 and the service is following up on the learning points from this.

The service shows sound financial management

There are regular reviews of the service’s expenditure, including costs such as goods, services, premises and fleet. This scrutiny makes sure the service gets value for money by, for example, monitoring the performance of contracts set up by the shared service procurement team.

The service has made savings and efficiencies that have caused minimal disruption to the service it provides to the public. This includes the services and sites it shares with the police. It has also been able to reinvest some of the savings it has made into its prevention work. But improvement is still needed in some areas of the shared service to make sure the efficiencies made are supporting the service to operate effectively. For example, the service needs to make sure the recruitment process enables it to fill vacancies on time.

The service is making sure important areas, including estates, fleet and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. But it should also make sure that it can effectively measure how much value for money these efficiencies make.

2

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

Good

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

Staffordshire 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 should assure itself that its IT systems are resilient, reliable, accurate and accessible.

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

The service is good at mitigating its financial risks

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its significant financial risks. The service has identified a budget shortfall of £2.9m by 2025 and has prepared a series of options to make savings to address this. The risk of each option has been evaluated and presented to the police, fire and crime commissioner. These include options to make further savings from the estate by selling land and buildings it no longer needs.

The underpinning assumptions are robust, realistic and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment. The assumptions include an analysis of the changing demand on the service because of fewer fires.

The service has a good reserves strategy

The service clearly understands its reserves. It has a general reserve that is within the government recommended limits. It also has other reserves of £7.5m to support specific areas including capital programmes. But these reserves are expected to reduce to around £4m by 2025/26. The reserves strategy is reviewed each year by the police and crime panel and more regularly by the finance director. The service should review its reserves strategy to make sure that the anticipated reduction in reserves is sustainable.

The service uses its fleet and estates strategies to drive efficiencies

The service shares its estate and fleet functions with the police. This has enabled the service to make efficiency savings by sharing premises and reducing purchasing costs for the fleet. The estate and fleet strategies have clear links to the IRMP. For example, the IRMP priorities inform the types of vehicles that the service needs to deliver its response capability. And co-location of police and fire staff is one of the priorities in the IRMP. Both strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The strategies are regularly reviewed so the service can properly assess the impact any changes to estate and fleet provision or future innovation have on risk. But we found the performance measures for both strategies don’t help the service to fully understand the effectiveness of the strategies. We also found there have been delays with some of the estates and fleet projects. For example, a delay in purchasing specialist vehicles for complex rescues is stopping the service from improving the way it responds to incidents. The service is starting to make progress with the delayed estates project at Stafford Fire Station.

The service should make sure that it makes best use of new technologies to transform the way it provides its services

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. For example, it is investing in technology to provide an integrated platform for prevention and protection data. It has also invested in new technology to support staff working remotely. But there are other areas where it hasn’t invested, such as smart mobile phone technology on appliances. This means that it can’t use some of the control room tools such as 999Eye to improve incident management. The 999Eye tool enables the caller to stream live video footage of the incident to the control room, meaning that it can make better decisions about what resources it needs to send to the incident. We also found that some systems the service uses, like the mobile data terminals and the service network, aren’t reliable.

The service is working effectively with the police in some areas such as communications to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future.

The service doesn’t actively exploit opportunities to generate income

The service considers options for generating extra income, but this is limited mainly to income from shared premises. It gets some income from training provided to other fire services. The service has decided to wind down its community interest company.

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