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Suffolk 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Requires improvement

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

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

We are pleased to see that the county council has invested in the service since our last inspection. The service has used this funding to help it work more effectively and efficiently.

Since our last inspection, the service has focused on increasing staff numbers in important areas of work to improve performance. There are now increased staff numbers in both the protection team and the information, communication and technology (ICT) team. This is helping these teams improve the way the service meets its statutory duties and has improved how it uses technology to increase its efficiency.

The service proactively works with other organisations to make savings and improve outcomes for the public.

But station-based staff could be more productive. The arrangements for managing performance are weak and don’t clearly link use of resources to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. The station plans we examined were too generic and not widely understood by staff.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

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

Suffolk 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 £22.519m. This is less than a 1 percent decrease from the previous financial year.

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This should be linked to risks and priorities set out in its new integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should make sure its arrangements for managing performance ensure its workforce uses its time in line with the priorities in the integrated 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 needs to make sure resources are appropriately allocated to support the activity set out in its integrated risk management plan

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This should be linked to risks and priorities set out in its new IRMP. The service hasn’t made enough progress in this area.

There remain weaknesses that need addressing. The service’s plans still don’t make sure enough staff are allocated to prevention, protection and response activities. On‑call staff don’t carry out prevention and protection activity, and wholetime staff do minimal prevention activity compared to other fire and rescue services.

The service has a clear capital spend strategy. Suffolk’s fire and public safety directorate has been allocated a capital budget of £7.235m for 2021/22 to 2023/24, with a further £4.729m for the period beyond 2024. The capital budget is intended to provide for:

  • working together with police and ambulance services;
  • the incident command and mobilising system;
  • ICT;
  • mobile data terminals;
  • operational equipment;
  • property improvements; and
  • vehicle renewals.

The service has carried out scenario planning through budget gap workshops with Suffolk County Council to help it develop its strategic plans. These plans help make sure the service is sustainable and are underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money.

The service needs to improve productivity and ways of working

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure its arrangements for managing performance ensure its workforce uses its time in line with the priorities in the IRMP. The service hasn’t made enough progress in this area.

The service structure supports performance management at a strategic level, and performance reporting is good. But the arrangements for managing performance are weak and don’t clearly link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. We found that station plans lacked detail, on-call firefighters didn’t carry out prevention activities and wholetime firefighters had a performance target of carrying out only two prevention activities per tour of duty. The service told us it has reviewed these problems and that there are plans to increase prevention activity. We are interested to see how this develops.

The service is in the lowest quartile nationally for the number of home fire safety checks it carries out. It 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 could do more to make sure its workforce’s time is as productive as possible, and to carry out prevention, protection and response functions effectively and efficiently. This includes considering new ways of working. The service could make better use of flexible working and flexible contracts for firefighters.

The service works well with other emergency services

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s IRMP. For example, the service shares a multi-agency community vehicle designed for use by different emergency services. It also shares two multi-agency unmanned surveillance aircraft to support missing person searches and responding to large-scale or complex structural fires.

The service monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. Most notably, a comprehensive feasibility study led to building a combined fire and police station at Felixstowe with no cost overrun.

The service shares 16 buildings with one of either Suffolk Police or East of England Ambulance Service. It has plans to share a further four buildings in this way.

The service has good 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 flu pandemic plan and business continuity plans which were in place and in date. It also has plans for industrial action and fall-back control (relocating the team or diverting calls if fire control systems fail), which it reviews and tests regularly.

The service shows sound financial management

There are regular reviews to consider all the service’s expenditure, including its non‑pay costs. The process of continuously challenging its spending arrangements helps to make sure the service gets value for money. The service works closely with the county council finance team through regular review meetings. Finance and performance are also reported and scrutinised regularly by council cabinet members. And the service’s programme and project board meets quarterly to review progress with the capital programme.

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. The service has made savings and efficiencies, which haven’t affected its operational performance and the service it provides to the public. For example, the service has bought a new mobilising system with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, leading to savings of approximately £400,000 a year from a combined fire control.

2

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

Good

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Suffolk 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.

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 improving its value for money

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which fully consider the medium-term financial challenges so it can prepare to secure the right level of savings. We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection.

As part of Suffolk County Council’s fire and public safety directorate, the service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It can also show a balanced budget over the medium term.

The service has carried out scenario planning for possible future spending cuts through Suffolk County Council budget gap workshops. These include assumptions for increases in pay, inflation and funding changes. The underpinning assumptions are relatively robust, realistic, and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment. These continue to be subject to informed challenges by the county council.

There are clear arrangements for the use of reserves

Reserves are held by Suffolk County Council. There is a robust process in place for any use of reserves. And the service makes good use of reserves for projects such as its new mobilising control system, training centre and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

The service needs to improve its fleet plans

The service’s estate strategy (strategic asset management plan) is clearly linked to the IRMP. The strategy is reviewed annually so that the service can properly assess the impact on changes in estate provision, or future innovation have on risk. The service makes the most of opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness by working with other emergency services. For example, it has refurbished Princess Street Fire Station. It now operates from this location with Suffolk Police.

The service has a 15-year fleet renewal programme and detailed plans for the period from 2018/19 to 2022/23. But it doesn’t have a fleet strategy with clear links to the IRMP or plans beyond 2023.

The service has invested well in technology and capacity to support future change

In our previous inspection, we identified an area for improvement that the service should make sure it makes the best use of technology to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection.

The service secured an extra £100,000 from the county council to invest in future innovation and technology, capacity and capability. Through a digital transformation project, it has improved the service’s wide area network, updated its mobile data terminals, and can remotely monitor IT and electrical systems at stations.

The service has put in place the capacity and capability needed to achieve sustainable transformation by recruiting additional business analysts and a programme manager. It routinely seeks opportunities to work with others to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future.

The service generates sustainable income

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income. This includes its sharing of estates with Suffolk Police and East England Ambulance Service. In this way, the service has saved about £12m in capital spending and makes savings through shared premise business rates.

The service receives a total annual income for shared stations, from other emergency services, of £238,975 (2021/2022).

Where appropriate, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. These include £3.6m (with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service) from central government to improve the fire control mobilising system, and £144,951 from the central government fire transformation fund to support building a combined fire and police station at Felixstowe.

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