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Surrey 2021/22

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

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

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate in its 2018/19 assessment.

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made in its efficiency since our last inspection, when we identified this as a cause of concern. It has improved a grade on both the questions we ask in this section. Previously, the service wasn’t using its resources efficiently to manage risk; nor was it using its financial and physical resources effectively to keep people safe. The service has addressed this cause of concern through its IRMP, called the Making Surrey Safer Plan (MSSP), which improves the way that it targets its resources at areas of highest risk.

The service has improved its approach to collaboration and has created savings through its joint control room with West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. However, it needs to make sure it evaluates the end results of its collaborations. It would also benefit from carrying out more
benchmarking – comparing its spending to that of other fire and rescue services – to make sure its procurement processes are providing value for money. It also needs to expand its financial scenario planning to prepare for any future financial problems.

The service used the pandemic to introduce agile working for staff, supported by improved IT. It has improved its governance arrangements and quality assurance throughout the service. This has helped senior leaders develop more effective relationships with the county council and its cabinet members, who have supported the service through a period of significant change and internal and external problems.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How does the FRS make best use of its resources?

Requires improvement

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

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service was inadequate 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 2021/22 is £31.7m. This is the same as the previous year.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should make sure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration activity.
  • 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 (the Making Surrey Safer 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 current financial plans support its objectives

During our last inspection in 2018 we identified as a cause of concern that the service didn’t use its resources efficiently to manage risk, and didn’t manage its financial and physical resources to effectively keep people safe. We recommended the service should make sure that:

  • its resourcing model met risk demand sustainably;
  • its workforce model supported its operational model to manage risk efficiently and sustainably; and
  • it used the available budget prudently to support its risk management activities.

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 teams, reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the MSSP.

Plans are built on sound scenarios. They help make sure the service’s work is lasting, and they are underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money. The MSSP marks a new way for the service to approach its risk planning and use of resources, and is subject to continuous review. The data used to inform the plans has been scrutinised and agreed by a third party. There are clear links between the MSSP and the prevention, protection, and response strategies. This has been a significant change for how the service and its staff work.

The service needs to make sure its workforce’s time is used effectively and efficiently to meet the priorities in the MSSP

The service’s arrangements for managing its performance are improving, but they don’t yet clearly link how the service uses its resources to the MSSP or to the service’s most important and long-term aims. Operational staff have targets for the number of safe and well visits to be achieved. But in 2019/20 Surrey was among the lowest services in the country for the number of safe and well visits carried out per head of population.

The service has introduced a revised performance management framework, with the aim of making sure the workforce’s time is used productively. But it needs to do more to make sure its workforce is as productive as possible. This includes considering new ways of working. For example, the service has introduced partnership managers who make sure that prevention work at stations is targeted at local risks. But the service hasn’t evaluated how this improves productivity at its stations.

The service had to adapt its working practices as a result of the pandemic, and these are still part of its day-to-day activity. For example, along with the wider county council, the service has introduced agile working: staff can work from the most convenient location, whether that’s at home, at a local fire station or a county council building. As part of the county council, the service is moving to more cloud-based technologies. But the service hasn’t evaluated how this impacts its workforce’s productivity.

During our last inspection in 2018, we found that the service relied too heavily on staff overtime to maintain fire engine availability. We are pleased to see that, due to the crewing changes introduced as part of the MSSP, overtime is being used far less.

The service collaborates with other emergency services but needs to evaluate this work

In our last inspection in 2018 we identified an area for improvement in this area. This stated that the service should assure itself that it makes the most of collaboration opportunities and that these improve its capacity, capability and service to the public, and are good value for money.

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection.

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. In December 2019 a joint control room was established between Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. This has achieved cashable savings in the region of £0.6m per year. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is due to join the control arrangements in September 2021, although the service is unsure of the savings this will create.

As noted previously, the service worked well with other organisations during the pandemic. External organisations told us the service was now seen as a more reliable and proactive partner than it was at the time of our last inspection. The service is currently considering an opportunity to collaborate with Surrey police in its vehicle workshop arrangements.

The service’s collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the MSSP. For example, the service is active in the primary authority scheme, acting as the single point of contact for 18 national organisations. This allows the service to engage with businesses and supports them in complying with fire safety legislation. But the service needs to assure itself that this work isn’t being completed at the cost of its main activities.

The service needs to do more to monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and end results of its collaborations. For example, we were told about the financial savings from the joint fire
control
collaboration. But we were provided with little information about the potential benefits from the future control arrangements involving East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, or how these would be evaluated.

The service has business continuity plans in place

The service has good continuity arrangements in place for industrial action by operational staff. The service has been through a period of industrial action since our last inspection and this tested the continuity arrangements.

Control staff were confident in the continuity arrangements for control. These are tested regularly, including the fall-back arrangements with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

The service is improving its financial management

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection.

The service carries out regular reviews of all its 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 has improved its arrangements with the county council finance team through regular review meetings. Finance and performance are reported and scrutinised regularly by cabinet members.

At the time of our last inspection, the service was being asked to provide a further £6m in savings. However, that is no longer the case. The county council has supported the service’s MSSP through additional transformation funding to help the service to change its operating model. The new operating model has been scrutinised by an independent third party to assure the county council of its sustainability.

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 is aware it needs to procure a suitable electronic system to replace the paper-based asset management system currently used to monitor the use and maintenance of operational equipment.

The service is also aware that it needs to conduct more benchmarking (checking its spending in particular areas against that of other fire and rescue services) to make sure it is getting value for money in its procurement processes.

2

How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?

Good

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

Surrey 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 should invest in better services for the public.

Areas for improvement

The service must ensure scenario plans for future spending reductions are subject to rigorous analysis and challenge, including the impact on services to 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 should improve its understanding of future budget challenges to make sure it can secure long-term funding

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection. It has developed a sound understanding of future financial challenges, and has plans to mitigate its main financial risks. For example, the service has used an independent third party to assure itself and the county council that its new operating model, as outlined in the MSSP, is achievable and lasting. The underpinning assumptions are relatively robust, realistic and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment for the duration of the current MSSP (until 2024).

We were pleased to see that the service has identified savings and investment opportunities to improve the service to the public and generate further savings. For example, the joint control with West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is making savings of around £0.6m per year.

However, we didn’t see evidence that the service is planning beyond the current MSSP. The current MSSP runs until 2024 and we would expect to see financial planning beyond this date.

The service doesn’t have its own reserves

The service doesn’t hold its own reserves as these are held by the county council. However, we have seen that the service receives financial support from the county council when required. For example, in our COVID-19 inspection we saw that the service was able to request funding to cover additional costs incurred directly due to the pandemic. The county council has provided transformation funding from its reserves to allow the service to achieve the new operating model identified in the MSSP. However, with county council reserves now being depleted, the service needs to make sure it has plans in place to deal with different future financial scenarios.

The fleet and estates strategies are aligned with the MSSP

Our last inspection in 2018 (PDF document, 453 kB) noted that “the service has not invested well in its estate and fleet. The service’s hot fire house is unusable for realistic breathing apparatus training. But it has alternative arrangements in place. The service is using fire engines for longer than was planned instead of renewing them.”

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection.

The service’s estate and fleet strategies have clear links to the MSSP. Both strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The service is investing £16m in replacement fire engines. It also has a £4.5m replacement programme for other vehicles and equipment across the service. A further £32m investment is being planned for new training facilities and replacement/refurbishment of four fire stations.

The strategies are regularly reviewed so that the service can properly assess the impact on risk of any changes in estate and fleet provision or of future innovation.

The service is investing in technology to improve its efficiency

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection. The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. The mobilising system used in joint control means that the nearest fire engines from either service are sent to incidents in Surrey and West Sussex. This supports firefighter and public safety.

The service also seeks to exploit any opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness that are presented by changes in technology. As part of the wider county council, fire service staff can work in a more agile way. Technology is being used to support people to work at the most appropriate locations, whether at home, the fire service or county council premises.

The service has put in place the capacity and capability needed to achieve long-term change, and it routinely seeks opportunities to work with others to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future. For example, the service has been part of a procurement collaboration with East Sussex County Council and Brighton & Hove City Council since 2017. This partnership provides the service’s IT.

The service could do more to generate income

The service considers options for generating extra income, which includes applying for grants, but its ambition and track record are limited. It currently doesn’t have a plan to do more in this area.

The service used to benefit from income from its trading arm. However, due to the risk of fluctuating income negatively affecting its budget, a decision was made to stop the income going directly to the service. The county council increased the service’s base budget by £300,000 to compensate for this. The county council felt its larger budget was better able to withstand fluctuations in this income than the service’s. The trading arm is now the single trading arm for the whole of Surrey County Council.

Fire service staff are seconded to the trading arm to provide advice and guidance on the courses and training the service provides. A senior fire service officer is a director on the board of the trading arm, and makes sure there are no potential conflicts of interest between the work of the trading arm and fire service activities.

Where appropriate, the service has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. These include government funding linked to the Grenfell Tower work, and funding to recover costs incurred during the pandemic. For example, the service has used funding from the Building Risk Review (a national government-funded programme to understand and help reduce the fire risk in high-rise residential buildings) to buy smoke hoods to help make people safer in fires.