West Midlands 2021/22
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure?
West Midlands Fire Service’s overall efficiency is good.
West Midlands Fire Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment
We are pleased overall with how efficient the service is at keeping people safe and secure.
The service has clear plans for how it allocates its money and resources, and it makes sure that it provides value for money to the public.
It uses its workforce well to maximise productivity. And it is looking further at how it can get the best out of staff by removing time spent on unnecessary activity. We also found that the service collaborates well with other organisations to improve how they keep communities safe.
We were particularly impressed with how the service uses and is developing technology to improve efficiency and the service it gives to the public.
We did find that the service could make better use of its estate to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.
How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?
West Midlands Fire Service is good at making best use of its resources.
West Midlands Fire 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 2022/23 is £108.303m. This is an increase of £4.042m from the previous financial year.
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
The service’s financial and workforce plans, including allocating staff to prevention, protection and response, continue to reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the CRMP.
The service uses organisational intelligence to assess if its policies and procedures support the delivery of the CRMP. It then manages its CRMP and other strategic priorities through a sophisticated programme management system. This means that it can make sure that it has enough of the right resources to deliver its priorities. It also evaluates projects to make sure that they are of value to the public.
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 service plans its revenue budget over a five-year period. It has identified that it needs to make savings in the region of £3.8m over this period and has put measures in place to achieve this. This includes its risk-based crewing project, which will require less staff to provide the same level of service.
The service also uses overtime to good effect to maintain its response standards while saving money. And it will need to use less overtime as it rolls out risk-based crewing.
The service is good at making sure its workforce is productive
We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing performance clearly link resource use to the CRMP and strategic priorities. Station and departmental plans link activity to CRMP priorities, and targets are set for protection, prevention and response. Work is monitored and quality assured. Key performance indicators are monitored at a strategic level to make sure CRMP priorities are being delivered.
The service has 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). It has calculated its contribution based on its own staffing and retention strategies.
The service makes sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. It uses its firefighters well to carry out prevention and protection work as well as responding to incidents. This helps to prevent fires occurring in homes and businesses and makes people safer as a result. The service believes that it can release more capacity by greater co-ordination of their prevention, protection and response roles.
It is also implementing new ways of working, for example, through its risk-based crewing project. This project will help the control room and incident commanders to be flexible about how they use their resources to respond to incidents based on risk. This model saves money and makes staff more productive by reducing the disruption caused by moving them around the service to fill gaps. The service also has a model that ensures most training can take place locally at stations. This helps to save time and money because staff don’t need to travel to a centralised training venue.
The good working practices that the service put in place because of the pandemic are still part of its day-to-day activity. These include an agile working policy to give staff the flexibility to work in a hybrid way. Good technology provision means that colleagues can stay in touch while working remotely.
The service is good at collaborating 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. For example, it is working with health and social care providers to reduce health inequalities that make people more at risk of having a fire. It supports other fire and rescue services with data and technology and provides legal support for enforcement activity. It also shares some accommodation with the police and shares its control room with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s CRMP. For example, the service supported the local resilience forum with the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme by checking all buildings accommodating migrants and asylum seekers to make sure they were safe.
We are satisfied that the service monitors and reviews the benefits and results of its collaborations. But there are no formal structures in place to evaluate collaborative activity to make sure this is providing benefit to the community.
The service has robust 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. It has plans in place for the control room and in the event of industrial action. These plans are tested regularly and learning points are identified and acted on. It has resilience arrangements for its control room. These include a buddy system with London Fire Brigade and the North West Fire Control, which could take over if the West Midlands control room was out of service. All control staff participate in exercises.
The service manages its finances well
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. It has used external auditors to carry out a value-for-money review and it spends the second lowest amount on non-pay costs out of predominantly urban services in England.
The service has made savings and efficiencies, which haven’t affected its operational performance and the service it provides to the public. The introduction of risk-based crewing will contribute to the efficiency savings the service needs to make without impacting on its response standards.
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. When procuring goods and services it works with the seven local authorities in its area to explore opportunities for shared contracts that would save money or provide better value to the public.
How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?
West Midlands Fire Service is good at making the service affordable now and in the future.
West Midlands Fire 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 make sure that its estates management programmes are clearly linked to the community risk management plan, and it understands the impact future changes to those programmes may have on its service to the public.
The service provides value for money
The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks, for example through risk-based crewing. It identified that it needed to make savings of around £3.8m from its revenue budget. The service’s training model, delivered locally rather than at a central venue, also helps to save money in terms of travel costs and staff cover.
The underpinning assumptions of the budget are robust, realistic and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment and some scenario planning for future spending reductions. For example, the service has managed its capital expenditure by using reserves, but it is now forecasting a funding gap in the capital programme of £5m in 3 years’ time. It plans to start borrowing money, but at the time of our inspection, hadn’t considered the increasing rate of inflation in its scenario planning.
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. The objectives in its CRMP are clearly linked to financial efficiency and service improvement.
The service uses its reserves well
The service has a sensible and sustainable plan for using its reserves. It has a general reserve of £6m, which is appropriate for the service. And it has earmarked reserves of £22m for the capital programme, investment in technology and equipment.
These reserves are expected to reduce over the next three years and the service has plans in place to borrow money where it needs to. We did find that that the service holds a large number of small reserves that would be better managed through individual budgets. The service intends to reduce these small reserves.
The service doesn’t maximise the opportunities presented by its estate
The service has estate and fleet strategies, but it doesn’t always exploit opportunities presented by changes in how it uses its estates to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
The service knows how much its fleet costs and it has plans to review this and make savings as part of its risk-based crewing project.
The estates plan consists of a list of premises and planned maintenance costs. It isn’t clear how the service plans to make better use of space, make its buildings more energy efficient or for additional income. But we were told that the service is looking into renting part of its headquarters building as less people are using it.
There are some examples of energy efficient measures such as solar panels, new boilers and electric charging points, but it isn’t clear how these are prioritised in an overall approach to environmental improvement.
We were told that the service doesn’t have enough funding to make improvements to the estate. The costs of products have increased which isn’t currently affecting the service but may impact on maintenance in the future.
The service is good at using technology to improve its effectiveness and 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. For example, it is developing a system that stores all information for prevention, protection and risk in one place so it can be easily shared across teams. This means that the service can understand risk better.
It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. It made a significant investment in technology during the pandemic, which helped it to communicate with staff more efficiently. It has also introduced tablets on fire engines for staff to record safe and well visits and site‑specific risk information. This will save time and make sure information is available more quickly. And it is upgrading its technology to improve the way it forecasts and reports on financial performance.
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. The service uses digital technology well to create capacity and capability. For example, by changing the post incident debriefing meetings from face to face to online, it is easier and more efficient for staff to attend, and they can contribute to improving service delivery.
It manages all transformation projects through its programme management team. This makes sure that these are linked to the CRMP priorities, are properly resourced and funded, and provide benefits to the service and community.
The service actively considers how it can generate income
The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income. It shares its control room with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, which brings in most of its income. It also rents its Safeside education centre to other organisations. And it has installed solar panels on some of its buildings, which generates an income of around £30,000 per year.