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West Sussex 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

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

We have seen improvements in the way fire service managers work with the council’s finance team. This has led to better mutual understanding and improved future planning. The new governance arrangements mean the service’s decision‑making can be challenged in a more robust and informed way. And there is now a better understanding of performance management, including financial management, in the service.

There are also now increased staff numbers in the prevention and protection teams. This is helping these teams improve the way the service meets its statutory duties in these areas.

The service is doing more work with other emergency services and aims to save money through this approach. But it needs to make sure it evaluates how effective and efficient this collaborative work is.

The service has invested in new IT systems since our last inspection. While the move to these has created some minor setbacks, they are already improving the way teams and individuals work.

Since our last inspection, the service has focused on increasing staff numbers in its most important areas of work to improve performance. It has introduced more efficient ways of working, but this has not been a priority. The service is now better resourced, but it must make sure its future financial plans account for a wide range of future funding arrangements.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Good

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is good at making best use of its resources.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

From the service’s figures, its budget for 2021/22 is £29.03m. This is an 8 percent increase on 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 financial plans support its objectives

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, reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP and the consultation on its CRMP.

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. We have seen an improvement in the way the service approaches its risk planning and use of resources. Both these aspects of work are now continuously reviewed. And the prevention, protection and response strategies are now linked to the IRMP and the consultation on the CRMP.

The service needs to make sure staff time is used effectively and efficiently

We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing its workforce’s performance are improving, but they don’t yet clearly link how the service uses its resources to the IRMP. Operational staff have targets for the number of safe and well visits to carry out, but these targets are not being met.

The pandemic has led to many members of the public not wanting the service to carry out safe and well visits in their homes. Despite this, we have seen that the central prevention team are on track to meet their target for home visits. The service needs to understand why the central team is apparently finding it easier than operational staff to access people’s homes.

The service has introduced a revised performance management framework to help make sure staff use their time productively. But it should 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 an LRMP to make sure operational staff’s activity is targeted at local risks. But this new approach isn’t understood by all operational staff yet.

The service had to adapt its working practices because 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 flexible working: staff can work from the most convenient location, whether that is at home, at a local fire station or a county council building. But the service hasn’t evaluated how this affects productivity.

The service is benefiting from more collaboration

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 service is finding more ways to work with other organisations since the last inspection and is evaluating this work better than it was.

The service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. In December 2019 West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service set up a joint control room. This has led to cashable savings of about £1m for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service also joined the joint control arrangements in November 2021.Savings from this new arrangement will be reinvested to make sure that the joint fire control function meets all Grenfell-related procedural and staffing changes.

The service’s collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in its IRMP. For example, the service and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are exploring whether having a joint fleet manager could make it easier to procure and maintain vehicles in future.

We have seen that the service is actively seeking to work with other organisations. For example, it is going to build a new training centre and fire station at Horsham. The service invited other emergency services to consider working with it on this project, but this was not successful. Despite this, the service is discussing with public and private sector organisations how the building might be used jointly once it has been built, to share costs and improve efficiency.

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

Continuity plans are strong and regularly tested

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.

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

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 the way it works with the county council finance team through regular review meetings. Finance and performance are reported and scrutinised regularly by cabinet members.

In our last inspection, we found the service didn’t have enough staff to carry out effective prevention and protection activities. But this is no longer the case. The county council has supported the service’s improvement plan with extra funding to make sure it has enough staff to meet its main duties.

The service is taking steps to make sure important areas, including estates and fleet, are well-placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. For example, the service knows it needs to update many of its fire stations and plans to do this in a prioritised way, taking the needs of the wider service into account.

2

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

Good

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

West Sussex 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 should assure itself that its IT systems are resilient, reliable, accurate and accessible.
  • The service should make sure that it takes full advantage of opportunities to secure external funding and generate income to improve services and increase efficiency.

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

The service plans for future financial challenges

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection. The service has developed a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. For example, the service has made plans for responding to a range of events that may affect its budget. 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 include regular planning meetings with the wider county council and fire authority. The service plans for the possible future impact of changes in areas such as government funding, business rates and pay, which could lead to less money being available.

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. For example, the service is saving approximately £1m every year from its joint control arrangements.

The service doesn’t have its own reserves

The service doesn’t have its own financial reserves as these are held by the county council. But we have seen that the service gets financial support from the county council when it needs it. For example, in our COVID-19 inspection we saw that the service was able to ask for funding to cover extra costs that were directly due to the pandemic.

The county council has provided extra money from its reserves to support the service’s improvement plan. But since the council’s reserves have been reduced during the pandemic, the service needs to make sure it plans for the possibility that the council may be less able to support it in future. We have seen evidence that the service is doing this.

The service is improving the links between its fleet and estates strategies and the IRMP

The service’s estates and fleet strategies are becoming better aligned with the IRMP. The service has commissioned an independent survey of its fire stations. This has highlighted areas where improvements need to be made, after several years where maintenance hasn’t been routinely carried out. The county council has promised £5m to fund the improvements. The service is prioritising this improvement work where it is needed most.

The service has secured funding for a new training centre and fire station at Horsham. The service told us this is due to be ready by the summer of 2023. It will have up-to-date training facilities to help operational staff maintain their most important skills.

At the moment the service is sharing its fleet manager with East Sussex FRS, to explore opportunities to work together more effectively. The service will evaluate the trial to see if this approach will lead to more efficiency.

Technology is improving efficiency, but staff need more IT support

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection, where we identified this as an area for improvement. The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. The mobilising system used for joint control arrangements means that the nearest fire engines from either the West Sussex or Surrey service are sent to incidents in both counties. This supports firefighter and public safety.

The service has invested in a new IT system to link prevention, protection and response information. But staff told us that there isn’t enough training or support for them to use these systems effectively. The service understands that more work needs to be done to make sure its IT systems are as effective and efficient as possible.

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 now work in a more agile way than before the pandemic. Technology is being used to support people to work at the most appropriate location, whether that is at home, the fire service or county council premises.

The service could do more to generate income

Since our last inspection the county council has significantly increased funding for the service. The service’s focus has been on using this investment to employ more staff in its main areas of work.

So, the service has not been focused on generating income. But it has used savings created through more efficient ways of working to improve the organisation. For example, savings from the joint control arrangements with Surrey Fire and Rescue Service have been used to help fund more staff in the prevention, protection and operational assurance teams. With pressures on county council budgets expected from 2023/24, the service should consider how it can take full advantage of opportunities to secure external funding and generate income.

The service has secured external funding to invest in improvements to its work. This includes government funding linked to the response to the Grenfell Tower fire, and funding to recover costs that have arisen 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.

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