Avon 2018/19Read more about Avon
This is HMICFRS’s first annual assessment of fire and rescue services. This assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people. It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.
The extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.
The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks requires improvement.
The extent to which the service looks after its people is inadequate.
Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We have concerns about the performance of Avon Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure. In particular, we have serious concerns about the service’s effectiveness, and how it looks after its people. In view of these findings, we have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer, as we do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.
The service needs to improve its effectiveness at keeping people safe from fires and other emergencies. The way it uses fire regulation to protect the public is inadequate. It needs to improve its prevention activity and the way it responds to emergencies. But it is good at understanding risk and at responding to national risks.
The service is inadequate in the way it looks after its people. It does not do enough to:
- promote the right values and culture; and
- ensure fairness and promote diversity.
It also needs to improve the way it manages performance and develops leaders. But it is good at getting the right people with the right skills.
The service should improve its efficiency by making better use of its resources. But it is good at providing an affordable service.
Overall, there are improvements we expect the service to make. We do not underestimate the difficulties that the service has experienced since the publication of the independent statutory inspection report in July 2017. The senior management team has made clear to us its determination and commitment to change the culture, behaviours and effectiveness of the organisation. We will be monitoring progress.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies. But it is unstructured in the way it asks the community about local risk. The current integrated risk management plan has good information about the context in which the service operates. But it does not have enough information about vulnerable people. The service gathers risk information, has a system for updating it and an established process for sharing it.
The service needs to improve the way it prevents fires and other risks. It aims to provide home fire safety checks based on risk. The service takes referrals for home fire safety checks from other organisations and these are subject to an assessment of vulnerability. The service provides good community safety information to the public. Not all staff properly understand safeguarding, particularly frontline staff. The service contributes to road safety planning in Avon. But road safety work is not co-ordinated.
The service needs to be better at protecting the public through fire regulation. The service acknowledges it has not met the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme. Avon FRS enforces fire regulations and prosecutes successfully. Its enforcement model is good. It is keen to work with other organisations and we saw examples of effective joint working. But it does only limited work with businesses to reduce unwanted fire signals.
The service needs to improve how it responds to fires and other emergencies. The service has a plan for introducing national operational guidance. But there has been limited implementation of this guidance. Control room staff work effectively and efficiently. But crews could not show effective use of mobile data terminals to view risk information. This could put them at increased risk. The service consistently meets the standards of its crewing policy for wholetime fire engines.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The service must improve the way it uses resources. Its medium-term financial plan (MTFP) does not link to its IRMP. It describes proposals for savings but does not identify those savings. The service explores ways to improve productivity, but we also saw inefficient processes. Avon FRS uses flexible working practices, which has improved staff retention. But the service’s system for deploying commanders to an incident is inefficient. We found some inefficiencies in staffing. The service’s plans to address some of these are at an early stage.
We saw examples of Avon FRS’s collaborations with other organisations. Some have improved efficiency. Others appear to only benefit the other party. The service is drawing up a strategy to ensure all its collaborations are mutually beneficial.
The service tests its IT continuity arrangements. But the arrangements for the control room are not underpinned by a business continuity plan. The service does not have a programme to test it.
Avon FRS is good at making the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future. It has reduced the size of its staff to make savings of more than £14m since 2010. It is reviewing its management structure and its procurement and transport processes. It collaborated with a neighbouring service in procurement, realising savings of £50,000. The service acknowledges it needs to invest in technology. It already uses technology to collect and share information and is working to extend this to other work areas.
Avon FRS invests for the future. It used its reserves to put together a team to draw up its new IRMP. It plans to modernise three fire stations using funds from the sale of its former headquarters. It would like to collaborate with other community service providers on this project. It has also collaborated with the local authority and with a neighbouring service in a training centre.
The service has no trading arm but uses its property to generate income.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
Overall, Avon Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.
Avon FRS is inadequate in the way it promotes the right values and culture. It does not give appropriate support to staff after a traumatic incident. We found that the service’s leadership is trying to engage with staff. But staff told us about inappropriate behaviour and insensitive language and they said they did not have a voice in the service. We saw limited evidence that staff are aware of the service’s mission, vision and values. The service is developing a framework describing appropriate behaviours.
The service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. It shows good workforce planning. The service keeps records about staff with second jobs. But it does not review these records to help avoid any conflicts of interest. It monitors and records firefighter competency effectively. Managers use this system to plan training. Avon FRS shares information from debriefs and ensures staff read this.
The service is inadequate at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. Some staff feel that they had access to leaders. Others do not. The service has good relationships with representative bodies. Staff trust the service’s confidential reporting line, but not all of them know how to access it. Some staff considered the service’s response to their grievances to be unethical. Staff told us that they had been humiliated by their peers and made to feel excluded if they spoke up about problems.
The service’s diversity does not match that of its communities. We found evidence that staff do not understand diversity. The service does not have support networks in place for staff from minority groups. However, the service is trying to recruit more staff from diverse backgrounds. Data supplied by the service shows that after the most recent campaign, there were successful candidates who were female and some who were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.
Avon FRS requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders. All staff can access its personal development review process, but some staff do not feel the process is effective. The service does not have a process to identify potential leaders. Staff consider the promotion process to be inconsistent and not easy to understand. The service acknowledges that it must improve staff development and told us about its plans to do this.