Durham and Darlington 2018/19Read more about Durham and Darlington
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 is good.
The extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks is good.
The extent to which the service looks after its people requires improvement.
Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We are pleased with most aspects of the performance of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure. But it needs to improve how it looks after its people, to give a consistently good service.
County Durham and Darlington FRS is good at providing an effective service to the public. It is good at:
- preventing fires and other risks;
- responding to fires and other emergencies; and
- responding to national risks.
But it requires improvement to the way it understands the risk of fire and other emergencies. And it requires improvement to the way it protects the public through fire regulation.
The service is good in the efficiency of its services. It is good at making the best use of resources and at making its services affordable now and in the future.
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement to the way it looks after its people. It requires improvement at:
- ensuring fairness and promoting diversity; and
- managing performance and developing leaders.
But the service is good at:
- promoting the right values and culture; and
- getting the right people with the right skills.
We are encouraged by the positive aspects we have identified. We look forward to seeing a more consistent performance over the coming year.
How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An effective fire and rescue service will identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue risks its community faces. It will target its fire prevention and protection activities to those who are at greatest risk from fire. It will make sure businesses comply with fire safety legislation. When the public calls for help, the fire and rescue service should respond promptly with the right skills and equipment to deal with the incident effectively. County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness is good.
The service is good at preventing fires and other risks. It is clear about how it prioritises its work, and its community safety strategy focuses on prevention activity. Both specialist prevention and operational staff understand safeguarding practices well. It is particularly good at making considerable numbers of safe and well visits but should prioritise those most at risk, such as vulnerable people.
The service is also good at responding to fires and other emergencies. It gets firefighters to the most serious fires quicker than other mainly rural services. This response, however, isn’t based on a thorough enough understanding of local and community risk of fire and other emergencies. Crucially, its risk management planning includes only limited detail on main priorities, such as keeping the public safe. And the service couldn’t explain how its community risk profile shapes its work, now or in the future.
Staff are well trained for dealing with a range of major incidents and have a practical understanding of joint working principles with other emergency services. The service’s response to national risk is good. It is an important partner in the local resilience forum (LRF). It has plans in place to test scenarios for the high-risk buildings it has identified.
The service requires improvement in how it protects the public through fire regulation. Inspections of risk sites and information recorded about them aren’t consistent, and protection work is under-resourced because of a lack of fully qualified inspectors.
The service doesn’t make full use of the range of enforcement powers available to it in supporting businesses to comply with legislation.
How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
An efficient fire and rescue service will manage its budget and spend money properly and appropriately. It will align its resources to its risk. It should try to keep costs down without compromising public safety. Future budgets should be based on robust and realistic assumptions. County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.
The service is good at managing its budgets, investing wisely, making savings and working with its partner organisations. But it could use information better to measure its activities, such as the benefits of collaborations.
The service has made sensible assumptions about savings requirements. It has identified several changes it could make to realise them. It has a good track record of making savings and has saved £3m since its last savings plan. But it isn’t always clear how it aligns resources to risk or its stated priorities.
The service has moved much of its work from central teams to operational crews. This helps it keep costs down and increase the productivity of its operational crews. It frequently uses staff on second contracts to fill vacant shifts. This keeps the staffing structure flexible and provides savings. But the service should monitor the increasing use of this approach, as costs are rising.
Business continuity plans are in place to cover all foreseeable business interruptions, although the service should ensure they are tested regularly.
The service exploits opportunities presented by changes in technology. It has invested in a state-of-the-art training centre and is trialling the Home Office’s new communication system. It is proactive in identifying additional funding sources and has a trading company that it uses to support its revenue budget.
How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?
A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.
The service could do more to win the trust of its workforce. This would help them be more confident giving feedback and accessing support. It would also help them believe in the fairness of the promotions process. The service should also address staff perceptions in relation to resilience contracts.
There are gaps in the service’s workforce plan. There should be a clear link between operational staffing and fire engine availability. The service should monitor the number of staff working extra shifts to cover vacancies, to make sure this remains an effective means of providing cover.
Staff view the training provision positively. In general, they are well trained and up to date for all risk-critical training areas. They benefit from the service’s recent investment in a state-of-the-art training centre, as well as good access to health and wellbeing support services.
The service has done well to create a health and safety reporting culture. But it needs to make sure it follows up on learning recommendations promptly.
The service’s work to increase diversity is good. For example, it has adapted its apprenticeship scheme to help recruit under-represented groups.
A newly introduced appraisals process should promote personal development and cultural improvement. Managers and staff would benefit from additional training in this.