How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.
The service is good at making the best use of its resources. It is good at making the service affordable, now and in the future.
The service thoroughly understands the financial climate it operates in. It is sufficiently flexible to deal with any future financial problems. It has a strong record of making savings and has saved £18 million since 2011. The frontline savings which it has made have not significantly affected emergency cover. It has outsourced some services where this provides better value. The service uses technology to reduce costs and provide a better service. It has invested in a new style of fire engine. The sophisticated equipment on this vehicle should enable a smaller team of firefighters to put out fires more quickly, in a way which is safer for both firefighters and the public.
The service provides good value for money in its collaboration with Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Cumbria fire and rescue services at the North-West Fire Control centre in Warrington.
The service has a detailed workforce development plan. It has started to recruit wholetime firefighters for the first time in eight years. The plan aims to make sure the service will have enough staff to cover all possible emergencies.
The service has continuity plans in place, so that it can provide an uninterrupted service to the public, if extraordinary events were to affect the service’s resources.
How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making best use of resources. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:
Areas for improvement
- The service should assure itself that it makes the most of collaboration opportunities and that they are value for money.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
How plans support objectives
The plans which are in place to provide an emergency service, as required by the Fire and Rescue Services Act, are based on robust risk management processes. We found a clear link between the risk which has been identified in the service’s integrated risk management plan and the steps the service has taken to minimise their effect on the public.
The plans in place to provide fire cover are reviewed on a three-yearly cycle. The plans include the location and number of fire stations, fire engines, staff and associated duty systems. We are encouraged to note that the service has made significant changes following the outcomes of past reviews. It has, for example, introduced more efficient duty systems.
The arrangements the service has made to provide prevention and protection services, to minimise the likelihood of fires breaking out, have also been kept under review. As a result, the distribution of resources assigned to these activities is linked to risk.
We are satisfied that this cyclical review of resources assigned to response, prevention and protection has enabled the service continuously to return a balanced budget. To support this requirement the service has a medium-term financial plan. It takes account of a variety of funding streams outside its control, such as central government grants and nationally set pay awards. It also considers the effect of varying levels of council tax. The plan relies on spending a substantial amount of the service’s reserves. Therefore, it is essential that the service continues to refresh the planning and review arrangements in place, and acts on them in good time, as it has done in the past, so that the service continues to be sustainable beyond the medium term.
The service has worked with and reinvested in its on-call retained firefighters to address a downturn in their availability. It has achieved this by providing enhanced terms and conditions as well as investing in additional support in the form of wholetime support officers for retained staff. This has ensured that the service has maintained the levels of fire cover and resilience it has said that it will provide to the public.
Productivity and ways of working
It was positive to note that the service has undertaken a capacity review covering response staff across its duty systems. It has identified areas where staff can be more productive but has yet to implement any improvements. We encourage Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service to undertake this exercise across the remainder of the service.
Although we found a highly motivated workforce, we did not find that productivity is a clear priority. There is a legacy of staff concentrating on working towards achieving targets. The chief officer’s ambition is for the staff to provide the highest quality service to the public rather than to be driven by quantity. However, Lancashire FRS should ensure this does not lead to any dilution of the services it provides.
For example, we found that firefighters are not clear whether they are now being encouraged to return to a target-driven culture, particularly in relation to their fire prevention role. We also found evidence that specialist prevention staff could plan their time more productively. And finally, we found protection inspection officers are behind schedule in undertaking the number of risk-based inspections the service aspires to make.
However, we found positive evidence that in some areas the service has changed its ways of working to improve productivity. It has introduced local training hubs at Burnley and Blackburn to maintain essential skills such as dealing with road traffic accidents. This has minimised the unproductive time which staff spend travelling to the Chorley training centre.
We were also encouraged to see that the service has not only made substantial savings over recent years but has innovatively reinvested some of those savings in frontline services. For example, after widespread flooding, it has provided suitable water rescue equipment. It has also invested in a new style of water tower fire engine, the first in the country. Firefighters can use the long extendable boom on top of the fire engine to break holes in walls and roofs, reach fires, and pump water directly onto the source of the fire without putting themselves in danger. The engine can put out fires in traditionally high-risk commercial premises in a way which is safer for both firefighters and the public. When the service sends this fire engine to incidents, fewer firefighters will be needed, and they will spend less time at incidents. The service has also invested in technology to support incident commanders.
The service has recognised in its corporate risk register that it may be missing opportunities to collaborate.
Until now, the service has followed a decision-making model to ensure that any collaboration opportunities are aligned to the service’s values. We found that most of the collaboration work which it does provides more value for money for partners than for the service itself.
The service carries out emergency medical break-ins on behalf of the North-West Ambulance Service (NWAS). It has recently completed an emergency first responder trial with NWAS. Progress of that trial is on hold pending the outcome of ongoing national negotiations. The service shares fire stations with the NWAS at Preston, Lancaster and Darwen.
The service has identified Lancashire Constabulary as the partner which can provide the greatest number of opportunities for collaboration. It has established a strategic collaboration board with the police and agreed a work plan of overlapping interests to consider. The most advanced area is the deployment of firefighters to help police search for high-risk vulnerable missing persons. The service also shares its drone when doing this work. The police have paid for part of the cost of the drone.
The example of collaboration we identified as providing best value for public money was the North-West Fire Control centre in Warrington. The service has collaborated with Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Cumbria fire and rescue services to share an emergency call-handling facility.
The service has satisfactory business continuity plans in place to mitigate the expected negative effect of a range of extraordinary events. These plans cover actions which the service would take if extraordinary events happened, and these events affected both physical and human resources. The service has tested these plans with the aim of ensuring that it can provide an uninterrupted emergency service to the public.
How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.
Improving value for money
We are satisfied that the service has a thorough understanding of the financial climate in which it operates. It has shown that it has the flexibility to change to meet future financial problems. We are satisfied that the important financial decisions it has made are linked to risk.
We were reassured that the service has a strong record of making financial savings. It has saved £18 million since 2011.
We were encouraged to note that the service has made savings on back-office functions as well as from the front line. It is also noteworthy that those savings which the service has made from the front line have had no significant negative effect on the standards of emergency cover.
We found good evidence of the service improving value for money for the public where it can. For example, the personal protective clothing which the service provides for its firefighters has been procured from a North-West Fire Services collaboration framework. This has saved the service around 30 percent compared with accessing other nationally available frameworks.
We saw convincing evidence that Lancashire FRS is being proactive in harnessing technology to provide a more efficient service for the public.
The service is experimenting with the use of apps. It is now testing a debrief app to collect feedback from routine incidents where it would not be best value to undertake a full debrief. This will ensure that the service is gathering all available learning at a time when emergency calls continue to decrease in line with national trends.
The intranet-based post-incident activity log aims to join up the information the service holds in a variety of databases across its response, prevention and protection departments. This will ensure that frontline staff have a single point to view all the information which the service holds on locations or buildings where firefighters have attended an incident. It aims to provide an easily accessible assurance that necessary post-incident work, including onward referrals to partners, has been completed.
The service can demonstrate that it is leading the fire sector in the use of drones. It has worked closely with the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that it has the right safe systems in place to maximise the benefits of its drone. The drone gives incident commanders a fast and complete overhead view of the area where a fire is burning, or where an incident is happening. This has not previously been possible. Additionally, the service is using the drone to help Lancashire Constabulary to search for highly vulnerable missing persons.
Future investment and working with others
The service has plans in place to spend capital reserves down to minimum acceptable levels over the medium term. The two main capital projects will be the relocation or refurbishment of the current headquarters at Fulwood and the service’s largest fire station at Preston. The service has been prudent in not going ahead with these projects during the recent uncertain financial climate. We would encourage the service to explore fully the best value opportunities for collaboration before it proceeds with these significant projects.
We have previously noted the example from the service’s fleet strategy where it has used reserves to invest in a new type of water tower fire engine, the first in the country, which is expected to not only improve the response capability, but also need fewer firefighters and take less time to deal with higher risk fires.
The service has invested in a broad range of duty systems, which staff have accepted as business as usual, and which provide the service with the flexibility to match the appropriate resource to risk. This approach should allow the service options for change in the future if it has to make further financial savings.
We noted that the service has shared back-office functions where this is better value than providing the same service alone. For example, it has outsourced fleet maintenance and pension services to Lancashire County Council and payroll to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.