London 2018/19Read more about London
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 requires improvement.
Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of London Fire Brigade. But there are several areas where the brigade needs to make improvements.
The effectiveness of the service provided by London Fire Brigade requires improvement in the way it:
- protects the public through fire regulation; and
- responds to fires and other emergencies.
But it is good at:
- understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies;
- preventing fires and other risks; and
- responding to national risks.
The efficiency of London Fire Brigade’s services also requires improvement, both to the way it:
- uses resources; and
- makes its services affordable now and in the future.
The London Fire Brigade requires improvement to the way it looks after its people. Worryingly, it is inadequate at getting the right people with the right skills. It also requires improvement at:
- promoting the right values and culture;
- ensuring fairness and promoting diversity; and
- managing performance and developing leaders.
We would like to see improvements in the year ahead. The brigade should act immediately to assure itself of the continuing competence of all its incident commanders and emergency drivers.
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. The London Fire Brigade’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The London Fire Brigade is a well-resourced brigade that exceeds its own standards on response times to fires and other emergencies.
The brigade’s operational policies and procedures are comprehensive, but they don’t fully reflect national operational guidance (NOG), even for risk-critical areas such as incident command. This is worrying, especially since it is coupled with the need to improve the maintenance of competence of all its incident commanders and emergency drivers through training and assessment. This needs immediate attention.
The brigade also needs to know precisely how many high-risk premises it audits each year. Without this knowledge, it can’t meet the requirements of its risk-based inspection programme and assure itself that it effectively protects the public from fires. It needs to respond on time to building regulation consultations and could do much more to reduce the burden of false alarms. It should also make sure that staff accurately record risk assessments and control measures put in place at an incident, and pass them on to oncoming crews. This will alert commanders to workplace risks and help put safety control measures in place at the incident.
More positively, the brigade consults widely and engages effectively with the public in developing its integrated risk management plan (known as the London Safety Plan).
The brigade needs to make sure its firefighters have access to relevant risk information through mobile data terminals (MDTs), which aren’t available on older fire engines.
The London Fire Brigade has shown that it has learned many lessons since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. But it could improve how it records what it has learned from incidents in its operational debrief system.
Finally, the brigade is good at responding to national risks, which it has shown in its responses to several high-profile incidents. But it should make sure all frontline staff, and not just specialist response teams, are well protected and well prepared for being part of a multi-agency response. This includes responding to a marauding terrorist attack, given the relatively high likelihood of such incidents in London. It could also do more to make sure that crews are aware of cross-border risks and are trained to deal with them.
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. The London Fire Brigade’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The London Fire Brigade is well resourced. Yet we found evidence of it being wasteful with its resources. It should review how it allocates its resources to activities, based on the risks set out in the London Safety Plan. We found many important projects had stalled, meaning that planned improvements agreed with the public haven’t happened.
While planning assumptions are sound, the current reliance on reserves agreed with the Mayor of London to bridge the funding gap is unsustainable. The brigade needs to make sure that it has strong enough plans in place to address financial challenges beyond 2020. These plans should secure an affordable way of managing fire and other risks.
A lack of detailed consideration of the contracts it has entered into has had a negative effect across the brigade. However, it is now actively renegotiating some contracts to try to improve the services provided and outcomes.
There is no alternative to the current staffing system that applies to all stations. The brigade addresses this by allowing individual staff flexible working arrangements, but this is at a cost.
The brigade has several business continuity plans to deal with factors that could affect its ability to provide an effective service. But staff are less knowledgeable in business continuity planning in operational areas of the organisation than staff in its support departments.
There has been some good work with other organisations to procure uniforms and equipment. There are several shared service arrangements with the Greater London Authority. This has helped improve efficiency. The brigade plans to do more collaborative work with other blue light services. But it should make sure that it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of joint working.
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, London Fire Brigade requires improvement at looking after its people.
Staff don’t feel that all managers are good role models of the expected values and behaviours. The brigade should do more to make sure that these are understood and shown by all staff.
The brigade has increased its resources to improve how it looks after staff health and wellbeing. It should now make sure that all staff understand and know how to get support, especially after traumatic incidents.
There is no single corporate overview of workforce skills and capabilities. There hasn’t been enough progress in developing all levels of leadership and management competence, or the planned new corporate appraisal scheme. The brigade has a new programme to assess the ongoing competence of firefighters, with extension to all operational groups of staff planned. It should make sure that this programme can assure the brigade of the competencies held by staff.
We are concerned about the backlog of staff training in risk-critical skills such as incident command and emergency fire engine driving. Some staff have had no continuing training in these skills for many years. Also, there is no individual reassessment of incident command skills. Staff can’t fail incident command training for poor performance and will therefore return from training to command actual incidents. This is worrying: there needs to be a fundamental review of the contract with the external contractor to ensure that it is fit for purpose. This will help the brigade assure itself that all its incident commanders maintain their competence.
The brigade actively seeks feedback from staff but needs to make sure that problems identified by staff are appropriately and quickly addressed.
To identify and remove barriers to equal opportunity so that its workforce represents its community, the brigade has invested in resources and changed its approach to recruitment. It also has a range of staff support networks. To its credit, the brigade’s workforce is one of the most diverse in the country but it doesn’t yet reflect London’s diverse communities.
The brigade needs to make sure that staff understand the value of positive action and having a diverse workforce. It should also make sure that all its fire stations provide suitable privacy and facilities for women.
Processes for selecting, developing and promoting middle and senior managers lack effective recording and openness. Staff don’t have confidence in them. Nor is there a process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.