North Yorkshire 2018/19
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. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The service’s medium-term financial plan (MTFP) predicted a £2.5m annual shortfall, which it will reduce with savings (in place at time of writing) and measures to reduce capital spending. In the interim, it will rely on reserves – £3.2m to be drawn over three years – which is not a sustainable use of resources.
The service makes good use of mobile technology and shows innovation in its move to cloud-based technology. However, it faces a great challenge to modernise IT at the same time as overcoming its budget deficit.
The service is included in North Yorkshire County Council’s maintenance and procurement contracts but could collaborate more with other services to increase efficiency. It is hoped that last year’s transfer of governance from the fire authority to the police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) will increase the opportunity for joint ventures and introduce more efficient ways of working.
Two projects – Transform 2020 and Enable North Yorkshire – should help the service modernise its services and realise savings. In particular, opportunities to share estate with the police and other organisations mitigate concerns over the state of some of the service’s building stock.
How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?
Areas for improvement
- The service should clearly outline the expected savings from its transformation plans will bring by the end of 2019. These should be entered in the medium-term financial plan with a view to balancing the budget.
- The service should scope collaboration opportunities with other fire services with a view to being more efficient and balancing its budget.
- The service needs to monitor, review and evaluate its current collaboration activities to ensure full benefits realisation.
- Business continuity plans need to be tested and further embedded to ensure all staff are aware of the procedures.
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
We found that the community safety plan 2016/17–2020/21 is based on sound business planning assumptions. It brings together the service’s main strategic policies and makes a clear link between the risks identified in the integrated risk management plan and the service’s activity to mitigate them. Each of the service’s four districts (Hambleton and Richmondshire, Scarborough and Ryedale, Craven and Harrogate, and City of York and Selby) have annual plans that set out schedules of activity in support of the community safety plan.
We reviewed fire station plans as part of our inspection. These plans capture all staff activity, which helps local managers track outputs and provide station-by-station comparisons.
While this is positive, the service does not routinely monitor performance data at senior leadership level. There has been a conscious move away from setting binary targets to using quality-based performance indicators, which are managed at local level. We advise the service to monitor outputs at corporate level to ensure a consistent approach.
The service’s MTFP 2018/19 to 2022/23 was predicting a £2.5m annual shortfall. This figure has been revised down to £1m as emergency savings plans have been put in place.
In the interim, £3.2m has been made available from the service’s reserves (to be drawn down at a rate of £1.3m in 2018/19, £1.3m in 2019/20 and £0.9m in 2020/21). This sum represents about 10 percent of the service’s available funding and half its reserves. This is not a sustainable use of reserves. The service should have adjusted its services in line with available finances when these deficits were first identified in the MTFP.
In the year to March 2018, the service had around £4m in earmarked reserves and £4.2m in general reserves.
Productivity and ways of working
It is apparent that the difficulties the service faced when introducing TRVs have had an adverse impact on its budget.
TRVs use three rather than four firefighters and so are cheaper to run. While they were introduced in 2017 as planned, the outgoing fire and rescue authority reversed its decision in 2018.
Plans to reintroduce the TRVs were put on hold while discussions took place with the Fire Brigades Union and the workforce over safety concerns. At the point of inspection, we were told by the service that they will be re-introduced later in the year.
The service uses different shift patterns to ensure that the availability of fire crews is aligned to community risks. The service relies as much on on-call firefighters as it does on full-time employees to provide cover. Over 300 of each are employed or retained for firefighting duties.
Where demand is greatest, and risks assessed as being higher, the service ensures that full-time – so called wholetime – firefighters are available on a permanent basis. This includes stations at Scarborough and Harrogate. At other stations – for example, Malton, Northallerton and Whitby – full-time firefighters are available during the day and are on a short ‘recall to duty’ out of hours. Elsewhere, on-call fire engines are available alongside full-time fire engines. In more rural locations, there is a greater dependency on on-call firefighters, and volunteers are used to respond to incidents in two areas.
In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £21.28. This compares to the England rate of £22.38.
The computer system for recording on-call staff availability does not link to the mobilising system. This means that any short-term crewing changes are managed by fire control staff who are required to make the change, update a spreadsheet and then manually alter the mobilising system. This system is time-consuming and not efficient.
Although we found evidence of collaboration, the service could do more to collaborate with other fire and rescue services.
One example of effective joint working is the development of a joint transport and logistics hub with North Yorkshire Police at Thirsk. Economies of scale have realised cashable savings and the introduction of digital fleet management systems has led to process improvements.
Elsewhere, the service hosts North Yorkshire Police personnel in Beadale and Ripon fire stations. Organisations including Yorkshire Ambulance Service and the Blood Transfusion Service also work out of other fire sites.
The service also generates income by renting premises.
In relation to other services, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is included in North Yorkshire County Council’s premises maintenance and procurement contracts. It benefits from regional and national frameworks to purchase fire service equipment. For example, replacement MDTs have been supplied to both North Yorkshire and Dorset and Wiltshire FRSs as part of the same contract.
The transfer of governance from the fire authority to the PCC to form the new PFCC at the end of 2018 has brought a new impetus to joint ventures and more efficient ways of working.
The service is now part of a change programme – known as ‘Transform 2020’ – that has been established in North Yorkshire Police for some time. It aims to encourage closer working between the police and the fire service. Firm plans to share headquarters and support services (also known as ‘enabling services’) have been agreed. The service told us it anticipates that these measures will release annual savings of between £0.4m and £0.5m, with a further £200,000 saving from 2021/22by sharing an HQ building. Although this is positive, we were surprised there isn’t more collaboration planned between the service and other fire services in the region. For example, they could share call handling centres, training and other facilities.
Collaboration in North Yorkshire is limited. As such, there has not been any evaluation to assess its effectiveness.
The service has continuity plans at service and station level. These include managing the consequences of a power failure in the fire control centre. The service has fall-back arrangements in place with Cornwall FRS. We saw evidence that the fall-back arrangement is routinely tested and exercised.
Other plans include how to manage unforeseen events such as flooding or power loss in fire stations.
The service tests its service-wide business continuity plans periodically. However, knowledge of procedures and responsibilities was less well known among frontline staff than we would expect.
The service would benefit from creating a structured schedule to test business continuity in line with the risks it faces. This should include a full range of exercises, both planned and on a ‘no notice’ basis. Local managers need to take greater ownership of risks. Business continuity responsibilities must become an important part of their role.
How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?
Areas for improvement
- The service should re-evaluate its estate programme to maximise utilisation of its premises.
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 recognise that difficulties with the TRV programme have contributed to an annual budget deficit of £2.5m from a £35m forecasted annual budget. Early estimates that suggested savings of up to £1.4m could be realised annually from the TRV programme.
In response to financial pressures, the service and the PFCC have put emergency measures in place to address the shortfall and reduce the deficit from an excess of £2.5m down to approximately £1.1m per year.
The PFCC commissioned an external review that has made several recommendations, including creating a finance working group through which frontline staff can contribute ideas about how to make efficiencies.
Savings have been made, including £0.2m from reducing senior management positions and senior officer salaries. A senior management review, which involved a series of challenge panels to identify savings in each of the service’s main business areas, saved £0.3m. The service and the PFCC have also put urgent measures in place to reduce capital spending. The programme has been scaled down to £14m from a projected expenditure of £22.7m between 2018/19 and 2023/24. This is predominantly to reduce the level of public sector borrowing because they deemed the level of repayment and debt interest unaffordable.
The service needs to modernise its IT at the same time as overcoming a budgetary deficit.
There are some exceptions. The service has made more progress than others to exploit the use of mobile technology. Frontline staff use tablets to access databases – for example, to record prevention activities. Although we found that some staff still prefer to record routine activity on paper, most make good use of the devices. The service should consider how best to further promote the use of digital technology.
Additionally, the service has a programme in place to move its main operating systems to cloud-based technology. The core hardware infrastructure replacement programme is funded to £0.6m capital cost. It will replace the current server infrastructure to reduce capital expenditure, support agile working and ensure that operating systems remain up to date.
Future investment and working with others
The Transform 2020 programme and a project to combine North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and North Yorkshire Police’s enabling services – ‘Enable North Yorkshire’ – should modernise current services and realise savings.
Enable North Yorkshire seeks to combine support services for both (fire rescue and police) services in a single business directorate. It will:
- rationalise the current workforce; and
- introduce new systems to automate transactional support services.
A managing director was appointed to the project during our inspection. The indicative savings are unknown at present but will form an important element of the MTFP.
Transform 2020 and Enable North Yorkshire reflect the transformational change to human resources, technology and infrastructure we expect to find in modern public services. Importantly, they will enable the service to sustain services within its budget. The scale of savings the service must achieve suggest that non-pay efficiencies alone will be insufficient. It is likely that savings to the pay budget will be necessary. Enable North Yorkshire and the TRV programme are on a firm footing and have the wherewithal to realise those savings.
The change programme (Transform 2020) includes a phased schedule of improvements, aimed in particular at shaping greater collaboration between the police and the fire and rescue service. This provides an opportunity to boost North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s capital programme.
Pressures on the revenue and capital budgets leave us concerned about the future of the service’s building stock, much of which is already in a dilapidated state (it is estimated that there is a back-maintenance deficit of £3.2m). Several fire stations are underutilised to the point that the service needs to consider whether they are economically viable. We recognise the challenges that North Yorkshire’s geography presents to the fire service. However, several of the service’s 38 fire stations had crews that were deployed less than once a week.
Transform 2020 includes a commitment to ‘one public estate’, a programme co-ordinated by HM Government to make better use of public sector assets. Opportunities to share estate with the police and other organisations provides an opportunity to improve the building infrastructure.