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Northumberland 2018/19

Read more about Northumberland

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.

Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services


HM Inspector's summary

We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). But there are several areas where the service needs to make improvements.

Northumberland FRS requires improvement to the effectiveness of the service it provides. In particular, it requires improvement to its work in:

  • understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies;
  • preventing fires and other risks;
  • protecting the public through fire regulation; and
  • responding to fires and other emergencies.

But we judge it to be good at responding to national risks.

The service requires improvement to its efficiency. Specifically, it requires improvement to the way it uses resources and the affordability of the service it provides.

It requires improvement to the way it looks after its people. So it requires improvement to the way it:

  • promotes the right values and culture;
  • gets the right people with the right skills;
  • ensures fairness and promotes diversity; and
  • manages performance and develops leaders.

Overall, we would like to see improvements in the year ahead.


How effective is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?

Last updated 20/06/2019
Requires improvement

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. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.

The service understands its risk and has an integrated risk management plan (IRMP), the Fire and Rescue Plan, which it updates annually and uses to determine priorities. All main areas have their own departmental plans and the service oversees them well. The service needs to improve how it:

  • gathers and analyses up-to-date risk information;
  • manages building risk information; and
  • communicates with the public.

The service’s prevention work requires improvement. It needs to improve targeting those most at risk, evaluating its effectiveness and promoting safety messages to
the public.

There are several problems in this area:

  • The service says it carries out safe and well visits, but actually it carries out home safety checks.
  • Its record keeping during home fire safety checks isn’t accurate.
  • Local prevention work isn’t aligned to local risk.
  • There is a lack of media campaigns to inform the public about the risk of fire.

The service’s protection activities also need improvement. It has a risk-based inspection programme, but the number of inspectors has been reduced. So it can’t conduct the number of inspections it needs to, or carry out additional activities to promote business safety.

Response to fires also requires improvement. Problems in this area include:

  • fire engines being unavailable;
  • increasing response times;
  • commanders lacking appropriate training;
  • an inability to communicate about community risk effectively with the public; and
  • a lack of operational learning.

The service’s response to national risk is good and it is the national lead on wildfires. It takes the lead locally in training other agencies in Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

View the five questions for effectiveness


How efficient is the fire and rescue service at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks?

Last updated 20/06/2019
Requires improvement

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. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

This is a fire service which has already had to make significant savings. It has done this by reducing the numbers of support staff and management, and by changing its operating model. But the service is struggling to align its plans to the significant cuts in staffing it has made. The cuts have created gaps that have affected its activities, including its core functions of prevention and protection, as well as its broader ability to change and improve.

The service is reliant on staff working extra hours to complete workloads and some staff are full-time firefighters and provide on-call firefighting cover during their time off. The service isn’t managing this effectively to support staff wellbeing.

The service has a clear strategic intent to do more collaborative work. While there are examples of collaboration projects being led by a strategy or business need, currently most are driven by opportunity.

The service also has an inconsistent approach to ensuring that business continuity arrangements are in place and regularly tested. Its overarching business continuity plan has passed its review date and the service could not demonstrate that it was testing departmental plans regularly.

Further savings are required to be made over future years. When we inspected the service, it did not have any agreed plans in place for how these savings will be realised. In considering the need for future efficiencies, the service needs to balance its resources across the areas of response, prevention and protection if it is to continue to meet the priorities set out in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). We recognise this will be a challenge.

View the two questions for efficiency


How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 20/06/2019
Requires improvement

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, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service needs to do more to improve its values and culture. Staff feel the service’s values are too aligned to the county council rather than the fire service. As a result, these do not influence the behaviour or work of fire staff. We also have concerns with the service’s culture. Some staff told us they felt unable to raise concerns and give feedback, and that the behaviour of some managers was poor. We also heard examples of bullying and harassment. As part of our inspection, we carried out a survey of staff to get their views of their service. The survey showed that, of the 93 respondents (27 percent of the workforce), more than a quarter felt that they had been bullied or harassed in the last 12 months. There are limitations to the staff survey which should be considered alongside the findings. We explain these on the About the Data page.

Training needs to improve. The service lacks a strategy to make sure all operational commanders have had the right training. Control staff don’t have a structured training plan or a way to record their training, and there aren’t any plans to standardise local training.

The area that the service covers is one of the least ethnically diverse in England. But the service could still do more to encourage diversity and its understanding of it within the workforce.

Staff views about the value of the appraisal system are mixed, mainly because firefighters have group appraisals. The service should offer all staff individual appraisals and tailored feedback.

Promotion possibilities are limited, and the service lacks a formal talent management process. The service should rely less on people in temporary promotions.

More positively, the service’s awareness of the importance of mental health wellbeing is growing. It has blue light champions and offers a range of occupational and mental health services, although not all staff seemed aware of them. It updates its health and safety statement of intent annually.

View the four questions for people

Key facts – 2020/2021

Service Area

1,943 square miles


0.32m people
up2% local 5 yr change


55% wholetime firefighters
45% on-call firefighters
0.74 per 1000 population local
0.56 national level
down23% local 5 yr change
down5% national 5 yr change


15 stations
21 fire engines


4.1 fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
1.8 non-fire incidents per 1000 population local
2.7 national
3.4 fire false alarms per 1000 population local
3.8 national


£28.68 firefighter cost per person per year
£25.22 firefighter cost per person per year (national)

Judgment criteria