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Staffordshire 2018/19


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

Last updated 17/12/2019

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. Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is good.

The service makes good use of its resources. Drawing on a range of data sources, the service targets its resources on prevention, protection and responding to incidents. The allocation of staff between prevention, protection and response activity is good. The service recognises the difficulty of both recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters in rural areas.

The service is committed to working with partner organisations, both within and beyond the fire service, to make the best use of its resources. Following the change in governance in 2018, the service has started sharing support services with Staffordshire Police. It is important that all its collaborations are kept under review to ensure that they are benefiting the service.

Staffordshire FRS is good at providing an affordable service both now and in the future. The service has reduced its budget in recent years. It has more work to do to keep its budget balanced in the years ahead. Spending is well controlled.

The service has been innovative in finding ways to improve safety for the people it serves. It has established a community interest company (CIC) that works with partner organisations to develop ideas such as the Community Sprinkler Project.

Questions for Efficiency


How well does the FRS use resources to manage risk?


Staffordshire 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 ensure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration.

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 service’s CSP is its overarching integrated risk management plan. This identifies risks and how resources will be used to reduce those risks. Plans for providing services align with the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England.

In August 2018, governance of the service transferred to the Staffordshire Commissioner. Work is continuing to ensure that the next CSP aligns with the next four-year plan from the commissioner.

The service uses many data sources to assist with planning, including prediction of future demand. Consultation processes, planning and performance monitoring ensures that resources are spread effectively across prevention, protection and response activities.

We found the service is good at resourcing prevention, protection and response activities. For example, following a review of protection resources in 2018, a business case for three additional inspection officers has been submitted for approval.

Department heads are responsible for developing strategies and local plans which link to the CSP. Departmental strategies include transport, estates and IT. Local station plans are a visual reminder that drives activity. Objectives and outcomes are used in staff performance reviews.

The service has an annual budget of just under £41m, supported by a medium-term financial plan. We found planning assumptions to be reasonable. The plan considers a variety of funding streams outside its control, such as central government grants, nationally-set pay awards and pension contributions. The service told us it is coming to the end of a four-year efficiency plan which identified total savings of £3.5m by April 2020.

Following the change of governance, some support service resources have become shared services with Staffordshire Police. The anticipated savings and impact from this move is not yet known.

Productivity and ways of working

Staffordshire FRS has a good mix of staff working across all departments on full-time and part-time contracts. As at 31 March 2018, it had 355 on-call operational staff, 225 support staff and 313 full-time equivalent (FTE) wholetime operational staff. This includes those carrying out specialist roles such as learning and development. The overall workforce has reduced by 23 percent since 31 March 2013.

In the year to 31 March 2018, the firefighter cost per head of population was £18.19. This compares to the England rate of £22.38.

The service recognises the challenges of recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters. It has introduced flexible contracts and a modular training system to attract more staff. As a result, applications have increased. On-call fire engines can be crewed with fewer people when numbers are low, which keeps them available for low-risk incidents.

The Firewatch system allows working hours to be planned and monitored. It also tells the service the specialist skills of on-duty staff, such as driving and incident command. This enables staff to be moved around the service to cover shortfalls where necessary. Control room staff can see what crews and appliances are available and can move resources around during busy times. Overtime shifts are available only if fire engines cannot be crewed by deploying staff elsewhere.

The service has a dashboard that allows managers to see what work has been completed against performance indicators, such as safe and well checks, and risk information visits. The dashboard overview enables staff across the service to see how they are performing against others. The dashboard also allows on-call stations to check staff availability. This helps managers plan for shortfalls.

Flexible working is supported. There is a core hours system that allows support staff to plan work outside of those hours to support childcare and other personal commitments. Staff can work remotely at any fire station when required.


Staffordshire FRS is committed to exploring areas for collaboration both within and outside of the fire sector.

For some years the service has successfully shared a control room with West Midlands Fire Service which saves it around £0.5m per year. It also shares a transport and equipment facility with Staffordshire Police, known as JETS. A saving of around £1m per year is shared between both services. Other initiatives include regional procurement, Prince’s Trust, employment projects and the notable Community Sprinkler Project which, according to the service, has seen 11 out of 42 buildings of 4 or more floors across the county fitted with sprinkler systems. A further 19 are expected to be completed by March 2021.

More recently, with the change of governance to the Staffordshire Commissioner, support services have started to move to join police staff. The impact and benefit of these shared services has yet to be realised. The difficulties experienced in extracting meaningful performance data for the JETS collaboration, caused by differences in ICT systems, should be considered to ensure the service can monitor, evaluate and review shared services.

Continuity arrangements

Staffordshire FRS has clear business continuity plans. Arrangements are managed and tested for ICT, fire control, transport and equipment, and industrial action.

We saw evidence that learning from events such as the wildfires of 2018 is taken into consideration to mitigate the impact of any similar future events. Quarterly testing uses different methods such as discussions, table-top exercises and full implementation.


How well is the FRS securing an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks now and in the future?


Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at making its services affordable now and in the future. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service must ensure scenario plans for future annual budgets are fully considered, including measuring likely impacts.

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

Staffordshire FRS has an annual budget of £41m. The budget has reduced by £9m since 2012. This has been achieved by reducing the workforce and number of fire engines. The service has also reduced the cost of borrowing by £6.5m since 2012 by using savings and reserves to fund capital expenditure.

The service has previously used budget underspends to boost reserves. As at 31 March 2018, general reserves stood at £1.9m (4.6 percent of overall budget) with earmarked reserves of £8.3m and a further £7m ring-fenced for private finance initiative (PFI) programmes and pensions. However, budget shortfalls have meant that reserve funds are now being used to supplement capital expenditure such as fleet replacement. It is estimated that other reserves will fall to £3m by 2023. The service recognises that the current use of reserves is not sustainable. 

We are satisfied that there is sound budget control and management of funds. Non-pay costs are monitored and managed using a ‘Dragons’ Den’-type exercise where budget holders are challenged to identify savings. These have contributed to the overall savings achieved to date.

The service has two large PFI programmes running. These funded the development of 21 fire stations. The annual charge for these contracts is just under £10m, which is built into financial planning. Of this, £7m is funded through a government grant. Contracts were recently renegotiated, and further savings would be difficult to find. There are several examples of these premises being shared with partners.

The service anticipates a shortfall in budget of around £3m over the next 3 years, mainly due to reduced government grant and increasing pay and pension costs. A significant part of the overall budget is spent on pay, property and the collaborations with Staffordshire Police and West Midlands Fire Service. The service must now give greater consideration as to how it will achieve a balanced budget.

The service is aware of the financial challenges it faces. It is undertaking scenario planning to identify future savings. The service must do further work to evaluate scenario plans to measure impact and avoid budget deficit.

Financial audits are carried out both internally and externally. The new governance structure through the Staffordshire Commissioner includes a robust financial challenge from the ethics, transparency and audit panel (ETAP). ETAP is made up of people from across the county who examine and scrutinise financial reporting.


The service has established a CIC. It aims to bring together partner organisations to provide benefits and improvements to the safety of the people of Staffordshire. A firm example of this is the sprinkler project previously mentioned, which has improved safety for residents of high-rise properties. Further benefits include additional funding for prevention and protection staff.

The service has invested in technology and has recently upgraded MDTs on fire engines. Staff told us that IT staff were quick to address issues identified during the changeover.

There are plans in place to move to an upgraded Office 365 cloud-based system. The service told us that a further £0.6m has been put aside to replace various IT such as desktop computers, firewall systems and portable tablets. It has negotiated end of life deals on the external Citrix system and conferencing facilities will be replaced this year.

Future investment and working with others

Staffordshire FRS consistently works with other agencies to improve services to the public. It has a shared fire control, and transport and equipment department. It has established a CIC which is an independent, self-funding and non-profit partnership between public, private and voluntary sector partner organisations.

The primary purpose of the CIC is to improve the health, safety, social and economic wellbeing of the communities of Staffordshire. The company has an annual turnover of £343,000, with £330,000 spent directly on community projects. CIC staff are employed by the Staffordshire Commissioner but funded from external grants.

Following the change of governance to the Staffordshire Commissioner, support staff teams have started moving across to joint police teams as part of a shared services initiative. The service must develop robust mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the shared services, to ensure it maintains value for money both now and in the future.