West Sussex 2018/19Read more about West Sussex
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 is inadequate.
Dru Sharpling, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
HM Inspector's summary
We have concerns about the performance of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in keeping people safe and secure. In particular, we have serious concerns about how it looks after its people. In view of these findings, we have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer, as we do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.
The service requires improvement in the way it keeps people safe and secure. It requires improvement in how it:
- understands the risk of fire and other emergencies;
- prevents fires and other risks;
- responds to fires and other emergencies; and
- responds to national risks.
And it is inadequate in the way it protects the public through fire regulation.
We judged the service to require improvement in its efficiency. It requires improvement in the way it uses resources and in the affordability of its service.
It is inadequate in the way it looks after its people. It requires improvement in the way it:
- promotes the right values and culture;
- gets the right people with the right skills; and
- manages performance and develops leaders.
It is inadequate in the way it ensures fairness and promotes diversity.
Overall, there are improvements we expect the service to make. We will be monitoring progress.
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. West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s overall effectiveness requires improvement.
The service draws on a range of information to have a good understanding of the local risks facing its communities. It publishes information about its performance on its website. It considers future risk in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP) which runs to 2022. And it uses a risk assessment tool – the Provision of Operational Risk Information System (PORIS) – to determine how often to visit premises, although staff don’t use this consistently.
We have several areas of concern about West Sussex FRS’s effectiveness. It doesn’t have a clear approach to prevention and isn’t referring people to local services quickly enough. We have significant concerns about how it is protecting the public through the regulation of fire safety. Its risk-based inspection programme doesn’t identify the highest-risk premises, and the computer system it uses isn’t robust enough and often loses data. Because of this, the service can’t show, for example, whether it is meeting its building consultation targets.
In its response to fires and emergencies, the service isn’t making the best use of resources. It hasn’t met its response standards since 2014/15. Its fire engine availability is low and it is struggling to recruit and retain sufficient on-call firefighters. It hasn’t produced a clear plan for aligning its procedures to national guidance, its management of information after an incident is often poor and it has had little success in reducing the high number of false alarms it receives. Finally, its cross-border exercising is limited and inconsistent.
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. West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.
The service has a good understanding of its financial position and its financial plans are based on sound assumptions. It also has a track record of achieving savings, saving several million pounds since 2011/12 by reducing its workforce and the number of fire engines it runs, and through closer integration with the local county council.
However, the service needs to do more to make the best use of its resources. In particular, it needs to improve how it allocates its resources to align more closely with the priorities outlined in its integrated risk management plan (IRMP). It should also do more to monitor and review the benefits and outcomes of collaboration with other agencies and services.
While we recognise the savings the service has made, it has failed to invest these savings into ways to make itself more effective and efficient. It still relies on a computer system that hinders its protection and prevention work, and still does too much work on paper. It could also make better use of risk information to drive its activities. The service has failed to take advantage of the county council’s transformation reserve to bring about the changes it needs.
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, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.
We have several fundamental concerns about how well the service manages people. It has adopted the county council’s values, but most staff don’t understand or follow them. We also found examples where staff weren’t acting in line with these values, including reports of bullying. Despite receiving feedback to the contrary, the service has so far failed to launch an anti-bullying campaign. Senior leaders need to do more to promote the service’s values and make sure they become part of the organisation, as well as act appropriately on feedback from staff.
The service isn’t doing enough to ensure fairness and diversity. There is little engagement with staff groups, particularly with those from minority groups. The service isn’t doing enough to improve the experiences of women and people with disabilities, and must do more to understand and remove barriers for under-represented groups. We also saw little promotion of equality and inclusion in the workforce. Staff weren’t clear what training was in place or if it was mandatory.
Although the service has a health and safety framework, we saw out-of-date risk assessments. It has a grievance process, but we saw little monitoring of outcomes. And while it is positive that the service offers a range of wellbeing support, this isn’t co-ordinated, so staff may not be getting the full support they need.
The service’s performance management process isn’t rigorous enough. Uniformed staff have little faith in annual appraisals, seeing them as tick-box exercises.
Links between staff appraisals and the service’s wider aims and goals aren’t clear. The service also lacks a process to identify high-potential future leaders.
That said, the service’s training offer is good – in particular, for new firefighters. But more could be done to help established firefighters maintain their skills.