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Cornwall 2021/22


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

Last updated 15/12/2021
Requires improvement

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

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service’s budget, financial and staffing plans aren’t clearly aligned to its risk management plans.

The council provided funding to meet additional expenditure during the pandemic. So COVID-19 did not affect the service’s budget.

The service needs a more systematic approach to achieving value for money. But we were pleased that it has improved staff productivity.

The service needs to make sure its budget plans are sustainable. But budget forecasts show only inflationary increases. So, it is not clear whether the service’s plans for the future will be affordable.

IT systems that do not meet the service’s needs have affected effectiveness and efficiency.

The service should ensure income generation plans offer measurable safety and financial benefits.

Although there have been improvements, the service has not made enough progress since our first inspection.

Questions for Efficiency


How well is the FRS making best use of its resources?

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should manage their resources properly and appropriately, aligning those resources to meet the services’ risks and statutory responsibilities. They should make best possible use of their resources to achieve better outcomes for the public.

The service’s budget for 2021/22 is £19.377m. This is a 3.04 percent change from the previous financial year, although we noted this is to correct previously unsustainable budgets.

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This should reflect, and be consistent with, the risks and priorities set out in its integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should make sure it effectively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of any collaboration activity.
  • The service should make sure that it is taking action to reduce non-pay costs and can demonstrate how it is achieving value for money.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

The service’s budget does not clearly link to or support its risk reduction plans

The service sometimes uses its resources well to manage risk, but there are weaknesses that need addressing. The service still does not have a consolidated workforce plan which clearly sets out the level of staff and training needed to reduce the community risks in its integrated risk management plan. We highlighted this in our last inspection in 2018. As a result, it cannot be clear about the funding it needs to meet its future risk management plans. The service’s medium-term budget for 2022/23 onwards shows only inflationary increases. The service’s next integrated risk management plan (IRMP) is due for publication in 2022, but it is not clear if the service’s future budget will be enough to meet its objectives for reducing community risk.

The service’s plans, including allocating resources to prevention, protection and response activities, aren’t consistent with the risks and priorities identified in the IRMP. For example, the service has recently reduced the number of staff in its prevention team but this has been done to save money, rather than to reflect reduced community risk.

Plans aren’t informed by robust scenario planning. While the council uses reasonable scenario planning to inform the budget, service budgets are based on funding for previous years, adjusted for growth or savings. The service has seen overspends in recent years. Some of these were significant. These are due primarily to unachievable income targets and increased operational activity. While there has been a budget increase for 2021/22, this represents a correction rather than growth. The service told us about a move to activity mapping and a new community risk management plan. We look forward to seeing how this improves the scenario planning which it uses to develop future budgets.

The service’s financial controls still need to be improved so that public money is used well. We highlighted this as an area for improvement in 2018. While there are strong internal budget monitoring and reporting processes, other controls are less robust. Procurement procedures, while rigorous, can be cumbersome and time consuming. Budgets are audited at council level, so the service budget is not subject to detailed external audit scrutiny.

New ways of working have improved staff productivity

We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing performance clearly link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s strategic priorities. The service has introduced a system to use spare staff capacity for additional tasks such as home fire safety visits and updating building-specific operational risk information.

The service is taking steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working. The service has introduced a pool of operational staff who can step in if there are crewing shortages at fire stations. This makes better use of staff time and is more efficient as reserve capacity is held at a central level rather than on each station. The service developed its tactical reserve based on an approach it took to manage staff availability and deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also extended monitoring of council CCTV by control room staff.

Collaboration with other emergency responders

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate. It routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. We found examples of the service using its estate efficiently by sharing premises with other blue light responders. This includes South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) and Devon and Cornwall Police. It is done on a cost-sharing basis. So, the service benefits from savings in utility costs such as heating and light. The service has also provided staff to drive ambulances for SWASFT. This collaboration, which developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, helped the ambulance service to meet peak demand throughout the challenges of the pandemic.

The service is a member of the South West emergency services collaboration group. It is considering opportunities for sharing its vehicle workshops with Devon and Cornwall Police. A plan to develop a tri-service centre at Wadebridge did not progress because of financial concerns from the service’s partners. The service is now considering a joint fire and police facility at St Ives fire station.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s IRMP. For example, highlighted in the service’s 2019–2022 IRMP, the tri-service safety officer (TSSO) scheme creates efficiencies by consolidating elements of fire, police and ambulance roles into a single officer. The TSSO does prevention and emergency response work on behalf of Cornwall FRS in some rural communities, with the objective of improving service to the community.

Disappointingly, the service still does not routinely monitor, review and evaluate the benefits and outcomes of most of its collaborations, a point we highlighted in 2018. So, the service can’t quantify the community and financial benefits it achieves from its collaborative activity. And it can’t tell if they represent value for money.

A notable exception is the external evaluation of the TSSO scheme. The service and its partners commissioned this in 2020. The report highlighted the value the service and its partners saw in the scheme, which exemplified their strategic commitment of working together to make Cornwall safer. Benefits to the fire service were:

  • reductions in property fires;
  • the community value of visits to fit a smoke detector;
  • increased availability of on-call fire engines.

The partners have agreed to extend the scheme to a further three areas of Cornwall.

Continuity arrangements for industrial action need to be updated

The service has gaps in its continuity arrangements for industrial action by staff. For example, the service’s current plan does not have detailed information about the funding needed to meet any additional costs arising should the plan be activated. And it does not set out the arrangements for reviewing or testing the plan. As the plan has not been regularly reviewed and tested, staff will not be fully aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities.

A need for a more systematic approach to achieving value for money

We found limited examples of the service taking a robust and systematic approach to reviewing its expenditure and driving cost efficiencies. In 2020, the service did an activity mapping exercise. This allowed it to better understand the relationship between its expenditure and outcomes and identify associated efficiencies. But it was clear that it made changes because of budget cuts, not because it was seeking value for money.

Where savings have been needed, these have largely been made through organisational restructure and staff reductions. We were disappointed to find that booking system improvements, planned to mitigate the loss of some administrative staff posts, had not happened. This has affected the level of service which can be provided. Specialist staff are still using the old system. This has given them additional administrative tasks, so they have less time for home safety visits and high-risk building inspections.

The service procures through Cornwall Council. Processes were described as bureaucratic and sometimes slow, which led to some frustration in the service. For large contracts, the service can access procurement specialists and improved contract management arrangements through the council. This was seen as an improvement which offered better value for money.


How well does the FRS make the fire and rescue service affordable now and in the future?

Requires improvement

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should continuously look for ways to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. This includes transforming how they work and improving their value for money. Services should have robust spending plans that reflect future financial challenges and efficiency opportunities and should invest in better services for the public.

Areas for improvement

  • The service must make sure scenario plans for future spending reductions are subject to rigorous analysis and challenge, including the impact on services to the public. The service should make sure it has sufficiently robust plans in place which address the medium-term financial challenges beyond 2022–23 and secure an affordable way of managing the risk of fire and other risks.
  • The service should make sure that its fleet and estates management programmes are linked to the IRMP, and it understands the impact future changes to those programmes may have on its service to the public.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Service needs to better understand future budget challenges for sustainable funding

We are disappointed to see that there has been little improvement since the last inspection in how the service ensures it is affordable. The impact of the pandemic on the economy of Cornwall combined with one-year funding settlements has limited the service’s understanding of future financial challenges. This weakens its ability to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. As a result, recent IRMP action plans have focused more on achieving immediate and short-term savings rather than identifying and managing risk.

The service’s main strategies should align to the risk reduction activity described in the IRMP. It doesn’t have a workforce plan or an estate strategy. And its fleet strategy is not clearly aligned with the IRMP. This limits the service’s ability to profile its future budget needs. We are not assured the service has access to enough information on which to base its future financial plans and make sustainable, evidenced funding submissions to Cornwall Council.

The opportunities the service has identified to make savings or generate further income are limited. We saw some examples of the service making savings through improved contract placement and management arrangements. But these are limited and do not generate significant cost reductions. The service also raises income through Phoenix Services. And it has also increased its monitoring of council CCTV through its control room, which raises further income. But some staff told us that time spent on this work reduced the time they had for training in emergency call handling.

Clear arrangements for the use of reserves

Reserves are held by Cornwall Council. There is a robust process for the service to access reserves if they are needed. With the exception of funding to support additional activity related to the pandemic, we are encouraged that the service has not needed to access reserves from the council in the past 12 months.

Fleet and estate strategies should be aligned to the IRMP

The service’s fleet strategy is included in its operational asset management strategy. This gives a rolling four-year budget profile for provision and disposal of the service’s fire engines, rescue and emergency equipment, IT equipment, and protective clothing for firefighters. There is an associated 15-year (2016/17–2030/31) asset management capital budget of £27m.

The strategy states it is aligned to the service’s risk reduction activities. There were some examples of the service buying smaller fire engines to serve communities with narrow roads. But it was not clear how this aligns to the objectives in the integrated risk management plan. The service has recognised this and plans to align its fleet strategy and IRMP during 2021. We look forward to seeing this work progress as the service develops its next community risk management plan throughout 2021 in readiness for publication in 2022.

The service monitors usage of its fire engines and moves these between stations to maximise their usable life. As a result, the lifespan of some vehicles has been extended to 20 years. But the strategy does not show how the service routinely exploits opportunities to improve efficiencies and effectiveness presented by changes in fleet provision.

The service does not have an estates strategy. We were told this was because most of the service’s property is provided and maintained under a private finance initiative (PFI). We heard there is some flexibility in the PFI agreement which has allowed, for example, the rationalisation of two stations in Camborne and Redruth to a new site at Tolvaddon. However, the PFI agreement has limited the service’s ability to fully assess the impact that changes in its estate provision may have on risk.

The PFI agreement ends in 2028 and the service is starting to consider the opportunities and challenges this presents. Estate planning is a long-term process. So we look forward to seeing how the service develops its estates strategy and aligns this to the risk reduction proposals in its next community risk management plan, to be published in 2022.

IT provision needs to be improved

The service relies on Cornwall Council’s information technology (IT) department to source, provide and support its IT and systems. Our last inspection in 2018 highlighted the service’s need to improve and update its IT. The service has recognised the opportunities technology offers to streamline processes and make better use of staff time. It has made some progress with this. We saw that it had updated mobile data terminals on fire engines. And it recently improved the communications equipment in fire stations and also hardware for staff working in prevention and protection.

But we also found that a risk management and administration system, intended to mitigate the loss of staff from a restructure, had not been updated. This increased staff workloads and led to delays in visits. The service has also recently moved to a new payroll system, but it does not meet the service’s requirements. It has led to delays and incorrect payments to some staff.

The service has highlighted concerns about its IT provision and support. It has escalated these issues. Despite this, progress remains particularly slow. It was not clear during the inspection how long it would take to resolve this, so the service had reliable IT which met its needs. The service should assure itself the support services it buys in represent value for money.

The service operates a lean staff model. So, a number of managers have multiple responsibilities. For example, the head of workforce improvement is also the lead for health and safety. But we were not assured that the service has enough capacity to bring about sustainable future change.

The service should ensure income generation plans are efficient and beneficial

The service has established arrangements to generate additional income. These are control staff monitoring council CCTV and Phoenix Services.

Phoenix Services generates income for the service by selling training and business support services. It has contracts with the European Social Fund to train young people and adults in the Cornwall area.

But Phoenix Services has not met previous income generation targets. This, in part, led to overspends on the service’s budget in 2019/20 and 2020/21. Cornwall Council has increased the service’s budget to address this. Phoenix Service’s income targets have been adjusted accordingly for 2021/22. There are now arrangements to make sure Phoenix Services meets its targets for income generation. But it is not clear how the service assesses whether these represent value for money. And it is not clear if they allow the service to invest in risk reduction and service improvement.

The service should establish a set of operating principles and objectives for Phoenix Services. It can make an objective judgment against these of the financial and community risk benefits which the organisation offers.