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Hampshire and Isle of Wight 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Requires improvement

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency requires improvement.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Services merged in April 2021.

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

Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency at keeping people safe and secure hasn’t improved as we would have expected since our 2018 inspections.

The service has the skills it needs to manage change and has demonstrated this by successfully bringing Hampshire and Isle of Wight together into a combined fire and rescue service. There is a good level of scrutiny applied to the service’s finances and it has some plans in place to meet future financial challenges.

But we are disappointed to find resources aren’t effectively managed across core functions. This means some targets and performance standards aren’t being met. Fire engines aren’t always being used efficiently or effectively, with some being maintained but not used. Although there are clear processes to monitor performance, the service needs to do more to improve how it manages performance to ensure staff are productive.

We were pleased to find the service collaborates extensively with others and evaluates the benefits, especially in how it shares its estates and provides medical response to support the ambulance service. The service is good at generating income from its collaborative work for example, by sharing its premises it generates £1.4m of income. There are clear plans in place to continue to develop the sharing of service buildings with others.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Requires improvement

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making best use of its resources.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Services merged in April 2021.

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

Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should manage their resources properly and appropriately, aligning them with the services’ risks and statutory responsibilities. Services should make best possible use of resources to achieve the best results for the public.

The service’s budget for 2022/23 is £87.45m. This is an increase of 7.86 percent from the 2021/22 budget.

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 there is a testing programme for its business continuity plans, particularly in high-risk areas of service.
  • The service should have effective measures in place to assure itself that its workforce is productive and that their time is used as efficiently and effectively as possible to meet the priorities in the integrated risk management plan.

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

Resources aren’t effectively allocated to meet safety plan commitments

The service’s safety plan 2020–25 has established clear priorities and actions. Financial plans and investment are linked to the objectives in the safety plan. This is supported by an operations strategic plan which outlines budget allocation and delivery aims of prevention, protection and response functions. Safety plan activities are monitored through an evaluation tracker and annual assurance programme.

We were disappointed to find that resources aren’t being effectively allocated to support safety plan priorities and objectives. The service isn’t always meeting the targets it has set. Most prevention, protection and operational staff we spoke to told us this is due to lack of resources.

The service states that it needs 52 fire engines available to maintain current levels of fire cover. However, some staff told us that the service sometimes operates with fewer available fire engines. This is because it doesn’t have enough staff, or staff with the right skills, available to crew them all.

The service has 84 operational fire engines in its fleet, some of which are being maintained but not used. This isn’t an efficient or effective use of resources. The service should ensure that it allocates resources effectively to meet the priorities and targets it has set in its safety plan. This includes the capacity to vary the level of its response to incidents based on risk.

Service financial plans are built on sound scenarios

We were pleased to find service financial plans are built on sound scenarios. They help make sure the service is sustainable and are underpinned by financial controls that reduce the risk of misusing public money. There is satisfactory budget management and external audit arrangements in place. Department heads are involved in the budget-setting process to give them greater understanding of their finances.

Management of performance needs to improve

We were encouraged to find the service uses a range of performance dashboards and indicators to report on performance at senior and executive management level through several boards and an overarching service performance and assurance group. Data analysts establish performance trends for the board to examine further. For example, this work identified a trend of safe and well visits taking more than 28 days to complete. This was found to be because of an issue with recording and data quality.

Despite the monitoring of performance, we found there was insufficient management of performance across the service’s core functions. There is also limited awareness among operational staff about data available, such as community heat maps, to direct station activity towards areas of highest risk.

We were disappointed to find some operational staff we spoke to couldn’t identify station-based activity goals other than safe and well targets. Some protection staff we spoke to weren’t aware of performance targets or how performance was managed. We were told the service had recently changed its protection structure to operate out of five geographic protection hubs, but these aren’t being managed in a consistent way. The service needs to do more to ensure its workforce time is productive and that performance expectations are clearly communicated and managed.

The service has identified the contribution it will make towards the national productivity target (using an extra 3 percent of national wholetime firefighter capacity to carry out additional prevention and protection work). At the time of inspection, the service hadn’t implemented this change because it was waiting for the National Fire Chiefs Council to provide more information about the detail and methodology to support it.

But the service has taken some steps to improve workforce productivity. This includes considering new ways of working. For example, it has increased its use of online meetings to reduce unnecessary travel.

We were surprised to find the service is still reliant on several paper-based systems which are inefficient and don’t support productive working. This includes both safe and well and collection of site-specific risk information. The service is aware of this and has plans in place to replace these with digital systems.

The service had to adapt its working practices because of the pandemic. Those changes are still part of its day-to-day activity. For example, hybrid working for staff has continued. The service has made this more efficient by developing an app so staff can book desks when working out of service premises.

There is extensive and effective collaboration with others

We are pleased to see the service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s safety plan. For example:

  • shared premises with other agencies such as police and health;
  • shared control room functions through the Networked Fire Services Partnership with Devon and Somerset and Dorset and Wiltshire;
  • shared cost of providing support functions such as administration and finance through a shared service partnership with other agencies including Hampshire County Council and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary;
  • providing fleet maintenance to other fire and rescue services; and
  • working with health services to provide a response to medical incidents.

The service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. For example, by sharing its premises it generates over £1.4m of income.

Continuity arrangements need more regular testing

The service has good continuity arrangements in place for areas where threats and risks are considered high. This includes plans for pandemic flu and industrial action.

Not all plans are regularly reviewed and tested. For example, regular testing takes place with Network Fire Service partners’ control rooms to take each other’s calls. However, physical evacuation of the control room is not regularly tested. This means that staff aren’t fully aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities. The service should put plans in place to regularly test business continuity arrangements.

The service has a track record of making savings

There are regular reviews to consider all the service’s expenditure, including its non-pay costs. And this scrutiny makes sure the service gets value for money. For example, the service told us that it wasn’t getting value for money from its external provider of facilities management and so brought this back in-house.

The service has made savings and efficiencies. For example, the service told us that from 2016/17 to 2019/20 it had made savings of £11m. This was achieved mainly by redesigning how the service operated. This leaves relatively modest savings of £1.4m needing to be achieved over 2022/23 and 2023/24.

The service is taking steps to make sure important areas, including estates and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. Procurement activity is done through its shared services partnership. Procurement frameworks such as the Crown Commercial Service framework are used as a primary route for procurement and where possible used collaboratively with others to achieve greater efficiencies.

2

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

Good

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service is good at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Services merged in April 2021.

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

Isle of Wight 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 they should invest in better services for the public.

Promising practice

The service promotes efficient working and generates income through flexible use of its buildings

The service uses its buildings flexibly to promote more efficient working and generate income. The service already shares 34 buildings with other services such as police, health, coastguard, Border Force and the and ambulance service. The service safety plan continues future commitment to maximising buildings use and generate income with plans to develop three new fire stations including a new fire station which is to be built as a multi-agency hub.

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

The service has a good awareness and understanding of future financial challenges

The service has a sound understanding of future financial challenges. It plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. For example, the service has put contingencies in place to cover high rates of inflation. Financial risks such as this are recorded and monitored through the service’s corporate risk register.

The underpinning assumptions are relatively robust, realistic and prudent, and take account of the wider external environment and some scenario planning for future spending reductions. This includes council tax precept flexibility which has led to an increase of £5 (7.2 percent) for a Band D property in 2022/23. It will generate an additional £2.75m. Modest budget deficits of less than £1m are then forecast, which will be met from reserves if needed.

The service has identified savings and investment opportunities to improve the service to the public or generate further savings. It aims to make £1.4m worth of savings in the first 2 years of its medium-term financial plan. At the time of our inspection, we were told that £300,000 of these savings had been identified. The service should ensure it identifies all the savings it needs to meet savings requirements.

Flexible plans are in place for the use of reserves

The service has a sensible and sustainable plan for using its reserves. The service makes a £6m annual contribution to reserves to support future investment in areas such as IT. The service told us that this approach means it doesn’t have to rely on underspends to undertake work such as fleet investment. In addition, the reserves provide resilience against any changes in funding and could give short-term financial support to any areas affected.

The current fleet isn’t being used efficiently or effectively

The service’s estate and fleet strategies have clear links to the safety plan. Both strategies seek to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. For example, as part of the service’s programme of investment, it is redeveloping Redbridge Fire Station to include more space to lease to other agencies such as the police. This generates income for the service.

During our inspection we found that some of the buildings we visited weren’t in good condition. We were disappointed to find that not all locations had suitable facilities for females.

The service is committed to upgrading all estate assets, so they are all the same standard following the merging of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Services. It told us it has spent £3m in 2 years upgrading its premises, with a significant amount of this work taking place on the Isle of Wight buildings.

The service has a fleet strategy in place that looks to improve efficiency in some areas. This includes maintaining the fleet of other fire and rescue services, which generates income.

But we found the service isn’t always using some of the fire engines it has. The service should consider how it intends to use its fleet in both an efficient and effective way to meet the risks and objectives identified in its safety plan.

Change is effectively managed

The service has put in place the capacity and capability needed to achieve sustainable transformation, and it routinely seeks opportunities to work with others to improve efficiency and provide better services in the future. The service has successfully managed the merging of Hampshire and Isle of Wight into a single authority. This is an impressive achievement especially considering this work took place during the pandemic.

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. For example, the service has invested in a new centralised system to record the competencies of all its staff in the same place to make it easier to monitor such things as training records. It also seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology.

The service had identified that various elements of its technology were being procured and managed by separate departments. The ‘One ICT’ programme brought all systems together under central management of the service’s ICT team to improve efficiency.

The service is aware of several inefficient paper-based systems, such as recording of safe and well visits, and is investing in electronic solutions to improve their efficiency.

The service is good at generating additional income

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income. It generates over £1.4m in revenue through the shared use of its premises. The service told us that feed-in payments from electricity produced by solar panels installed by the service generates £100,000 per annum. Other work such as providing fleet maintenance to other fire and rescue services also brings in additional income. Where appropriate, it has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. This includes £396,000 to support its work to meet the requirements arising from the Grenfell tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations.

We were pleased to find the service has made significant improvements in relation to its trading company 3SFire. This is now a community interest company that follows the Grant Thornton model for fire service trading companies. 3SFire’s performance is reviewed regularly to ensure it provides value for money and meets legislative requirements. This also makes sure that 3SFire’s trading activity doesn’t conflict with the public service duties of the service.

3SFire staff spoke about the challenges the pandemic posed to their trading activity. Despite returning a limited surplus from its trading activities in 2020/21, there are clear plans in place to increase trading activity.