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Hertfordshire 2021/22


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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Requires improvement

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

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

The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This rationale should be linked to the risks and priorities in the integrated risk management plan (IRMP).

The service’s current budget is £37.5m and is expected to rise to £39.2m for 2025/26, taking into account inflationary rises. We are pleased to find that the service’s financial planning, financial systems and audit arrangements are all satisfactory.

We have found that the service is willing to collaborate with others, but it can’t yet show significant financial benefits from this, or improvements in value for money.

We found evidence that the pace of change at times is too slow, particularly around the introduction of new technology.

The service has estate and fleet strategies, but it doesn’t exploit the opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness that are presented by changes in fleet and estate provision.

Questions for Efficiency


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

Requires improvement

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

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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 net budget for 2022/23 is £37.5m, with an expected rise to £39.2m for 2025/26.

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to show a clear rationale for the resources allocated between prevention, protection and response activities. This should be linked to risks and priorities set out in the integrated risk management plan.
  • The service should ensure that its budget and resource allocation, and management of performance and projects, support the activity set out in the integrated risk management plan and strategic priorities.
  • The service needs to ensure it effectively evaluates benefits and outcomes of its statutory duty to collaborate.

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 plans support its objectives, but don’t clearly support the allocation of resources

The service has benefitted from an updated IRMP which has provided financial direction and supported investment. This addresses an area for improvement from our round one inspection in 2018. The IRMP is well integrated with other financial strategies and plans. The overarching strategies lack detail but are supported by more detailed departmental plans which include targets and time frames. Departmental plans and actions are scrutinised by heads of service and the senior executive board.

But the way the service allocates resources to prevention, protection and response activity is mainly based on historical information. It isn’t clearly linked to the current IRMP.

We found some evidence that the service uses its resources well to manage risk. For example, it has a well-resourced protection team, and it uses wholetime operational crews to support the RBIP. But there are areas which still need improving. There isn’t a clear link between IRMP objectives and how station-based activity is directed. And the service can’t clearly explain how resources are allocated to prevention work, including how firefighters are used in carrying out prevention activity. Staff don’t widely understand the service’s strategies and how their work contributes to them.

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. Financial planning, financial systems and audit arrangements are all well considered. Planning assumptions consider the various pension arrangements for different staff groups.

The service could do more to make sure its workforce is productive

The arrangements for managing performance need improvement and don’t clearly link resource use to the IRMP and the service’s most important and long-term aims. Station plans aren’t always used to direct prevention activity and make sure staff are productive. Staff don’t widely understand them or use them effectively to improve performance.

There is no productivity tool for the service to use to monitor performance. Staff are sometimes frustrated with the technology that the service has. On-call staff told us that they don’t feel supported when new ways of working are introduced. Training is sometimes missed due to leave and other absence, and staff are often frustrated at being unable to confidently use new systems.

Some steps are being taken to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working. For example, the service has plans to change its day crewing plus system to a different model. It has also introduced flexible mobilising, which helps fire engines to be crewed with on-call staff from different locations. This maximises staff availability. Flexible working for on‑call staff has been introduced, and we were told that senior leaders are open to trialling new crewing systems.

The service had to adapt its working practices as a result of the pandemic. Those changes are still part of its day-to-day activity and included moving The Prince’s Trust programme online. As a result, the programme has seen an increase in interest. High-risk referrals for safe and well visits continued to take place during the pandemic, and the service told us that the number of referrals it receives is now rising again.

Some staff told us that the service relies heavily on overtime and has a significant number of vacancies in fire control and at fire stations. This was reported during our last inspection and the service still needs to address it.

The service can’t yet show that collaborations are resulting in efficiencies

The service can’t yet show significant improvements in the way it uses collaboration to make efficiencies. So, it can’t show that it is improving value for money through collaboration. This was an area for improvement in our last inspection, and it still needs addressing.

We are encouraged, though, to see that it is actively exploring opportunities to work with other emergency responders, and there are examples of the service creating operational benefits through working together. It is part of a collaboration board with the police, ambulance and county council. This aligns with the service’s IRMP.

The service considers opportunities, for example, a joint estates plan. The tangible benefits are limited at present but include the provision and use of a drone capability with Bedfordshire Police and Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Constabularies, and Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Services.

The service has continuity arrangements in place

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection, and it has addressed the previous area for improvement. The service has good continuity arrangements in place for areas where threats and risks are considered high. These threats and risks are regularly reviewed and tested so that staff are aware of the arrangements and their associated responsibilities. The implementation of the shared fire control function has increased the service’s resilience, as it can now switch all calls over to another service. The ICT systems’ security is tested annually.

The service can’t show it is providing value for money

There are regular reviews to consider all the service’s expenditure, including its non‑pay costs. For example, scrutiny for ICT work is through the Digital Services Strategy Board, which meets quarterly. Estates’ proposals go through county council processes and are reported to senior executives. The service is a member of the Hertfordshire Emergency Services Collaboration Board, which directs joint projects and tracks progress.

The service has taken limited action to reduce non-pay costs, which aren’t supported by regular reviews and scrutiny. Three major capital schemes have been paused for the service to review costs. They are subject to further consideration.

The service manages procurement activity effectively through the county council, but little progress is being made to achieve greater efficiencies through national initiatives and contracts. The service makes use of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s benchmarking information, but the way it considers its overheads isn’t consistent with other services. For example, back-office functions carried out by the county council aren’t shown in the service’s budget.


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

Requires improvement

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at making the service affordable now and in the future.

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service required improvement 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.

Areas for improvement

  • The service needs to make sure that objectives in its new integrated risk management plan offer value for money.
  • The service needs to accelerate its plans to improve ICT so that it makes best use of available technology to support operational effectiveness and efficiency.
  • The service should make sure it has the right skills in place and capacity to successfully manage change across the organisation.

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

The service could do more to improve value for money

Since our last inspection the service has created an up-to-date IRMP which is supported by an FCR. The IRMP and FCR have proposals and recommendations for the service to make better use of resources to address priorities. Many of these recommendations haven’t yet been implemented. But the service has made better use of data, and this will also support its planning for the next risk management process. We look forward to seeing how the service progresses with the recommendations of the FCR.

After several years of one-year settlements, the county council has a balanced budget for the next two years which provides more financial certainty for the service. We didn’t see clear evidence from the service of an objective to improve its value for money. As such, we have updated a previous area for improvement from our last inspection.

The service understands most of its future financial challenges. But the service doesn’t yet understand the full effect of the additional costs resulting from a court ruling in a dispute over firefighter pension costs, or how this affects workforce planning. It has no plans to mitigate against this future risk.

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. These include pay and inflation.

The service has clear arrangements for the use of reserves

The service doesn’t hold its own reserves. Access to the county council reserves would be possible if other sources of funding weren’t available. Budgets are managed within departments and directorates and at council-wide level before accessing reserves.

Fleet and estates strategies aren’t driving efficiency and effectiveness

The service has estate and fleet strategies, but it doesn’t exploit opportunities presented by changes in fleet and estate provision to improve efficiency and effectiveness. There is little focus on benchmarking or cost effectiveness for the fleet. While there is a comprehensive database of the building stock, we saw a lack of drive to improve, with several sites needing maintenance or alterations.

The service has assessed all its buildings and identified that some buildings aren’t fit for purpose and struggle to meet equalities standards. Facilities for female firefighters at some locations aren’t suitable. The service acknowledges that it needs to improve its estates to maintain dignity at work for all its staff.

A collaborative review of estates had taken place with the police, ambulance and local authority to establish future needs. But several major schemes have stalled and are subject to re-design. The service was considering its options at the time of inspection.

The service is slow to make changes

Since our last inspection the service has considered how it can improve its use of technology, but the pace of change has been slow. While the service has made some progress, the area for improvement identified in 2018 remains. For example, the introduction of its information management system for prevention and protection work is behind its original intended schedule, and the service can’t yet explain exactly how it intends to use it.

The service has considered how changes in technology and future innovation may have an effect on risk. But it hasn’t fully exploited the opportunities presented by changes in technology or accessed support from the county council to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Paper-based systems and manual processes are prevalent across many departments. We were told that some staff have a lack of understanding of the new technology that the service has introduced.

The service should consider if it currently has the capacity and capability to bring about lasting future change.

The service has considered external funding opportunities and reviewed options for generating income

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income, but these are limited.

It has secured some external funding and support to bring about improvements to the service it gives the public. These include:

  • the donation of cars from a manufacturer for training;
  • a COVID-19 recovery package;
  • a home security service; and
  • a public health grant to support health outcomes.

Options for generating income through commercial trading have been considered but the service decided not to progress these. The service provides the county council with fire safety training and training in the use of fire extinguishers.