Skip to content

Planned website downtime

The HMICFRS website will be unavailable for a short time from 11am on Thursday 18 April while we carry out essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Kent 2021/22

Efficiency

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

Last updated 20/01/2023
Outstanding

Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s overall efficiency is outstanding.

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

We are pleased to find that the service is outstanding in the way that it uses its resources and manages its budgets to provide an efficient fire and rescue service for the public.

The service has set clear priorities for the use of its resources, and it has well‑structured risk-based plans. It knows what it wants to achieve based on a thorough understanding of risk. The service has explained its objectives and priorities very clearly in a set of well-presented strategies which are fully aligned with its customer safety plan. The service adapts well to change and has a range of measures to make sure that its workforce is productive.

The service has robust plans to address financial challenges. It has used a wide range of information to develop a sound understanding of future financial challenges, including for funding, cost pressures and budget management. It has detailed plans to mitigate its major financial risks.

Since our last inspection in 2019 the service has improved how it monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and outcomes of its collaborations. We were particularly pleased to see the efforts that the service has made to make savings, collaborating well with others, and how it contributes nationally through its lead role with the National Procurement Hub.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Outstanding

Kent Fire and Rescue Service is outstanding at making best use of its resources.

Kent 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 net revenue budget requirement for 2022/23 is £77.429m. This is an increase from £71.573m in the previous financial year.

Promising practice

The service has excellent procurement arrangements

We found that the service has a deep understanding of procurement arrangements and makes excellent use of them, all underpinned by strong leadership.

It has a detailed and well-presented Commercial and Procurement Strategy 2021–25, aligned to the customer safety plan. The strategy gives direction for procurement and commercial matters. This includes access to market intelligence for supporting business cases and decision-making. The service takes a category management approach to purchasing (grouping related products) to improve supplier performance, reduce risk and promote innovation and continuous improvement.

Procurement performance is monitored and measured to promote continuous improvement. There are clear, logical and measurable objectives to assess against, including for wider impacts such as inclusion, social value, and modern slavery.

The service has played a lead role supporting and developing the National Procurement Hub framework, making very effective use of its resources. The hub tracks savings nationally. The service itself has saved £4.7m since 2017.

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 set clear priorities for the use of its resources, and it has well‑structured risk-based plans

The service knows what it wants to achieve based on a thorough understanding of risk. It is explained very clearly in a set of well-presented strategies which are fully aligned with its customer safety plan. It has developed four areas which support all its strategies. These are:

  • operational excellence;
  • inclusion;
  • well-being; and
  • efficiency and value for money

It regularly reviews how it provides services and makes changes when needed. Successful changes since our last inspection include:

  • a wide-ranging restructure including creating a new customer safety and building safety teams supported by a reallocation of resources;
  • the creation of a collaboration team, ensuring activities are carried out efficiently, with benefits tracked and monitored;
  • the creation of a customer experience and behaviour change team to support the development of safety programmes by using customer insight and research;
  • a reorganisation of operational groups to improve efficiency and productivity;
  • establishing a risk information team to improve the accuracy, consistency and availability of risk information throughout the service;
  • fleet – the introduction of 11 hybrid vehicles, and a further commitment that by 2030, 75 percent of pool cars, vans and maintenance vehicles will be ultra-low emission or hybrid; the introduction of telemetry to manage mileage and engine idling for efficiency; and the purchase of new response cars in collaboration with the police; and
  • full alignment of all operational policies to national operational guidance.

We found strong evidence that it is providing the services it has promised it will. The service makes excellent use of its resources to achieve this. Its financial and workforce plans, including allocating staff to prevention, protection and response, continue to reflect and are consistent with the risks and priorities it has identified. For example, the service has increased the number of protection staff to make sure that audits are completed, and it is able to cope with an increased workload from changes in legislation. The overarching capital strategy supports the service in achieving its objectives through investment and development in areas such as estates, fleet and IT.

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. For example, uncertainties with the capital programme caused by external factors such as supply chain issues are managed and mitigated by close working between the finance team and budget holders. The corporate management board provides effective strategic oversight. And the fire authority, which has a separate audit and governance committee for more detailed focus, also provides oversight.

The service has introduced a range of measures to make sure its workforce is productive

We are pleased to see that the service’s arrangements for managing performance clearly link resource use to the customer safety plan and service’s strategic priorities. The service continues to take steps to make sure the workforce’s time is as productive as possible. This includes implementing new ways of working.

The service has policies in place to allow staff to work more flexibly and continues to operate a flexi-rostering system. This helps control and station staff to manage their own working patterns. Control and each station have a station leader, at watch manager level, who is responsible for planning work routines. More flexible arrangements for on-call staff have also been introduced. Firefighters understand risk in their local areas, and the service provides good access to information. This helps with station planning and the allocation of activities. Training is also well planned and organised through an online platform.

Since the last inspection the service has reviewed its risk profiles and the number of fire engines it needs. The availability of fire engines is actively managed. It has a flexible approach to the number of fire engines it has available at any time, with a normal operating range of 32–44. It can stand resources up or down to match demand by making use of a strategic reserve. It uses on-call firefighters flexibly, including at times mobilising some fire engines with a crew of three.

Capacity can be maximised because of the low number of fire false alarms that the service attends. In the year to 31 December 2021, 25.7 percent of incidents in Kent were fire false alarms. This is much lower than the national rate of 40.5 percent. The service uses its capacity productively to co-respond with the ambulance service. During our inspection, we learnt that 55.5 percent (10,334 out of 18,624) of incidents the service attends are to non-fire incidents. Across England, 33.0 percent of all incidents attended are to non-fire incidents. The service told us that over 30 percent of its total calls are co-responding with the ambulance service, and that around 52 percent of its operational workforce are contracted to do co-responding.

The service hasn’t yet 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). However, the service understands and makes good use of the capacity it currently has available, directing resources to risk-based priorities. And it carries out home fire safety checks and safe and well visits above the England average rate per 1,000 population. The service makes good use of key performance indicators and other data to evaluate and monitor the success of its objectives, and the data is passed to the corporate management board and the fire authority for scrutiny.

Since our last inspection there has been a restructuring of the service’s operational response and resilience teams to a functional leadership model. Under this system middle managers are responsible for specific functions throughout the service, such as leadership, operational performance and professional standards, rather than managing by geographical areas. Staff, including station leaders, feel better supported and empowered to be more productive within their roles.

Technology is also used to increase productivity. For example, technology is being used to track vehicles and reduce the number of movements around the county.

The service had to adapt its working practices because of the pandemic, and these are still part of its day-to-day activity. It continues to support office-based staff to do hybrid working. It also has objectives in its Business Change, Information and Technology Strategy to allow mobile working through improving IT capabilities.

The service works well with others and has made savings

We are encouraged to see the improvements the service has made since the last inspection, making good progress against the previous area for improvement regarding monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the benefits and outcomes of collaboration.

The service meets its statutory duty to collaborate, and routinely considers opportunities to collaborate with other emergency responders. This includes in areas such as estates, joint operational working and procurement. Examples of collaboration include purchasing response cars and sharing premises with other services such as the police and a local voluntary organisation, and sharing a data centre with other local services. The service has regular regional meetings with other organisations to explore other collaborations and joint working opportunities. Recent areas identified for consideration include IT and better use of office space, as well as achieving its social value objectives through a range of initiatives.

Collaborative work is aligned to the priorities in the service’s customer safety plan. For example, there is a commitment to continue to work with other organisations to carry out joint procurement. The service comprehensively monitors, reviews and evaluates the benefits and results of its collaborations. This includes a benefits tracker for partnership working to evaluate if it is providing value for money and is aligned to the service’s strategies.

Collaborative procurement projects are assessed and benchmarked against existing arrangements to ensure best value. Since 2017, the service has made collaborative savings of £4.7m.

The service has excellent procurement arrangements and leads the national framework arrangements

We found that the service has a deep understanding of procurement arrangements and makes excellent use of them, all underpinned by strong leadership.

It has a detailed and well-presented Commercial and Procurement Strategy 2021–25, aligned to the customer safety plan. The strategy gives direction for procurement and commercial matters. This includes using market intelligence to support business cases and decision-making. The service takes a category management approach to purchasing (grouping related products) to improve supplier performance, reduce risk and drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Procurement performance is monitored and measured to ensure continuous improvement. There are clear, logical, and measurable objectives to assess against, including for wider impacts such as inclusion, social value, and modern slavery.

The service has played a lead role supporting and developing the National Procurement Hub framework. It makes very effective use of its resources to get value for money nationally through economies of scale. There is a national cross-service annual spend with third party suppliers of over £500m, and savings of £53.6m have been made since 2016.

The service has good continuity arrangements in place

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. This includes testing control systems, cybersecurity and the potential for industrial action by staff.

The service shows sound financial management and value for money

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 Environment and Assets Strategy 2021–25 has made managing contracts and suppliers a priority with clear measurable objectives. There are key performance indicators linked to estates contracts. This is managed by the estates team and reported monthly to the corporate management board.

The service has made savings and efficiencies, which haven’t affected its operational performance and the service it provides to the public. For example, it has made savings by reducing the number of posts in the central training team and it is using station-based staff as trainers.

The service is taking steps to make sure important areas, including estates, fleet and procurement, are well placed to achieve efficiency gains through sound financial management and best working practices. This includes the savings that the service has made using national framework contracts, such as for smoke alarms and personal protective equipment. The telematics in all vehicles and CCTV installed on fire engines has resulted in a base saving of £60,000 from insurance costs and better information to manage the fleet. The service uses the information well to improve driving styles, reduce fuel consumption and support overall decision-making.

2

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

Outstanding

Kent Fire and Rescue Service is outstanding at making itself affordable now and in the future.

Kent 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.

Innovative practice

The presentation, clarity, and purpose of the service’s plans is excellent

The service knows what it wants to achieve based upon a thorough understanding of risk. It is explained very clearly in a set of well-presented strategies which are fully aligned with its customer safety plan.

The service’s plans are built on sound planning assumptions. They are subject to informed challenge and meet financial requirements. It understands the likely financial challenges it will face in the future. The service also has a plan for using reserves effectively, in a sensible and sustainable way.

The strategies relating to estates, IT, fleet and procurement all clearly underpin the customer safety plan. Staff with responsibilities for strategies understand the priorities and objectives of their own areas of work and understand the interdependencies with others. There is a clear corporate approach with an appreciation that the strategies can’t be carried out in isolation from one another.

Objectives are underpinned by performance measures and the service understands the need to evaluate.

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 robust plans to address financial challenges

The service has used a wide range of information to develop a sound understanding of future financial challenges, including for funding, cost pressures and budget management. It has detailed plans to mitigate its main or significant financial risks. The financial plan sets out those risks and actions to mitigate them. It includes moving to a longer ten-year capital programme to minimise the revenue budget impact and provide longer-term stability.

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 for inflation, pay awards and pension arrangements.

Reserves are well managed and support financial security and future ambition. The service reviews and updates its reserves strategy annually. Its budget strategy details the use of reserves, including those earmarked for specific expenditure or liabilities.

Earmarked revenue reserves include funding allocated for transformation and productivity improvements. They are set aside as one-off funding for transformation initiatives, service improvements and collaboration opportunities that may arise during the year. Previous uses of these reserves have been to buy in project managers, commissioning work with a university, and funding a risk data project. Other earmarked reserves include those for holding government grant funding, infrastructure, insurance and contingencies, and a rolling budget to carry over funds for committed expenditure to the next year.

We are pleased to see that the service has identified savings and investment opportunities to improve the service to the public or generate further savings. This includes allocating £1.77m for the restructuring and the generation of additional posts in several teams, including operational response, building safety, customer safety, people and learning, finance and procurement. The service is also planning to invest heavily in IT systems and infrastructure, with a combined capital and revenue spend of £3.724m in 2022/23. Plans include improving the joint control facility with the police as part of the revenue programme, and future station developments in the capital programme of £4.66m in 2022/23 and total of £15.74m up to 2026.

A recent external audit highlighted the service’s strong financial planning and budget management, and its history of making savings. The service has taken a lead role supporting and developing the National Procurement Hub framework, with national cross-service savings of £53.6m since 2016. Since 2017 the service has made its own savings of £4.7m through effective and efficient procurement practice. Annual savings are well managed. Pay savings of £667,000 and non-pay savings of £1.102m have been identified for 2022/23. Non-pay savings include £241,000 identified from a review of existing revenue budgets with managers.

Fleet and estates strategies clearly support the customer safety plan

The service’s estate and fleet strategies have clear links to the customer safety plan. Interdependencies are understood throughout the organisation and there is a common strategic approach, with teams working closely together rather than in silos. For example, this was apparent with the carbon neutrality commitment which requires co-ordination between different departments.

Strategies exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Key objectives for estates include a programme of refurbishment, minimising contaminants and supporting equality, diversity and inclusion by improving facilities on fire stations. A venue at Ashford is being redeveloped to improve live fire facilities there. And the service has plans for the new shared control facility with the police. Fleet plans include a more efficient system for servicing vehicles. The service is working well and sharing information with other organisations to achieve this, including the ambulance service and county council.

Strategies are regularly reviewed so the service can properly assess the effect any changes in estate and fleet provision or future innovation have on risk. We were pleased to find that objectives are supported by performance measures and the service recognises the importance of evaluation. For example, it is evaluating the fleet technology it has used to make savings and increase productivity. It intends to find further efficiencies and create more savings.

The service invests in technology and transforms to improve efficiency

The service actively considers how changes in technology and future innovation may affect risk. Its Business Change, Information and Technology Strategy 2021–25 sets out a programme of work. It has a planned combined capital and revenue spend for IT systems and infrastructure of £3.724m in 2022/23. It seeks to exploit opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness presented by changes in technology. There are detailed objectives underpinned by performance measures. The service has plans to simplify its processes and make sure staff have the right devices and secure systems to do their work. For example, planned investment in better systems for workforce planning and asset management will improve efficiency and productivity.

The service collaborates with others to improve efficiency, including supporting the re‑procurement of the wide area network in conjunction with the county council and other relevant organisations.

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. Transformational projects are well managed and resourced, with strategies supported by action plans.

The service explores income-generating activities

The service actively considers and exploits opportunities for generating extra income.

Where appropriate, it has secured external funding to invest in improvements to the service provided to the public. These include using the uplift grant to build resilience for protection work. And it has sought government grant aid to help with the ongoing commitment towards carbon neutrality by 2030.

The service has a paid arrangement to provide a dedicated response to the Channel Tunnel for an agreed level of service with the company.

The service has considered options for generating income through commercial trading but has decided not to take them further.