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Bucks' fire service 'requires improvement' when keeping us safe from fire

Inspectors do say that tough financial pressures aren't helping.

Published by Dan Gooding at 5:46am 17th December 2019. 5-minute read.

Bucks' fire service 'requires improvement' when keeping us safe from fire

Inspectors have raised concerns about how good Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue is at keeping us safe.

They have rated the service as 'requires improvement' when it comes to effectively managing resources, too.

Although this has been put down to tough financial pressures.

HMICFRS found that Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service:

  • ‘requires improvement’ at effectively keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks;
  • ’requires improvement’ at how efficiently it manages its resources; and
  • is ‘good’ at looking after its people.

HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Matt Parr said:

“I know Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service will be disappointed with the grades we have given, but in large part this is due to circumstances beyond their control, and we found much to admire in the way the Service is run.

"Ultimately, the service is operating in a tough financial environment and cannot afford the firefighters it says it needs.

"To its credit, it has developed and implemented an innovative resourcing model, but funding does not sustain this model in the medium or long term. As a result, we found it unable to properly resource its prevention, protection and response activities."

Bucks Fire

The service carries out a lower rate of home fire safety checks than many other services, and isn’t auditing its high-risk premises in the most effective manner, according to HMICFRS.

The service also has much lower overall fire engine availability than other services and is missing targets in its response times and standards.

Matt added:

“But I think this is a well-run service. It has a good understanding of its local risk profile which draws on a wide range of data. This understanding is informed by site visits, collaboration with third parties and use of geographical software.

“And the service is to be commended for its resilience in the face of these challenges. Our main concern is that it does not have enough resources to meet demand. It needs to better prepare for present and future financial constraints, which includes developing contingency plans.

“On a more positive note, the service looks after its workforce well. It provides a range of wellbeing programmes, including counselling and physiotherapy. Recruitment is generally good, with fairness, transparency and respect for diversity enshrined in its recruitment processes. It does, however, need to refine its leadership development programmes.

“We will inspect Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service again in due course to see what progress it has made.”

Jason Thelwell QFSM, BFRS's Chief Fire Officer, has issued this initial response to HMICFRS's report of its inspection of BFRS:

"The report highlights the significant challenges we are facing and we are of course incredibly proud of our staff. The report makes it quite clear that there are no concerns about how we deal with incidents. The report also clearly states that 'fundamentally . . . it does not have enough people and money' and 'without increased funding, it is difficult to see where progress can be made'.

"Our staff have worked incredibly hard to maintain the service we provide to our community, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. The inspector has stated that this is a well-run service and that the service is to be commended for its resilience."

Jason added that the service does charge the least council tax across the country and that they are continuing to ask for more money.

He said:

"The service receives the lowest council tax for any Combined Fire Authority across the country at less than £65 a year for a band D property, and these financial constraints have resulted in 30 per cent fewer firefighter numbers, as well as reductions in other areas of the organisation. The inspector stated that 'in large part this is due to circumstances beyond their control'.

"Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority itself has been lobbying for further funding for the last few years, and both the Chairman of the Authority, Councillor Lesley Clarke OBE, and I call upon the new Conservative Government to consider the implications of this report.

"We are asking it either to increase funding centrally, or to allow us to increase our council tax above the cap of two per cent (£1.30 a year) to enable us to raise our share of the council tax by £5 a year, so that we are not left behind. This money would be spent on more firefighting staff to respond to emergencies and undertake important prevention and fire protection activities."

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