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Inspectors praise Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service for managing resources – and highlight key area for improvement





Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is ‘outstanding’ at managing resources, ‘good’ at preventing fires but needs to ensure on-call firefighters know how to tackle blazes in tall buildings, according to inspectors.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) praised the service on its use of its finances and planning for the future, but said there was room to improve around training, diversity and fair promotion opportunities.

Chief fire officer Chris Strickland. Picture: Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service
Chief fire officer Chris Strickland. Picture: Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

The service said it was pleased with the overall report and would take on board the areas for improvement.

It was judged over 11 performance areas, and was deemed outstanding in its ‘best use of resources’, ‘good’ in six areas, including preventing fire and risk and adequate in three, including responding to fires and emergencies, and major incidents.

Only one area was rated as requires improvement, which was managing performance and developing leaders.

Inspectors noted that while there are no national response times, the service had set its own and aimed for the first fire engine to arrive at the most serious incidents within an average of nine minutes in urban areas and 12 minutes in rural areas.

In the year ending 31 March 2022, it beat the urban response time, with an average of 8 minutes and 36 seconds, while it just missed the rural time, recording an average of 12 minutes 14 seconds.

The main area for improvement around fire response was to ensure “on-call staff are familiar with the risks in their local areas and have an understanding of fires in tall buildings, so they are better prepared to fight fires and carry out rescues safely”.

Roy Wilsher, HM Inspector of fire and rescue services, said: “I am pleased with the performance of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks, but it needs to improve in some areas to provide a consistently good service.

“For example, improvements could be made by diversifying its pool of future and current leaders, consistently managing and developing talent and making sure promotion processes are open, transparent and fair.”

Inspectors said they were “impressed” by the service’s approach to forecasting and risk and resourcing planning, and praised the service for making savings that did not affect its operational performance.

The inspection report said the service’s revenue budget for 2023/24 is £33.7million, which it said was an increase from £31.23million the previous year.

Inspectors recognised equality, diversity and inclusion were “clear priorities” for the service, highlighting that it had improved its maternity and menopause provisions.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service vehicles. Picture: Cambs FRS
Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service vehicles. Picture: Cambs FRS

They also recognised the “considerable effort” put into improving the fairness of the recruitment process, including using external assessors from the community as part of the interview panel to reduce unconscious bias.

However, inspectors said there was more that needed to be done to make sure the recruitment process was fair and accessible to applicants from a range of backgrounds.

The report said there were some inconsistencies in how suitability meetings for potential on-call recruits were carried out, and that this meant there was “potential for recruitment bias”.

It noted there had been “little progress in improving ethnic diversity”.

As of March 31, 2022, 4.8 per cent of the service’s workforce were from an ethnic minority background, compared to 27 per cent in the area’s population.

Inspectors said the service also needed to do more to make sure staff saw internal promotion processes as “open, transparent and fair”, and that it needed to diversify the pool of “future and current leaders”.

The report said the service had put in “considerable effort” into developing its promotion and progression processes to make them fair, but said “disappointingly” there was still a perception among some staff that there was a culture of networking that was “influencing the promotional process”.

The report said most middle managers told inspectors they felt the promotional processes were not actually “open, transparent and fair”.

Chris Strickland, the chief fire officer, said: “I’m really pleased with our inspection outcome as it reflects the hard work and dedication that everyone who works for our fire service puts in day in, day out to help us deliver the best service we can with the resources we have.

“I was particularly delighted with the ‘outstanding’ we received for how we manage our resources.

“We are a very lean fire service and over the years have had to invest much time and effort into coming up with innovative ways to save money to either meet budget cuts or to reinvest to continually improve, so it is great to see this recognised.

“I am also particularly proud of the good we were awarded for our values and culture. It has been our focus for a number of years now, promoting expected behaviours at work and supporting employee wellbeing.

“This particular success is testament to everyone who works here, who ensures we are a welcoming fire and rescue service that values diversity and encourages inclusion.

“As expected with any inspection process, there were areas highlighted where the inspectorate believes we can make further improvement.

“We take this feedback into account when we undertake our planning and some of these were already in motion but not completed when the inspectorate visited.”

Cllr Edna Murphy, the chair of the fire authority, said the service “should be very proud” of the inspection report, and thanked staff for their “continued hard work and commitment to providing the best service they can” for the community.

She said she felt the service could look forward to showing even more improvement at the next inspection.



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