Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service on track for improvements after ‘disappointing’ inspection

Bosses are hopeful that Northumberland’s fire service will be rated good at its next inspection despite disruption from Covid-19.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 8th October 2020, 3:13 pm
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters at West Hartford.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters at West Hartford.

At the time, Chief Fire Officer Paul Hedley gave his assurances that the service is ‘safe, resilient and effective’, despite a ‘disappointing’ outcome, while Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, said Northumberland County Council would continue to invest in the fire service, protect front-line services and make resources available.

Northumberland was rated as requiring improvement for each of the three main areas – effectiveness, efficiency and people, but work to ‘take positive action to address the issues’ started immediately after the inspection team visited in autumn 2018.

An update on the service’s progress with its improvement plan, which covers 12 themes from leadership and culture to response delivery, was provided by CFO Hedley at the Wednesday, October 7, meeting of the council’s communities and place committee.

He told members that ‘full delivery against the improvement action plan’ has started again ‘as we’ve moved out of the first wave of Covid and from that initial response we undertook’.

“We lost about six months, but we recognise that progress needs to be caught up quickly,” he added.

“In summary, I think we’ve made good progress given the challenges and the circumstances we’ve had to work in, but we really need to accelerate our actions and activity.”

Prior to the pandemic, NFRS was expecting its second full inspection to take place in February and March 2021, but in the summer it was confirmed that these arrangements had changed.

The programme is now due to restart early next year and it is anticipated that NFRS will be inspected in August/September 2021 at the earliest.

CFO Hedley said: “If we are nine or 10 months from the next full inspection, we’re really well-positioned to move Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service from requires improvement to at least two goods and hopefully three.”

HMICFRS has been commissioned by the Home Secretary to conduct a Covid-19 response inspection, however, with NFRS to be assessed this month through telephone interviews and written reports, although this will not result in a graded judgement.

The report to councillors also highlighted that the county council has put £300,000 back into the fire service in response to the inspector’s comments about a ‘lack of managerial and strategic capacity, the challenges to align our plans and ambitions to the significant efficiencies we have made since 2009-10 and the current levels of resource and capacity within specialist departments’.

Cllr John Riddle, the cabinet member responsible for the fire service, added: “I did really press hard to get that £960,000 savings target removed when we had the inspection, because I thought what’s the point in having cuts then having to put money back in when we knew we would have things to do.

“The £100,000 saving we have to make for this year we have already identified between us and I think that is quite manageable.”

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