HM Fire Service Inspectorate: local area inspection - Midlothian
1 The local area inspection programme
1. The Fire and Rescue Framework for Scotland 2016 sets out how Scottish Ministers expect the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) to operate and how, in part, its effectiveness and efficiency are to be measured. The Framework sets strategic priorities for the Service to achieve. In a change to the previous Framework, the 2016 Framework devolves responsibility for developing performance measures to the SFRS, albeit subject to Ministerial approval. Subsequently, the SFRS Board approved a Performance Management Framework in 2018 (updated in May 2019) to include 2019/20 corporate indicators.
2. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the SFRS to appoint a Local Senior Officer (LSO) for each local authority area in Scotland for the purpose of carrying out its functions in that area. The LSO for Midlothian also acts as LSO for the local authorities of East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. The LSO reports to the Head of Service Delivery for the relevant SFRS Service Delivery Area (SDA) (North, East or West). The SFRS is also required by the 2005 Act to have a Local Fire and Rescue Plan for each local authority area, which sets out the SFRS's priorities and objectives for that local area; why they have been selected; how the SFRS intends to deliver them, and (insofar as is practicable) outcomes by reference to which the SFRS's service delivery in the local authority area can be measured. The fact that the 2005 Act is structured in this way is a clear demonstration of the Scottish Parliament's intention that the SFRS's service delivery should be considered both at the national and local authority levels.
3. Inspections of SFRS service delivery within local authority areas, that examine the development and delivery of Local Fire and Rescue Plans, help to provide assurance about the way in which the SFRS is meeting this intention. By undertaking inspections of SFRS service delivery within local authority areas, HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI):
- can provide assurance to Scottish Ministers and the public, that the SFRS is making adequate provision for local service delivery, and that local areas have access to specialist national resources, and make suggestions for improvement if necessary;
- can take a detailed look at the nature and quality of service provision within local areas and can draw attention to significant matters and areas of good practice;
- maintains a good level of awareness of the Service's functions and builds a record of how the Service is functioning; and
- can gather intelligence that may inform, or cause to be undertaken, more strategic, thematic inspections of the SFRS.
4. The findings in our report follow the structure of the Framework. In following the structure of the Framework, there will be occasions when our observations could be reported against more than one of the strategic priorities contained within the Framework. We aim to ensure that our observations and text are allocated in the most appropriate place or places to give an understanding of our findings. But there may be occasions when it will be appropriate to repeat our observations against more than one priority.
5. During our local area inspections we look at a range of matters relevant to fire and rescue service delivery within the area being inspected, including any relevant issues arising from our thematic work.
6. In our inspections we aim to visit as many service delivery locations as we can, and speak to managers and a range of uniformed and non-uniformed staff. We look at premises and equipment, and view a sample of records to enable us to understand the way in which business within the area is conducted. In this way we aim to cross-reference the SFRS's written plans and procedures, and what we are told about the local area by SFRS managers, with our own observations and discussions with local staff.
7. We do not, however, carry out our local area inspections as a comprehensive audit. The sampling methodology that we adopt cannot identify all potential areas for improvement or areas of good practice: we intend that it should be a proportionate activity that provides an overview of the area, comparable with other local area inspections that we carry out. The SFRS has a programme of internal station audits that involve a detailed look at fire station activity and records, and we do not want to duplicate that work, although we do take these into consideration within our inspection.
8. During our inspection of Midlothian we visited the two community fire stations in the area, speaking to the retained duty system (RDS) crew on their training night and two of the watches at Dalkeith, the sole wholetime duty fire station.
9. We met with the LSO and local managers with the following areas of responsibility:
- Prevention and protection
- Service delivery
- Training and employee development (TED)
- Health and safety
- Fire station supervision
10. We interviewed community safety staff and support staff, and engaged with representatives of Midlothian Council.
11. To gauge service users' opinion of the SFRS we contacted the 16 Community Councils within Midlothian. Each was invited to complete a brief questionnaire which explored the relationship between the Community Council and the SFRS, sought awareness of SFRS local activity, and asked about views of service quality and suggested areas for improvement. We received two responses which are discussed later in this report.
12. This report is a product of both our direct observation and interviews held with staff and partners of the SFRS, and reflects the circumstance at the time of our inspection. The SFRS is continuing to change and evolve, consequently material changes may have occurred since then. During the course of this inspection there was a re-structure within the SFRS which, in addition to the re-aligning of department functions, included some departmental name changes, for example Training and Employee Development (TED) is now Training, with some elements of previous responsibility now located within the People and Organisational Development Directorate. In this report we have retained the use of the pre re-structure names as these are either linked to descriptions used in the Fire and Rescue Framework or within the SFRS documentation we have referenced.
13. The fieldwork for this local area inspection was disrupted by the impact of restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and was therefore carried out periodically over an extended period during September 2020 and January and February 2021.