HM Fire Service Inspectorate: local area inspection report - Argyll and Bute
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 April 2021) to include 2020/21 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 Argyll and Bute also acts as LSO for the local authorities of East Dunbartonshire and West Dunbartonshire. The LSO reports to the Head of Service Delivery for the relevant SFRS Service Delivery Area (SDA) (in this case the West SDA). 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;
- can 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 adopting this approach we accept that there may be occasions when our observations could be reported against more than one of the strategic priorities contained in 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. There may however 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 inspection 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 examples 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 have carried out or will carry out in the future. The SFRS has a programme of internal station audits that involve a detailed analysis of fire station activity and records. We do not want to duplicate that work, although we do take these audits into consideration within our inspection.
8. During our inspection of Argyll and Bute we visited all 39 fire stations in the area, speaking to the retained and volunteer duty system (RVDS) crews and two watches each at Helensburgh and Oban, the two wholetime duty fire stations in the area.
9. We met with the LSO and local managers with the following areas of responsibility:
- prevention and protection
- service delivery
- health and safety
- fire station supervision
10. We interviewed community safety staff, support staff and also engaged with representatives of Argyll and Bute Council.
11. In an attempt to gauge service users' opinion of the SFRS we contacted the
56 Community Councils within Argyll and Bute. 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 seven 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 visits. Our fieldwork for this local area inspection was interrupted and constrained by the restrictions in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequently our visits were carried out over an extended time period between September 2020 and September 2021. Due to the continuing nature of the restrictions, we undertook some of our fieldwork remotely, using video conferencing technology. As part of our inspection activity involves an element of physical inspection, for example the condition of premises, equipment and vehicles, it was necessary for us to delay the publication of this report to allow the inspection team to conclude physical visits and face to face interviews (adhering to current guidance and taking appropriate measures to safeguard themselves and others present).
13. 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) changed to Training, Safety and Assurance. 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.