Update on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s planning and preparedness for COVID-19
Findings – planning and preparation
The SFRS has been quick to respond to the challenges of the current pandemic, the establishment of their governance arrangements aligns with the Scottish Co-ordination Advisory Framework (SCAF). The meeting frequencies of the various boards has been adjusted throughout the pandemic to meet the needs of the organisation and the impact upon service delivery. Information and updates are regularly shared with internal stakeholders in an open and transparent way.
In order to effectively manage the effects of C-19, the SFRS created a bespoke COVID-19 Tactical Action Group (COTAG). The group currently meets regularly, but stood down in the summer after the first wave of the virus and then up again as the second wave of C-19 became apparent. The COTAG Chair will be the direct link to the Scottish Government Liaison Officer (SGLO) should there be a need to brief SG directly. There are defined escalation processes and multiple ways to disseminate work, good governance ensures actions are monitored, recorded and dealt with at the most appropriate level.
COTAG continues to ensure that the SFRS operates efficiently and effectively, whilst maintaining a high standard of Service Delivery. It is responsible for establishing and closing down sub groups that ensure concurrent works is delivered. The sub groups include: PPE, Communications, Operational Availability, Exiting the EU, Mental Health & Well-being and a Recovery & Reset Group. A strategic manager chairs the Recovery & Reset Group, establishing this group at this early stage should enable returning to BAU, and will assist the SFRS to understand and evaluate those innovations and news ways of working developed during the pandemic.
Use of physical resources
Operational response crewing levels for whole-time appliances are normally maintained at 5 firefighters, with multi pump stations crewing at 5 for one appliance and 4 for each subsequent appliance. Due to the impact of C-19 and the need to reduce the risk of infection, bubbles/clusters of stations were formed, as it was recognised that it would be difficult to maintain crewing levels as agreed with Representative Bodies. Pragmatic discussions have led to whole time fire stations riding with a minimum of 4 firefighters, however we recognise that Representative Bodies are not supportive of maintaining these arrangements post C-19.
The SFRS has looked at the impact of staff shortages, and we are aware that recently retired staff in roles ranging from Firefighters, Flexi-Duty Officers and OC staff have been contacted to augment or supplement staff numbers if the need arises. This additional capacity may not be utilised but will form an additional level of resilience, all be it at an additional cost to the SFRS as a direct result of C-19.
Use of financial resources
The Finance team have been able to ‘tag’ spending that is attributed to C-19, this ensures the Service can look at the burden C-19 has had on its revenue expenditure. The Finance team monitor spending variances and this will inform future forecast spending. Underspends are currently being noted in overtime and training as these are areas immediately impacted upon by C-19. It is recognised these are not clear savings as there may be a need in the future to increase the training provision to catch up on skills fade and specialist training that has been directly affected.