In this feature, we speak to Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Trevor Ferguson about the journey of change and improvement for Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
CFO Ferguson said: “In April 2017 I took up the post of CFO for Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) having served as the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) since October 2014. The past 12 months have seen a period of significant change in the senior leadership of the organisation, with a new DCFO Steve Foye, ACFO Simon Jefferies and Director of Support Services Nikki Richards.
“This period has been really busy as we have implemented the biggest service restructure and change ever undertaken in RBFRS. The restructure and change programme have been instrumental in delivering the Fire Authority’s Corporate and Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP), whilst also balancing the budget in increasingly challenging financial times.”
RBFRS needs to deliver £1.1m of IRMP savings by 2019–20 and a further £0.5m of savings by 2020–21. This is in addition to the £1.3m of Efficiency Plan savings already delivered.
CFO Ferguson explains: “Our Corporate Plan and IRMP has and will deliver some very significant savings, but this has meant some very tough decisions for managers and the Fire Authority. Thankfully, with the support of our staff, we have made good progress. We are now working hard to embed the new organisational structures and improve both efficiency and effectiveness in our processes and working practices.
“The change has not been easy, but we are confident that we have built very strong foundations on which we can take the organisation forward. We have also made significant improvements in how we engage with our representative bodies. Recently, we have introduced the concept of co-designing change projects. This takes lots of time, patience, trust and professionalism on all sides. However, harnessing the synergies of collective knowledge and skills results in better outcomes for all.
“We also now place a significant emphasis on good governance. We have entirely reset our planning, project management and performance management processes. All too often, the value and importance of these basic business skills are overlooked, resulting in ineffective and inefficient practices. Good governance, through sound business practices, also enables greater transparency and reporting, something that the Fire Authority and the senior team here are really committed to. We want to ensure our employers and the people of Royal Berkshire can see clearly what we are doing and how we are doing it.
“A good example of this desire to be more transparent, particularly in these times of shrinking budgets, is how we have articulated in our Corporate Plan and IRMP, what the underpinning planning assumptions are on the service we can sustain, i.e. how many pumps, for how long and at how many simultaneous incidents. We are also in the process of publishing our ten-year Strategic Asset Investment Framework, which sets out the medium- to long-term capital programme and the pressures this will place on our medium-term financial plan. I believe the Fire Authority have shown great leadership and strategic vision in planning this far ahead. With no capital funding available from Central Government, we need to understand how we maintain and replace our very expensive and critical capital assets in the future.”
“We have been doing a lot of work to develop our current and future leaders. Our People Strategy strives to enable our staff to become the best public servants they can be. To do this we need leaders who have the right skills and knowledge to make good decisions, often in very challenging circumstances. Our leadership programme was designed around the core themes of leading yourself, leading your team and leading the business.
“The programme, which focuses on action learning and peer learning, has benefited greatly from the work we have done to increase the diversity of our middle managers. We have more professional services managers now than ever before and when we mix the experience, knowledge and skills they bring with the experience, knowledge and skills of our operational managers, we have created a very powerful learning environment.
“To support these leaders and the rest of our staff we have also made a significant investment in our health and wellbeing offer. When you consider the ever-increasing demands of modern life, the expectation that we will all be working much longer and the pressures on our budgets, this is such an important issue.
“We are particularly conscious of just how lean our existing crewing model is. All too often, we are crewing pumps at four. Managing our safety-critical training, ensuring staff get adequate leave and maintaining the excellent service we provide to the public, means that we have to do everything possible to keep people well and at work. Initially, our focus was on the physical well-being of our staff, resulting in 99.3% of eligible staff successfully completing a fitness test in the past year and just 4.8% of working time lost to staff sickness across all groups. However, now we have extended that focus to supporting the mental health of our staff. We were extremely pleased to be recognised for the work we have done in this area by the Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards last year.”
Continuing the journey
“Despite all the good work that has been done we are still very much on a journey of improvement and change. Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher stated that ‘the only thing that is constant is change’ and this undoubtedly remains true. However, the pace of change is greater now than it has ever been before.
“Just two examples of this are Collaboration and HMICFRS. We have a strong record of achievement on Collaboration in the Thames Valley, with our Joint Fire Control, our new Tri-Service station in Hungerford, with planning approved for a second in Crowthorne, and our well-established collaboration programme.
“The political and non-executive leadership of the three Fire and Rescue Services in the Thames Valley (Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire), the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner and a representative of the South Central Ambulance Service Board, oversee the collaboration programme. This programme not only demonstrates how we are meeting our statutory responsibilities but is also driving real change, delivering greater efficiency and enhanced public safety, whilst still providing a value-for-money service to the local taxpayer.
“Looking ahead to the upcoming HMICFRS inspection programme, we are encouraged that it will highlight areas where we can continue to improve. We think inspection will be a good thing for the Fire and Rescue Service. No doubt there will be teething problems and learning in the first few years, but anything which improves transparency, accountability and public safety has to be good for everyone. We are viewing our inspection as an opportunity to look at the journey we have been on, celebrate the progress we have made and independently validate the way forward on the next phase of travel.”
Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service
Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) provides cover 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from 18 fire stations across the county. Highly trained fire crews deal with incidents ranging from road and rail accidents to fuel and chemical spills, aviation and waterway accidents, collapsed buildings, large animal rescues and, of course, fires.
Along with providing a swift and effective response to incidents, RBFRS works with schools, businesses, residents and community groups throughout Berkshire to educate people on how to prevent fire and other emergencies.
RBFRS is under the direction of a combined Royal Berkshire Fire Authority, which is made up of representatives from the county’s six unitary authorities.
For more information, go to www.rbfrs.co.uk