The annual report into the performance of Bucks Fire and Rescue Service says that it 'requires improvement' in two key areas.
In what is the first HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) annual assessment of fire and rescue services, the assessment examines the service’s effectiveness, efficiency and how well it looks after its people.
It is designed to give the public information about how their local fire and rescue service is performing in several important areas, in a way that is comparable with other services across England.
In two key areas, 'the extent to which the service is effective at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks' and 'the extent to which the service is efficient at keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks' Buckinghamshire's Fire and Rescue Service was judged to require improvement.
As part of the assessment, the service was described as “could be better at how quickly and reliably it responds to fires and other emergencies.”
In the area titled 'the extent to which the service looks after its people' the service was deemed to be 'good', with 'promoting the right values and culture' being listed as a strength.
Financial constraints are highlighted in the report as one of the major issues, with the following summary:
“Overall, we would like to see improvements in the year ahead, but without increased funding, it is difficult to see where progress can be made.”
Responding to the report, Jason Thelwell QFSM, Bucks Fire and Rescue Service's Chief Fire Officer said:
"The report highlights the significant challenges we are facing and we are of course incredibly proud of our staff. The report makes it quite clear that there are no concerns about how we deal with incidents. The report also clearly states that ‘fundamentally . . . it does not have enough people and money’ and ‘without increased funding, it is difficult to see where progress can be made’.
“Our staff have worked incredibly hard to maintain the service we provide to our community, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. The inspector has stated that this is a well-run service and that the service is to be commended for its resilience.
"The service receives the lowest council tax for any Combined Fire Authority across the country at less than £65 a year for a band D property, and these financial constraints have resulted in 30 per cent fewer firefighter numbers, as well as reductions in other areas of the organisation. The inspector stated that ‘in large part this is due to circumstances beyond their control’.
“Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority itself has been lobbying for further funding for the last few years, and both the Chairman of the Authority, Councillor Lesley Clarke OBE, and I call upon the new Conservative Government to consider the implications of this report.
"We are asking it either to increase funding centrally, or to allow us to increase our council tax above the cap of two per cent (£1.30 a year) to enable us to raise our share of the council tax by £5 a year, so that we are not left behind. This money would be spent on more firefighting staff to respond to emergencies and undertake important prevention and fire protection activities.”
You can read the full assessment here.