The introduction of the Best Value regime by Tony Blair’s Labour Government put the focus of organisations of continuous improvements in terms of service quality, efficiency and effectiveness. One of the changes introduced by such regime was eliminating the previously introduced Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) cutting government inspections in favour of accountability improvements through publishing expenditures information and service performance (Parry, 2010). For UK Fire and Rescue Service such change might have several implications in terms of quality assurance, where the indicators of performance might be changed.
For Kent Fire and Rescue Service the changes in the policies outlined the necessity to select quality assurance data indicator as a performance measure. Kent Fire and Rescue Service is an organisation responsible for delivering “fire and rescue services to more than 1.7 million people in Kent” (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2011). The service has “66 fire stations and 1,700 operational members of staff… [and] a fleet of more than 120 fire engines and other operational vehicles, including pumps, pump rescue ladders and turntable ladders (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2011).
Kent service plans regarding quality assurance might need several modifications in order to correspond to the changes in policies. In that regard, the present report will provide an overview of the QA systems currently in use as well as those suitable to the case of Kent Fire and Rescue Service. Additionally, providing a critical assessment of such systems, the report will provide recommendations on the quality assurance systems to be used and an assessment of their validity and benefits.
Overview of QA Systems in Kent Fire and Rescue Service
Kent Fire and Rescue Service outlined its goal and objectives in their Integrated Risk and Management Plan 2010-2013. The main tendency can be seen through the emphasis on reduction as quantitative indicators for performance. In that regard, the objectives include reduction of the number of fires, deaths, and injuries as well as reduction in the number of road accidents, deaths and injuries, and the reduction of the environmental impact (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010a). Accordingly, the objective of Kent Fire and Rescue Service included qualitative measures, such as engagement with local people, help improving the quality of life for local people.
According to those objectives, it can be seen that in last years that indicators used corresponded to those measured outlined, specifically in terms of quantitative aspects, e.g. reduction of number of fires by 14% in 2008/09 and the reduction of deliberate fires by 20% in the same period (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010a). Those measures can be seen as conforming to the Fire and Rescue Service National Framework 2008–11, in which the performance indicators agreed upon included the number of arson incidents (deliberate fires), the number of primary fires and related fatalities and non-fatal casualties, as well as the then newly proposed Comprehensive Area Assessment Indicators (CAA) (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010a).
The focus of CAA outlined in the framework, was comprised of areas such as the judgement on the use of resources, a Direction of Travel (DoT) assessment, assessment against national and local performance , and a joint assessment for the area (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010a). An example of CAA specific CAA performance indicators can be seen through the last report published, dated December 2009 for Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, in which the aforementioned authority received an average rank of three out of four, meaning that organisation performs well, exceeding the minimum requirements (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2009).
The indicators used include investments made in the area of fire and accidents prevention, with measure such as the number of safety visits against the number the number of fires. Additionally, the speed of the responses includes such measures as the percentage of emergency responses under 10 minutes, and the number of false alarms. The indicators of the preparation to deal with major incidents include the number of exercises, and the availability of plans for fire-fighters to move quickly between areas. There are other measures, all of which generally categorised into managing performance and use of resources.
The plans of Kent Fire and Rescue Service outlined in the IRMP can be seen through focusing on issues such people, traffic, and buildings, environment, economy and business, and ways of working, which were outlined as the key concerns for Kent in the next three years 2011-2013. The importance of those key issues can be seen through outlining the following ways the Service intends to target problems in the future (the list is not inclusive):
- Increasing emergency response capacity.
- Targeting road maps efficiency.
- Reducing impact on environment.
- Matching the resources with risks in an area.
- Target part-time contracts.
- Improve safety in houses and reducing risks of people living independently.
- Increasing flood awareness producing a new water safety plan.
- Increasing efficiency of (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010a).
It can be stated from the key areas targeted by Kent Fire and Rescue Services that the framework used in CAA is will be too costly to target individual performance objectives set by each council. In that regard, the rationale for abolishing CAA reports was saving the costs produced by government inspections. Accordingly, targeting different objectives will lead to that different efforts will e required by the government for monitoring. Thus, the role of reporting will be set on local authorities, with the need for a new approach to be taken, where fewer burdens would be put on the government, and where more transparency will be given to local people.
There are several QA systems that can be used in the context of fire and rescue services. One of which is the standards established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Such standards can be seen as rules which “define practices that are universally recognised and accepted for assuring that organisations consistently understand and meet the needs of their customers” (Kantner, 2000). ISO 9000 are generic standards, where they are not related to any specific industry or field, and thus, they can be flexible in their adaptation to a particular context.
In that regard, the main framework within which the ISO is implemented is focusing on customers’ needs, where the output of the organisation, a service in the case of Fire and Rescue, will meet customers’ satisfaction. Different ISO families focus on different aspects in terms of quality, such as the fundamentals of quality management, the requirements for implementing a quality management system, guidance for improvement, and guidelines regarding quality (Kantner, 2000). Taking the fact that ISO standards are “generic enough to apply to virtually all supplier/customer relationships anywhere in the world” (Kantner, 2000), such standards can be applicable to the goals projected by the IRMP of Kent Fire and Rescue Service, just as with any other goals. The main point will be in taking a specific need of customers, where the latter can replace any stakeholder in the context of the fire and rescue service, e.g. employees, local community, elderly people, etc, and working toward achieving those needs as a standard.
It can be stated that there are examples of implementing ISO standards in the field of public services in Makana, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The reasons for implementing ISO standards conform to the position of the government in changing service quality policies, which is moving from local authorities reporting to central government to local authorities that report to people (Parry, 2010). In the case of Makana, such rationale is rephrased as providing “assurance to all our stakeholders, i.e. residents, business, government, suppliers and investors that the Municipality is committed to quality service delivery and international benchmarks” (NAIDOO, n.d.). Among the effects of implementing ISO the development of instructions to follow when responding to disasters is one of the highlights. There are challenges, however, specifically in managing non-conformity actions in service delivery (NAIDOO, n.d.).
Another QA system can be seen through the implementation of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) standards. Those standards are mainly applicable in the context of improving the practices in health and safety management. According to the strategy document of HSE the objectives outlined include the following:
- The reduction of the work related fatalities.
- Commitment and recognition of health and safety.
- Increasing the motivation and the contribution of those involved in the health system.
- Ensuring accountability in the failures in the health and safety duties (HSE, 2011).
It should be added that despite the fact that HSE is related to health and safety practices, its implementation can be extended to other aspects as well. At the same time, even in what concerns health and safety, it can be stated that the overall objectives of HSE are compatible with the Fire and Rescue Service National Framework 2008–11. The latter is specifically emphasised in the area of workforce development, where ensuring health and safety of operation al staff is among the objectives and the goals of the framework (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2008). Accordingly, it can be stated that the HSE is also compatible with the new changes in the policy of quality improvements. Similar to ISO standards, the emphasis in HSE is on local authorities, who “have wider responsibilities for the safety of local communities” (HSE, 2011).
The main problem in the implementation of HSE standards can be seen in HSE being a governmental regulatory body. With the main focus of the new policy changes in reducing the governmental spending, HSE takes the inspection role, rather than local authorities. In that regard, Kent Fire and Rescue Services might be able only to take the standards and the measure for improvement, and include them as an element of performance reports. It should be mentioned that according to the 2009 Statement of Accounts of Kent Fire and Rescue Service, the organisation already contains compliance with health and safety measures.
One of the compliance methods is the standards of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which in the aforementioned statement of account reached 86% (Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, 2010b). Similar to ISO, performance is measured against standards agreed upon, which are used to identify where the improvements are needed (HSE, 2011). Self-monitoring is used, where the elements inspected include the hardware and the software, the failure in which triggers an investigation of the underlying causes of such failures.
Another standard that can be used in performance measuring by Kent Fire and Rescue Service can be seen through the framework established by European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM). Such framework provides a model for improvement and quality assurance, which can be seen through EFQM Excellence model. Similar to ISO standards, the underlying principles of EFQM are generic and applicable to any kind of organisations. EFQM Excellence Model contains five enabler criteria with several sub-criteria, which can be seen through the following (Dahlgaard-Park and Dahlgaard, 2006):
- Development of mission, vision, values, etc.
- Personal involvement.
- Interaction with customers and partners.
- Policy and Strategy
- Based on present and future needs
- Based information from performance management
- Developed, reviewed, and updated.
- Communicated and deployed through a framework of key processes.
- Managed and improved
- Competencies identified, developed and sustained.
- Involved and empowered.
- A dialogue is present.
- Partnership and Resources
- Partnerships are managed
- Finances are managed.
- Buildings, equipment, and materials.
- Technology is managed.
- Information and knowledge are managed.
- Processes are designed and managed.
- Processes are improved
There are other systems for Quality assurance from which different measures of performance can be used. It is recommended, however, that to apply EFQM model for a consistency with the new policies and the organisation’s objectives for the future.
EFQM Excellence Model
Analysing the plans of the organisation, for example for 2005/2006, it can be stated that there is areas for action and improvement are limited to risk analysis and standards, community safety, emergency, response, and changes to working practice. Those objectives, although include other sub-indicators, cannot be stated to cover the whole organisation, where mostly in each of the areas a compliance to a governmental standard or requirement is maintained. EFQM Excellence Model, in that regard, can be modified to include all the aspect in organisation, including those that might occur in the future. With the Fire and Rescue Service being largely a management institution, it can be stated that the excellence model provide a managerial framework which is compatible with management theories. Some criteria might have more dependency than others, but in general, it is stated that such model is an excellent management control.
Accordingly, the generic nature of the standards imply that they can be modified in the future, as long as the responsibility lays in the hand of local authorities to report performance and their expectations in that matter. One of the main areas in which EFQM has an advantage can be seen in having less reporting burdens. The example of such criteria in EFQM model as partnership and resources, and corresponding sub-criteria such as the management of finances can be seen to correspond to the requirement of a standardised of times spending, on which the government is working. Accordingly, the flexibility, in such approach can be seen in that the organisation will be able to both develop its own standards and conform to any requirements in which the government will keep its oversight, such as spending.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is recommended that Kent Fire and Rescue Service take the framework proposed by EFQM Excellence model as a tool for management and control. The criteria used in such model can be used for quality assurance that will correspond to both the objectives set by the organisation’s IRMP and the changes in the policy regarding the improving process. The generic nature of EFQM is similar to ISO standards, but nevertheless, the criteria and sub-criteria are more helpful in developing the framework.
The present report provided an assessment of the way Kent Fire and Rescue Service will be able to conform to the new changes in the policies regarding performance assessment. In addition to an overview of QA systems used, the report provided recommendations on using EFQM Excellence model as a general framework for management, control, and improvement. It can be concluded that such model will aid the organisation in achieving its aims, goals, and objectives.
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