FiReControl FiAsCo

I was going to let this story pass without my commenting on it, then I heard ex-Deputy Prime Minster John Prescott making his own comment on BBC Radio 4 while trying to absolve himself of all responsibility.

The FiReControl project was started by the Labour government in 2004, with a budget of £120 million. It had the aim of replacing 46 smaller fire and rescue control rooms with nine regional control centres.

The project was eventually terminated in 2010 “with none of the original objectives achieved and a minimum of £469m being wasted“.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee was tasked with reviewing the failed project and has published their report.

Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP summed it up nicely:

The Department’s ambitious vision of abolishing 46 local fire and rescue control rooms around the country and replacing them with nine state of the art regional control centres ended in complete failure. The taxpayer has lost nearly half a billion pounds and eight of the completed regional control centres remain as empty and costly white elephants.

The success of the so-called FiReControl project crucially turned on the cooperation of locally accountable and independent Fire and Rescue Services. The Department’s failure both to recognize this and try to ensure local buy-in fatally undermined the project from the start.

The project was rushed, without proper understanding of costs or risks. The leadership relied far too much on external consultants and the frequent departures of senior staff also contributed to weak management and oversight of the project.

The contract to implement a national IT system linking the control centres was not even awarded until a full three years after the project started. The contract itself was poorly designed and awarded to a company without relevant experience. The computer system was simply never delivered.

No one has been held to account for this project failure, one of the worst we have seen for many years, and the careers of most of the senior staff responsible have carried on as if nothing had gone wrong at all and the consultants and contractor continue to work on many other government projects.

The Department now plans to spend a further £84.8 million to secure the original objectives of FiReControl, so that there is a co-ordinated response to national incidents. However it is not clear to us how this extra spending will deliver value for money or achieve the objectives intended.

This is one of the worst cases of project failure that the committee has seen in many years. FiReControl was an ambitious project with the objectives of improving national resilience, efficiency and technology by replacing the control room functions of 46 local Fire and Rescue Services in England with a network of nine purpose-built regional control centres using a national computer system. The project was launched in 2004, but following a series of delays and difficulties, was terminated in December 2010 with none of the original objectives achieved and a minimum of £469 million being wasted.

John Prescott was the minister in charge at the time. He has the barefaced cheek to claim that it wasn’t his fault, because apparently he wasn’t made aware of it! In an interview on BBC Radio 4 he said:

I had responsibility for the policy. We decided we needed a system with natural resilience built into it. We decided the policy and we told people to get on with it. It started in 2004, but clearly from what the committee says it started to go wrong in 2007/8. Of course you try to keep on top of the projects but we were told by them that it would cost about £120 (million). To go four times as much in four years is unbelievable.

Unbelievable indeed!

It is also unbelievable that as the minister in charge Prescott was totally in the dark about the lack of progress and horrific overspend. Maybe he was asleep?

As if we needed it, just one more example of the disgusting extravagance in public spending and total contempt for the taxpayer at the hands of the last Labour government. Lest we forget.