Fire project ‘loses taxpayer £469m’ after IT failings

Fire engine

A Department for Communities and Local Government fire service coordination project wasted 469 million of tax payers' money, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The FiReControl project was supposed to dismantle 46 local fire and rescue control rooms to replace them with nine high-tech facilities.

Of the nine centres built, only one is now occupied and operational, MPs said today.

Thanks to a number of failings, many of which lay in the IT side of the programme, the Labour Government-initiated project was scrapped in 2010.

The FiReControl project failed because ministers failed to listen to the voice of control staff and their professional representatives.

A significant problem lay in a lack of understanding the IT implications of the project, on behalf of the Government department, the report said.

"The department failed to understand the complexity of the IT system but prioritised building the new control centre," the report read.

"So today we have nine regional white elephants, most of which have stood empty since 2007. For all future projects, the Department should follow proper project and programme management procedures and not take on projects without ensuring it has staff with the right business change, programme management and IT skills."

NHS similarities

The PAC also pointed to significant problems in managing contractors something the Department of Health was accused of in its flawed NHS patient records initiative.

As was the case with the NHS, some of the systems were simply not delivered. The report blamed poorly constructed contracts that "lacked early milestones or mechanisms to effectively manage prime or sub-contractor performance."

In another parallel with the NHS initiative, the report criticised the department in charge for not working closely enough with the people using the systems in this case the local fire and rescue services.

"Delivery of the project was fatally undermined from the outset by the Department's failure to acknowledge the independence and local accountability of local services and work to build their support for the project," the PAC added.

Despite the failure of the project, the Department for Communities and Local Government still plans to spend an extra 84.8 million construct a co-ordinated response to national incidents. Yet there are doubts about those plans as well.

"It is not clear to us how this extra spending will deliver value for money or achieve the objectives intended," said Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the lessons of the FiReControl project have not been learned and similar mistakes are now being made at a local level.

"The FiReControl project failed because ministers failed to listen to the voice of control staff and their professional representatives. We argued that the project was not resilient and there was insufficient scrutiny of costs and contracts," Wrack said.

"Now the present Government is leaving it to local fire and rescue services to clear up the mess, making ad hoc arrangements without an overall view of national resilience. There needs to be proper oversight, not the closure and merger of control rooms."

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.