‘Monumental failure from start to finish’ – politician on project to regionalise UK’s fire service control rooms
Published: 04 July, 2011
A report by the National Audit Office has slammed the project managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
According to Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts: “The report details a catalogue of mismanagement, including a seemingly careless approach to fundamental elements such as costing and IT system design. Moreover, the key people needed to make the project a success – the local Fire Services – were alienated and unconvinced of the benefits.
“Both I and my colleagues will have some tough questions for the Department for Communities and Local Government when it comes before us on Wednesday... With the estimated cost of the project ballooning from £120 million to four times as much, whilst running at least 5 years behind schedule, why did it take so long to put this project out of its misery and scrap it?
“We will want to know how the Department got into this mess and why taxpayers will be saddled with a burden of at least £469 million. All they will have to show for it are nine white elephants - purpose built regional control centres which nobody wants and no one is likely to use, but which will continue to waste taxpayers’ money for the next 20 years.”
The project to replace the 46 Fire and Rescue Service’s local control rooms across England with nine purpose-built regional control centres linked by a new IT system has been a comprehensive failure, according to the National Audit Office.
The Department for Communities and Local Government acted to cut its losses by terminating the contract in December 2010, seven years after it had begun, but at least £469 million will have been wasted, with no IT system delivered and eight of the nine new regional control centres remaining empty and costly to maintain.
The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success – local Fire and Rescue Services. The Department tried to impose a national control system, without having sufficient mandatory powers and without properly consulting with the Fire and Rescue Services. These local bodies prize their distinctiveness and the freedom they have to choose their own equipment.
The Department rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures. Ineffective checks and balances during initiation and early stages meant the Department committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits and an unrealistic delivery timetable, and agreed an inadequate contract with its IT supplier. The Department under-appreciated the project’s complexity, and then mismanaged the IT contractor’s performance and delivery.
The Department failed to provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, over-relying on poorly managed consultants and failing to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor. The Department took a firmer grip of the project from 2009 and terminated the contract in December 2010 to avoid even more money being wasted.
The Department is now trying to minimise the future cost of the project by subsidising Fire and Rescue Services to use the Regional Control Centres. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “This is yet another example of a Government IT project taking on a life of its own, absorbing ever-increasing resources without reaching its objectives.
The rationale and benefits of a regional approach were unclear and badly communicated to locally accountable fire and rescue services who remained unconvinced. Essential checks and balances in the early stages of the project were ineffective. It was approved on the basis of unrealistic estimates of costs and under-appreciation of the complexity of the IT involved and the project was hurriedly implemented and poorly managed. Its legacy is the chain of expensive regional control centres whose future is uncertain.”
The report is available below.