Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Regional fire project a 'failure'

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles attacked Labour's handling of a fire control centre scheme

A controversial project to build new fire control rooms has been dubbed a "comprehensive failure" after a damning report revealed that almost half a billion pounds had been "wasted".

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the Firecontrol project, launched by the previous Labour government, was flawed from the start because it did not have the support of fire and rescue services.

The Department for Communities and Local Government was accused of rushing the start of the programme to replace the 46 fire control rooms in England with nine purpose-built regional centres, and of failing to follow proper procedures.

The coalition Government announced at the end of last year that the project was being scrapped, seven years after it started, but the NAO report revealed that at least £469 million had been wasted.

No computer system had been delivered and eight of the new control centres remained empty and costly to maintain, said the report.

"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," said the NAO report.

"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 NAO said 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.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "This official report represents another damning indictment of Labour's track record on expensive IT projects. It is no surprise that Labour led the country to the brink of bankruptcy when they can't even manage the spiralling costs of a misguided project.

"Taxpayers deserve better than for £500 million of their hard-earned money to be wasted on Labour's uncosted and unplanned IT schemes. This was John Prescott's folly, but Labour ministers were more interested in saving face than saving taxpayers' money."

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