Has anyone lost their job over half-billion pound waste?

September 23, 2011 10:01 AM

Following Liz Holiday's earlier post, as some of the half-billion pound ‘white elephant’ FiReControl Project control centres are in the South-West, it is well worth looking at the government report itself to see the detail of the government mess-up.

'No one has been held to account for this project failure,’ concluded Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, ‘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.’

During a day of questioning the key figures involved, Stephen Barclay, a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, tried to get to the heart of whether any of the five senior civil servants managing the project had actually lost their job as a result of this half-billion pound failure.

‘No one, as far as I am aware,’ said Sir Bob Kerslake KCB, Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government. ‘None of those lost their job for poor performance,’ continued Barclay, ‘they all went elsewhere in the Civil Service, did they?’ Roger Hargreaves, the National Project Director, FiReControl, intervened with an answer. ‘I think two have retired and three are still in the Civil Service.’

Barclay then referred to his notes on the affair to clarify the situation: ‘I was told Shona Dunn is still in post; Peter Betts is now at the Department of Energy and Climate Change; Alun Evans is in the Cabinet Office on secondment to the Institute for Government, probably advising them on how to run programmes; Clive Norris has now retired; and Marie Winkler, I do not know... [now retired]’

‘What I am trying to get at,’ said Barclay, ‘is how accountability for the loss of half a billion pounds of public money has been exercised. If it was the private sector, heads would have rolled. It seems no one has lost their job as a result of this programme. Is that correct?’ ‘I think it is correct to say that no one has directly lost their job as a result of this programme,’ admitted Sir Bob Kerslake.

Earlier in the questioning, Richard Bacon, another committee member, compared the situation to ‘Lions led by donkeys. We all meet our own fire people. They are great people. [But the] point is that it is £649 million that could have been spent differently if it had been handed locally to people to be spent, with some sense of governance and control… This was an extraordinary failure of leadership that has cost nearly twothirds of £1 billion. Who is carrying the can for it?’

‘I am sitting here,’ said Sir Bob Kerslake, ‘taking responsibility for the questions that you are raising.’

‘You have a couple of hours that are slightly uncomfortable, said Bacon. ‘It is not the same.’

It was left to committee member Matthew Hancock to make the most blistering point: ‘This means that the maximum waste on this project is equivalent to around, according to my calculations, £400,000 per [fire] controller. If you think about the morale of controllers, I wonder how they feel at the thought that the Government had wasted £400,000 for each one of them in trying to allow them to talk to each other more easily. Would it not have been better to buy them all mobile phones?’

Now that is a revolutionary approach!

For anyone fascinated in the detail of how a massive loss of taxpayers’ money plays out, please read in detail the minutes of the evidence presented to the Committee of Public Accounts.

Tim Newark, Bath & South-West TaxPayers’ AllianceFollowing Liz Holiday's earlier post, as some of the half-billion pound ‘white elephant’ FiReControl Project control centres are in the South-West, it is well worth looking at the government report itself to see the detail of the government mess-up.

'No one has been held to account for this project failure,’ concluded Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, ‘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.’

During a day of questioning the key figures involved, Stephen Barclay, a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, tried to get to the heart of whether any of the five senior civil servants managing the project had actually lost their job as a result of this half-billion pound failure.

‘No one, as far as I am aware,’ said Sir Bob Kerslake KCB, Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government. ‘None of those lost their job for poor performance,’ continued Barclay, ‘they all went elsewhere in the Civil Service, did they?’ Roger Hargreaves, the National Project Director, FiReControl, intervened with an answer. ‘I think two have retired and three are still in the Civil Service.’

Barclay then referred to his notes on the affair to clarify the situation: ‘I was told Shona Dunn is still in post; Peter Betts is now at the Department of Energy and Climate Change; Alun Evans is in the Cabinet Office on secondment to the Institute for Government, probably advising them on how to run programmes; Clive Norris has now retired; and Marie Winkler, I do not know... [now retired]’

‘What I am trying to get at,’ said Barclay, ‘is how accountability for the loss of half a billion pounds of public money has been exercised. If it was the private sector, heads would have rolled. It seems no one has lost their job as a result of this programme. Is that correct?’ ‘I think it is correct to say that no one has directly lost their job as a result of this programme,’ admitted Sir Bob Kerslake.

Earlier in the questioning, Richard Bacon, another committee member, compared the situation to ‘Lions led by donkeys. We all meet our own fire people. They are great people. [But the] point is that it is £649 million that could have been spent differently if it had been handed locally to people to be spent, with some sense of governance and control… This was an extraordinary failure of leadership that has cost nearly twothirds of £1 billion. Who is carrying the can for it?’

‘I am sitting here,’ said Sir Bob Kerslake, ‘taking responsibility for the questions that you are raising.’

‘You have a couple of hours that are slightly uncomfortable, said Bacon. ‘It is not the same.’

It was left to committee member Matthew Hancock to make the most blistering point: ‘This means that the maximum waste on this project is equivalent to around, according to my calculations, £400,000 per [fire] controller. If you think about the morale of controllers, I wonder how they feel at the thought that the Government had wasted £400,000 for each one of them in trying to allow them to talk to each other more easily. Would it not have been better to buy them all mobile phones?’

Now that is a revolutionary approach!

For anyone fascinated in the detail of how a massive loss of taxpayers’ money plays out, please read in detail the minutes of the evidence presented to the Committee of Public Accounts.

Tim Newark, Bath & South-West TaxPayers’ Alliance

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