FiReControl project money up in smoke

Remember the last government’s grand plans for regional FiReControl centres? If not let me jog your memory, they were the ones with no staff but luxury £6,000 Brasilia coffee machines.

The idea was to replace 46 fire control rooms in England with nine purpose-built regional centres. The Coalition Government scrapped the project at the end of last year to prevent further loss of taxpayers’ money. It had taken seven years and the NAO has today confirmed that £469 million had been wasted on the project.

One problem was that local fire and rescue services didn’t support the plans from day one.  Add the obligatory expensive and badly managed IT contract into the mix along with lashings of oversights then boil vigorously for seven years... and voila, you’ve wasted almost £500 million!

No computer system was ever delivered. The report lays the blame squarely at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for rushing in at the start of the project and then mismanaging “the IT contractor’s performance and delivery”. The NAO must be sick and tired of repeating this phrase in their reports. How many times need they say it before politicians and civil servants finally do something about it?

“Poorly managed consultants” also get a mention. Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said "essential checks and balances in the early stages of the project were ineffective”.

This costly failure has an expensive legacy. Eight of the new control centres remain empty but taxpayers are still forking out for rent bills and security for these ghost-offices. One in the West Midlands is costing £1.4 million a year to sit empty, according to the Birmingham Post, and the Government is tied into paying rent on the centres for years to come. Worse still they're paying rent at way over the market rates. A property expert tells me the government agreed to lease the London Fire Control centre in Merton (where rents are about £15 per square foot) for the sort of price per square foot that hedge funds pay for their offices in Mayfair.

The NAO says DCLG is now trying to minimise the future cost of the project by subsidising fire and rescue services to use the buildings. However, all that is certain in the future of these buildings is that taxpayers are still bearing the cost.

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