FireControl project on the rocks?

FireControl project on the rocks?

With the general election looming there is a lot of political hot air flying around about the billions to be saved from stemming government waste and delivering efficiency savings within the State Apparatus.  A report last week by a Commons Select Committee shows how difficult this will be.

It was some time ago that this Government announced its plans to “modernize” the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) which included FiReContol – the creation of nine super regional control (read call) centre’s to replace the 49 local centre’s. The FRS network was generally opposed and highly suspicious that the real motive was manpower reduction not service improvement.

The report published appropriately on April Fool’s day by the Communities and Local Government Committee of MP’s damned the project as “inadequately planned, poorly executed and badly managed leaving it in a precarious position”. The IT element is in its usual mess and the report concludes that there is currently no agreed project plan with the principle outside contractors. This is truly unbelievable incompetence that would be unacceptable in any other organization.

The financial figures are dire. The original project costs have risen from a projected £120 million in 2004 to £460million today whilst the projected FRS efficiency saving have plummeted from 28% of running costs per annum to just 9% down from £28 million to £6million /annum in cash terms and falling. Overall the project that was intended to save the taxpayer £86million is now projected to end in negative territory to the tune of £240 million.

The CLG argued that not all the money has been wasted. They had built 9 bright new shiny Control Centres and 3 even had furniture and IT equipment. Of course they are nowhere near operational and the project is already 2 years behind schedule.

Given the amount of our cash already spent the Committee conceded it is arguably too late to cancel the project but warned that unless the CLG department can secure “urgent agreement on a viable project plan in which the main stakeholders can have confidence”, cancellation was not ruled out.

And therein is the rub. For now at least there is no legal compulsion for the main stakeholders, the local Fire and Rescue Services, to integrate their services into the FiReControl project.  As most were against the idea in the first place I can’t see them rushing to opt in if and when it finally gets operational.

Responding to the report, fire minister Shahid Malik – yes we have a minister for fire – said: “I believe the project is in a better position than ever before” from which we can only conclude it had been a whole lot worse if that were possible!!

Meanwhile the professionals in our local FRS’s continue to make significant strides to reduce accidental house fires. My own town registered a 25% reduction in 2009 over 2008 with fire injuries down 90% since 2006 thanks to community safety initiatives like free home checks, education in schools and free smoke alarms. Letting the experts do their job and encouraging them to look for efficiency savings that do not reduce fire safety will save the economy far more than the FiReControl project ever will.

Tony

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