The project to replace England’s 46 fire and rescue services local control rooms with nine purpose-built regional control centres linked by a new IT system has been attacked as a ‘comprehensive failure’, and a waste of at least £469 million of taxpayers money, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The seven-year project was finally cancelled by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in December 2010 after losses continued to mount and with no IT system delivered and eight of the nine new regional control centres remaining empty and costly to maintain.
The NAO report said that 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 FiReControl project commenced in 2004 and was expected to be complete by October 2009. In 2007, DCLG contracted European Air and Defence Systems (EADS) (now Cassidian) to design, develop and install the computer system underpinning the project.
However, the project was subject to a number of delays, as Cassidian struggled to deliver the IT system to the agreed cost and timetable. When costs continued to escalate DCLG cancelled the project in December 2010 after concluding that it could not be delivered to an acceptable timeframe.
At the point the decision was made, DCLG estimated it had spent £245 million on the project and calculated that completion would take the total cost of the project to £635 million, more than five times the original estimate of £120 million.
When the IT contract was cancelled, DCLG received a settlement of £22.5 million from Cassidian, but DCLG had paid Cassidian £40 million. After DCLG retained equipment worth £5.7 million the end result was an overall net payment of £11.7 million being paid to Cassidian.
All nine regional control centres were delivered before the cancellation of the project. DCLG has since incurred costs of £32 million in upkeep of the empty centres to the end of March 2011.
However, the NAO did conclude that DCLG made the right move in cancelling the project when it did, but stated that overall the scheme represented bad value for money.
In April this year Wireless, in association with Airwave, invited DCLG officials, senior fire offices and suppliers to discuss the future of fire control in England. You can read a digest of the discussion on the Wireless website.
Key findings from the report
• The approach and regional structure underpinning the project were not generally supported by those that were essential to its success – fire and rescue services.
• The Department did not sufficiently incentivise local Fire and Rescue Authorities to partner in FiReControl’s delivery.
• The Department underestimated the complexity of designing a system to meet the needs of fire and rescue services, while exaggerating the benefits and then failed to provide effective management.
• FiReControl was based on unrealistic estimates of project costs and expected local savings.
• Governance arrangements in the first five years of the project were complex and ineffective, which led to unclear lines of responsibility and slow decision-making.
• The project lacked consistent leadership and direction, and was characterised by a high turnover of staff and over-reliance on poorly managed consultants.
• Until 2009, the Department did not take a sufficient grip to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor for the IT system.
• Poor contract design impeded the resolution of issues and the termination of the project at an earlier stage.
• The Department took action from June 2010 and committed to holding Cassidian to contract, with a view to terminating if it could not deliver, whilst reducing the risks to the Department posed by termination.
• The Department was justified in cancelling the project.
• On terminating the IT contract, the Department received a settlement of £22.5 million from Cassidian, but during the project made an overall net payment to Cassidian.
• The Department’s failure to manage the project as a whole has resulted in the creation of empty regional control centres.
• The Department is trying to reduce ongoing future waste by incentivising local fire and rescue services to use the empty regional control centres.
• The cancellation of FiReControl means local control room functionality and interoperability continues to be variable.