Regional fire control rooms a 'failure' says NAO

So far £469 million has been spent on the FiReControl project
So far £469 million has been spent on the FiReControl project

By Phil Scullion

A project to replace 46 local fire and rescue control rooms with nine regional centres has been dubbed a "comprehensive failure" by the National Audit Office.

John Prescott, then Labour's deputy prime minister, launched the FiReControl project, which has so far cost £469 million, in an attempt to provide a more national control system which would make use of a new IT system.

Despite lasting seven years, the project failed to deliver the IT system and eight of the nine regional control centres remain empty.

In December 2010 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) finally terminated the IT contract to avoid more money being wasted.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "This is yet another example of a government IT project taking on a life of its own, absorbing ever-increasing resources without reaching its objectives.

"The rationale and benefits of a regional approach were unclear and badly communicated to locally accountable fire and rescue services who remained unconvinced."

He added that the costing of the project was unrealistic and it had been hurriedly implemented and poorly managed without proper checks and balances in place.

"Its legacy is the chain of expensive regional control centres whose future is uncertain," he added.

Current communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles called the report by the NAO another "damning indictment" of Labour's record on expensive IT projects - and "Prescott's folly".

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

The DCLG is now subsidising fire and rescue services to use the regional control centres in an attempt to minimise the future cost of the project.

This news come three weeks after a government advisor told that the coalition's localism drive could undermine the fire service's ability to respond to 'catastrophic' events.

Roy Wilsher, national strategy advisor for the government and chief fire officer for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue, said that greater central planning was needed for major incidents.


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