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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has accused the government of wasting money on expensive IT consultants instead of ploughing funds into the fire service itself.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) reveals that £31.1m has been budgeted for IT consultants, as part of the emergency fire control project. The FBU warns that this is close to eclipsing the £42.3m the government estimates will be saved by the project. That figure was leaked from a confidential ODPM report earlier in the year.

However, an ODPM spokeswoman said that the FBU was distorting the figures, and that the £31m was the estimated cost of "professional support to the project over its whole lifetime".

She added that the full cost of the project was £988m, meaning that fees paid to IT consultants accounted for just three per cent of the total.

"The FireControl project is itself a result of an independent review of fire and rescue control rooms by Mott MacDonald, which concluded that current arrangements were costly and inefficient," she said. "When the Government consulted widely on the report in December 2003 there was broad support for the new approach."

The FireControl Project will consolidate the 46 local fire control offices across England into nine regional control offices. The FBU says that the new system in unnecessary, expensive and will not save any lives. It argues that the £31m earmarked for consultants would be better spent on 1,000 additional fire fighters, or on arson reduction initiatives.

"They are wasting money on IT consultants chasing another technology rainbow. There is no pot of savings at the end of this rainbow," said FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack. "This is very expensive, very risky project and it won't save any lives. They must bin it before they waste any more public money."

138 cross-party MPs have now signed Early Day Motion 229, or its amendment, raising concerns about the project. ®

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