Auditor declares FiReControl a 'comprehensive failure'

Years: 7, dosh spent: £469m, Systems delivered: ZERO

The project to create nine regional control centres for fire and rescue linked by a new IT system has been a comprehensive failure, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

A newly published report from the government auditor, "The failure of the FiReControl project", says the scheme was fatally flawed because the department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) did not have the powers to mandate the use of appropriate equipment by local fire and rescue services or dictate the standards to be followed.

CLG rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures during initiation and the early stages. As a result it committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits, an unrealistic delivery timetable, and agreed an inadequate contract with its IT supplier Cassidian (formerly EADS Defence and Security).

The report says the department under-appreciated the project's complexity, and then mismanaged the IT contractor's performance and delivery. It relied too much on poorly managed consultants and failed to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor.

It also failed to make a clear case for a standard model of call handling and mobilisation, or for how FireControl could produce efficiencies, and did not provide any incentives for local services to support its delivery.

It terminated the contract in December 2010, seven years after it began, and spent at least £469m with no IT system delivered and eight of the nine new regional control centres remaining empty and costly to maintain. The only one being used is in London, with CLG subsidising the lease payments.

CLG is now trying to minimise the future cost of the project by subsidising fire and rescue services to use the regional control centres instead of the 46 local control rooms they were meant to replace.

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. Essential checks and balances in the early stages of the project were ineffective. It was approved on the basis of unrealistic estimates of costs and under-appreciation of the complexity of the IT involved, and the project was hurriedly implemented and poorly managed.

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

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

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