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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@Angus Wood: I don't think it's particularly fair to tar all "government workers" with the same brush. For instance, the Fire Service is, generally speaking, fairly good at dealing with fires. The Ambulance Service is, again generally speaking, fairly good at dealing with emergency medical care. And so on. What none of these people are good at dealing with is complex IT projects.
Clearly, some of that is because these people don't have backgrounds in IT and someone has been promoted into the "IT Manager" position who came up through the ranks of dealing with something completely different. Or they were told by central government to outsource the whole thing because it wasn't a core competency. And now your public sector worker is expected to manage a complex outsourcing contract as well!
And, of course, the private sector never gets these wrong, do they? Do they? Of course they do, and they get it wrong for the same reason that the public sector does: because these are political decisions that have nothing to do with 95% of the division's staff and are never really worked through with someone who actually has some insight into the real problem. CEO of large company or director of large government bureaucracy (or, worse, MP of some piddling constituency) reads something in the loo about how integrating your IT systems can save you a bundle if you call IBM/Fujitsu/whoever. So they go and make it a policy without trying to grapple with what could possibly go wrong.
So fire the bosses, but don't pretend that "the public sector can't be trusted". After all, you trust them with your health, education, etc.
FiRE Control Project
Was a complete bodge from day 1. As someone who works in a Fire Brigade Control Room, it was very clear to me as well as everyone else that the whole concept was flawed.
Dropping from 46 to 9 was supposedly bringing more resilience and redundancy into the entire network. FAIL !
The locations of the new 'Centres' were meant to be in areas considered resilient to natural events such as flooding etc, yet more than one were built in areas that are historically known to have been effected by flooding. FAIL !
The so called 'networked' approach to the new centres meant that a Brigade in Scotland or the north of England could mobilise applianes in London for example, and vice versa. Yet there was never any kind of real time information update except for your own resources. FAIL !
The 'new' system would include a brand new nationwide interoprable radio network that would be all singing and all dancing. This has already been up and running for the last 3 years, paid for from a different budget. FAIL !
The 'new' system would be very cost efficient, yet it would have proved far cheaper to replace the mobilising system in every existing Control Room at a cost of no more than £1M each and achieve total modernisation across the board for a total of no more than £50M. FAIL !
Brigades would be able to take calls and mobilise appliances for their 'neighbouring' brigades. This has been happening for over 20 years already and works extremely well. FAIL !
The system would be designed and built by experts following extensive consultation to make it the most efficient and up to date system available. The actual 'consultants' in a lot of cases were ex Fire Service senior officers, who knew there was a cash cow and starting milking it for ridiculous amounts of money. They got away with this by simply telling the government what it wanted to hear. Ex Fire Service officers are not and never will be I.T consultants. FAIL !
Fire engines would have satellite based navigation systems which would allow the nearest appliance to sent to an incident to cut down attendance times. Brigades already use proximity based systems and quite a few have SatNav/GPS systems in their appliances, so it would have made little if any difference. FAIL !
The local knowledge that is so important to us to help keep things running smoothly, could, according to a certain ex minister 'be put into a databse and used when required'. Yet the government has admitted time and time again with other similar organisations that local knowledge makes a massive difference in service delivery. EPIC FAIL !
I could go on all night posting cock-up after cock-up in relation to this project that was doomed from its inception.
What has happened since ?
The Fire Service has gone back to continually providing excellent levels of performance and service delivery, despite being put through the mill like so many other public services, due in no small part to the good will of the rank and file shop floors members who make it work.
Management continue to book meetings....
"a standard model of call handling and mobilisation"
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