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Gov coughs extra £81m for firefighter command & control

'Need is as great as it was before the huge cockup'

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The government has said it is to invest £81m in fire and rescue authorities in England to "improve the resilience, efficiency and technology in their control services" following a damning report into FiReControl by the National Audit office.

In a written ministerial statement published on 5 July, fire minister Robert Neill announced plans to provide up to £1.8m for each fire authority. Services will be asked to submit their plans by 4 November and these plans will be assessed on value for money and resilience improvements, Neill said.

A further £1.8m will also be made available to the sector as a whole for initiatives that the government believes are likely to deliver co-ordination and resilience improvements across fire and rescue services, such as the development of common technical and procedural standards.

"The great majority of those responding to the consultation believed that improved resilience and efficiency, and the enhanced technology needed to support these were as important today as when FiReControl began in 2004," he said.

"Most responding also agreed with the government's preferred approach of achieving these objectives now through encouraging increased collaboration in a locally determined manner with some government support."

Neill's statement was accompanied by the publication by Communities and Local Government (CLG) of the responses to the consultation on fire and rescue services. Its concluding section says the funding should be sufficient to meet the local costs of improving data capabilities, making use of facilities such as the Firelink radio system.

It adds that the department will not monitor individual local projects, but will need to assure resilience outcomes. CLG is beginning work on a new Fire and Rescue Service National Framework, which will define national and local resilience roles and look at interoperability between services.

The project to build an IT system for regional fire control centres was labelled a "comprehensive failure" by the government auditor in a report published last week.

Brian Coleman, chairman of the Local Government Association's fire services management committee, expressed support for the government's position. "Fire and rescue services devoted a lot of resources working with government on FiReControl," he said. "Although there remained fundamental problems with the infrastructure of the project, there are elements which are of value to the service. In the interests of the taxpayer it's vital these investments are not wasted and authorities can now consider how the equipment can best be used."

He added: "This £81m should go a long way to ensuring authorities can build resilience by putting together alternative upgrades, and it's cash which will stretch even further where they combine efforts to find savings."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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