The failure of the FiReControl project

1 July 2011

Full report: The failure of the FiReControl project

The project to replace the 46 Fire and Rescue Services’ local control rooms across England with nine purpose-built regional control centres linked by a new IT system has been a comprehensive failure, according to the National Audit Office. The Department for Communities and Local Government acted to cut its losses by terminating the contract in December 2010, seven years after it had begun, but at least £469 million will have been wasted, with no IT system delivered and eight of the nine new regional control centres remaining empty and costly to maintain.

The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success – local Fire and Rescue Services. The Department tried to impose a national control system, without having sufficient mandatory powers and without properly consulting with the Fire and Rescue Services. These local bodies prize their distinctiveness and the freedom they have to choose their own equipment.

The Department rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures. Ineffective checks and balances during initiation and early stages meant the Department committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits and an unrealistic delivery timetable, and agreed an inadequate contract with its IT supplier. The Department under-appreciated the project’s complexity, and then mismanaged the IT contractor’s performance and delivery. The Department failed to provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, over-relying on poorly managed consultants and failing to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor.

The Department took a firmer grip of the project from 2009 and terminated the contract in December 2010 to avoid even more money being wasted. The Department is now trying to minimise the future cost of the project by subsidising Fire and Rescue Services to use the Regional Control Centres.

"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."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 1 July 2011

Notes for Editors

  • The Regional Control Centres were expected to improve on the then current local arrangements for dealing with emergency fire calls by providing purpose built, secure and resilient facilities which were networked so that each could back each other up.
  • London Fire Brigade signed the London Regional Control Centre lease in March 2011, although the Department will continue to subsidise their lease payments.
  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.
Contact: Phil Groves
PN: 36/11
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