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.