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A £330 million programme has enhanced the 46 English Fire and Rescue Services’ capacity to respond to terrorist attacks and other catastrophic incidents such as major flooding.  But better value for money could have been secured in the procurement of the specialist vehicles and equipment, according to a National Audit Office report out today.

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The New Dimension programme was introduced following the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001.  It involved procuring specialist vehicles and equipment, training 10,000 firefighters, and helping to prepare Fire and Rescue Services to tackle terrorist and other major incidents.  The equipment has already been used successfully at three major incidents to date: the Buncefield fire, the 2007 summer floods, and at the Warwickshire warehouse collapse in November 2007.

There appear to be sufficient numbers of firefighters trained for all but one of the equipment types.  The Fire Service College carries out most of the training, although firefighters training in Urban Search and Rescue were sent to Texas before September 2005 as College facilities were not ready.

Funding uncertainty and poor programme, project and financial management in the early days of the project resulted in delays in introducing the equipment and significant cost overruns.  A fraud of £867,200 within the programme remained undetected for 9 months and in procuring one vehicle type, for example, poor contracting and record keeping resulted in a delay of a year and unnecessary costs of between £3 and £8 million.

Improvements in programme and financial management have since been made. But more still needs to be done to address weaknesses which might hamper future incident response. In particular the department need to address uncertainties over the respective roles of national co-ordinating bodies and develop a strategy for national and regional multi-agency practice exercises.

“The New Dimension programme has helped provide the Fire and Rescue Services with the specialist equipment and training it needs to respond to terrorist and other major catastrophic incidents. But better value for money could have been achieved, and the project has been subject to considerable delays. The Department for Communities and Local Government still needs to enhance major incident planning by Fire and Rescue Services for regional and national-scale incidents.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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