Could FiReControl be the next IT project to go?

The government has spent the last couple of months casting a critical eye over large-scale IT projects, and it's looking increasingly likely that FiReControl could be next to be hit.

The government has spent the last couple of months casting a critical eye over large-scale IT projects, and it's looking increasingly likely that FiReControl could be next to be hit.

Just last week the coalition announced it was sacking a supplier on the e-Borders project, saying Raytheon Systems had been in breach of contract since July 2009. The announcement may not be the last of its kind, with FiReControl currently under review and cancellation charges under discussion.

FiReControl aims to reduce the number of fire service control rooms from 46 across England down to nine bigger, regional centres. It started in 2004, and will now not be finished until 2012 or 2013 despite an original completion date of 2009.

The government admits it is reviewing the programme and says it is "committed to stopping the forced regionalisation of the fire service".

A recent parliamentary answer from Bob Neill, minister for the Fire Services, revealed the IT contracts for the project are costing £225m. EADS is being paid £200m to develop the IT solution, and £25m was awarded to VT Flagship to provide facilities management services.

A second parliamentary question, from Tory MP Gordon Henderson, asked the minster what cancellation charges would apply to the project. Neill answered both IT companies would receive cancellation charges, adding, "If any cancellation charges were applied, these could vary significantly depending on the circumstances in which the contracts were cancelled. Specific arrangements set out in these contracts cannot be disclosed due to commercial confidentiality."

The select committee at the Department of Communities and Local Government said in April that the project has gone so badly that the situation is now "precarious," with MPs expressing doubt over whether it will ever be delivered.

Things might not look too good, but cancelling the programme will be costly. The select committee's report estimated it will cost £8m more to stop the programme at this stage than it would to continue. Turning it around or changing the aim of FiReControl will be difficult, but it may turn out to be a better idea than stopping it altogether.

Bob Neill said in a statement, "The last Government's FiReControl project is over-budget and behind schedule. We are reviewing the whole programme to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, and we are committed to stopping the forced regionalisation of the fire service, as evident by our dismantling of the previously compulsory Regional Management Boards."

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