Government locked into £342m rental costs for empty FireControl premises until 2033

The government is locked into spending £342m on rent for empty premises originally intended to house the £1.4bn FiReControl project, abolished last year.

The government is locked into spending £342m on rent for empty premises originally intended to house the £1.4bn FiReControl project, abolished last year.

The FiReControl project, started in March 2004, was conceived to reduce the number of control rooms handling emergency calls. But the FiReControl technology contract with EADS was terminated in December 2010, after £40m had been spent trying to replace England's 46 emergency call centres with nine regional sites.

The government is contractually tied into paying rent on sites until 2033, The Observer newspaper has learnt. Of the nine buildings, six are owned by offshore property companies based in Jersey, said the newspaper.

The £342m rental figure was revealed in a series of parliamentary questions in 2007 and 2008. The rent commitments mean the taxpayer is now paying £1.4m each month for the premises. Only the London site will be used for its original purpose.

Duncan Milligan, head of communications at the Fire Brigades Union, said the building contracts should not have been signed before the IT project was deemed operational.

"The leases were agreed in August 2005 but the government didn't sign the contract for the technology until nearly two years later. Then it ran into obvious problems as there were no proper specifications given to EADS as to what it wanted.

"It's ridiculous to sign leases without having any clear idea about the feasibility of the technology behind the project and then tie the taxpayer into leasing those buildings for 20-25 years.

A spokeswoman from Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the department was looking into ways of renting the buildings out to mitigate losses.

The DCLG spokeswoman said: "Our preferred option is for Fire and Rescue Services to use the buildings, as they are highly resilient and built for this purpose. We have been discussing options with Fire and Rescue Services and Authorities around the country since the FiReControl project closed in December."

Where there is no fire and rescue interest, the buildings will be offered to other suitable tenants: "Our aim is to be fair to Fire and Rescue Services and achieve the best possible value for money for the taxpayer," she said.

But many believe the DCLG is unlikely to recover the full rental costs. "They will represent on-going losses," said Duncan Milligan.

The spokeswoman said FiReControl was closed down because the main contractor could not deliver to an acceptable timescale and the project was not delivering for Fire and Rescue Services.

The National Audit Office is examining the project and is expected to produce a highly critical report next month.

The rental costs of each regional control centre are shown in the following table:

Regional control centre Estimated cost (£ million) Lease term (years)
East Midlands 45 25
East of England 50 25
North East 31 20
North West 45 25
South East 54 25
South West 34 20
West Midlands 50 25
Yorkshire and Humberside 33 20

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