Spending watchdog slams £469m wasted on failed FireControl project

National Audit Office cites comprehensive failure of plan to reduce number of Fire Service control rooms where no IT system was ever delivered.

The failed FireControl project intended to reduce the number of Fire Service control rooms handling emergency calls through a national computer system has been slammed as a comprehensive failure by a National Audit Office report.

FireControl was terminated at the end of last year but has so far cost the taxpayer at least £469m. No IT system has been delivered and it is estimated £342m more will be spent in rental costs on the project's purpose-built control rooms, which the government is contractually locked into for the next 22 years.

The FireControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of local fire and rescue services, said the report. The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) tried to impose a national control system, without having sufficient mandatory powers and without proper consultation, revealed the NAO.

CLG failed to recognise the project's complexity and then mismanaged the IT contractor's performance and delivery. It did not provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, was over dependent on poorly managed consultants and failed to sort out early problems with delivery, said the NAO.

A lack of interim milestones also undermined the department's ability to hold its supplier EADS to account. Delays to delivery led to cash flow difficulties for EADS, which then created further tensions in an already strained relationship, said the report.

In 2009, an Office of Government Commerce review found that there was no single owner of the user requirements and that bringing together 45 sets of rules across the Fire and Rescue Service was inherently complex.

"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," said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

"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."

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