Empty buildings rented by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for its failed £469m FireControl project are still costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, five years after the initiative was scrapped.
DCLG has sub-let five of the nine Regional Control Centres which were left abandoned, but is struggling to shift the four remaining centres due to their purpose-built nature and locations. A report highlighting the progress the department has made over the past few years stated that without spending money on redesigning the facilities they are not fit for a lot of purposes.
“When compared to the prevailing property market, the comparatively high annual running costs result in these niche assets being exceptionally difficult to dispose of,” it said.
“Even where sites have been disposed of, due to the high running costs we have not been able to transfer the full costs of the facilities to the occupiers.”
The FireControl project was scrapped in 2010 at a cost of £469m, with MPs dubbing it the worst government IT failure of all time. The fire service was left with several empty properties intended to house new control rooms for the completed IT system. The government was initially locked into spending £342m on renting the empty buildings, costing taxpayers £1.4m each month for the unused premises.
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The DCLG report stated these costs have been reduced by lowering the cost of maintenance.
“We have reduced future estimated property costs to the department by over £100m. Since 2010, facilities management costs have been reduced annually, reflecting a total saving of approximately 79%, equating to around £3m,” it said.
Only six of the 22 Future Control Room projects subsequently designed as an alternative for FireControl have now been completed. These projects aim to create efficient local control centres, with central government support and interoperability with other control rooms and emergency services.
“While the FireControl project was not delivered, it was accepted that the changes and benefits programmed for delivery were still relevant to a modern Fire and Rescue Service,” the DCLG report stated.
In 2013, the FireControl replacement project was already running late and over budget shortly after it started, with the Public Accounts Committee citing a lack of IT procurement and skills.