20 Sep 2011

Just criticism for dire fire control centre project

The BBC report that the project aimed to replace 46 fire control centres with nine state-of-the-art regional centre has wasted £469m. The plans were for the county's dedicated control room at the combined emergency TriService centre at Quedgeley was due to close and move to a headquarters in Taunton. The plan to replace 46 smaller control rooms was scrapped in December 2010.

The public accounts committee has just said that the Firecontrol scheme had not achieved any of its objectives and that eight of the centres were empty "white elephants". The BBC report that Fire Minister Bob Neill said Labour must be held accountable for the "comprehensive failure". Margaret Hodge, who chairs the MPs' committee, said the project had been "flawed from the outset" and one of the worst wastes of public money for many years. "The taxpayer has lost nearly half a billion pounds and eight of the completed regional control centres remain as empty and costly white elephants."

The MPs' report said the IT system "was simply never delivered" and that the empty buildings cost the taxpayer £4m every month to maintain. This was indeed a complete failure by Government to listen - Stroud District at a Full Council meeting even joined in and voted against Labour plans to scrap the TriService at Quedgeley in Gloucestershire (see here).

This issue is something I campaigned against as long ago as 2005 - see Green party press release here. Here is some of what I said then: "The Government's track record on large scale technology projects is very poor. This latest report lists 70 Whitehall computer projects having difficulties. This comes on top of a history of the failures that include tax credits payments, immigration and national insurance records and the Criminal Records Bureau. Among the most spectacular computer fiascos are the new £6bn NHS national system for booking operations, which is more than a year late and has so far arranged 63 appointments; the Passport Office spending £12.6m to clear backlogs when system failed; the computerisation of magistrates court records, up from £146m to £390m; and the tax credit system - damned by the parliamentary ombudsman - that has contributed to £1.9bn in overpayments that now have to be clawed back." 

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