Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
10 NOVEMBER 2008
Q60 Mr Mitchell: Why did you employ
them in the first place? Why does the department or the Fire Service
not have the capability of doing this? After all, consultants
just scratch together a motley crew of so-called experts for particular
projects. You could have done that rather than pay the inflated
fees. I see in 2.11 that some consultants "charged over £1,000
per day against the average cost that the contract stated should
not exceed £500 per day ... ", and the total cost of
the consultants is £12 million. That is about 25% of the
cost of administering the programme as a whole. You cannot be
happy with that, but let me start with the question of why the
department could not do that without employing consultants.
Mr Housden: There are two basic
reasons, Mr Mitchell. First of all, the department had never done
a national procurement of this type, so it did not have in the
body of the department as civil servants enough skilled programme
and project managers, so to start with those people had to be
brought in through a consultancy firm. That is one set. The second
set is very specialist expertise that the department would only
ever use in this context [the new dimension programme] For example,
the question of where all this kit was going to be put in the
long term and how it was going to be moved around drew on, needed,
expertise in warehousing and logistics.
Q61 Mr Mitchell: But it also needed
the expertise in the Fire Service, which had it.
Mr Housden: That we had, but they
did not have national equipment that needed to be moved around,
and so this was a new issue and we brought in consultants' expertise
to do it.
Q62 Mr Mitchell: But these consultants
were supposed to be training up people and passing on their knowledge
to them. They do not appear to have done so. They appear to have
hung on in there to make the maximum money for themselves.
Mr Housden: I think there was
an element of skills transfer, in the jargon, which has enabled
the department progressively to pick up that role, particularly
in the programme and project management area, and we are now essentially
through the period of consultant input to this programme.
Q63 Mr Mitchell: But you are still
happy with Serco?
Mr Housden: I have no cause for
complaint with the contractors.
Q64 Mr Mitchell: The department is
responsible for the Fire Service College. Why does it not pull
it together? It did not have enough confidence to send people
there, as well as it being cheaper, to be trained rather than
sending them to Disaster City in Texas, which I thought was a
description of Hull. That is certainly how we see it on the south
bank. Why did they not have the confidence and why at the end
of the day are we still getting complaints, 3.10, that, "The
Fire and Rescue Services have three main concerns with the College:
high cost of courses, poor accommodation facilities, and inflexible
course scheduling"? Why did you not pull it together?
Mr Housden: It was not a question
of confidence, Mr Mitchell. The Fire Service College simply did
not have the facilities on the ground at the time to enable people
to be trained in urban search and rescue. In Texas they did and,
given the immediate needs of the country, a decision was taken,
and it sounds to me like a good one, to make use of those facilities
in Texas. The Report does include a price comparison. I do not
know the basis on which that comparison was made in terms of subsidy,
sponsorship or other things that might have reduced the charges
that were made, but ministers have shown great confidence in the
Fire Service College here by investing £8 million to enable
that rig to be developed. It gets very good reviews from firefighters
who use it and who have been trained on it, and the general point
that you make about the Fire Service College's responsiveness
and so forth of course is always work-in-progress and they are
very keen to learn from their customers, in this case the Fire
and Rescue Services.
Q65 Mr Mitchell: Let me just be a
bit parochial because I see in the Report that planning and certainly
delivery is deemed to be patchy. The Chairman and I represent
jewels of English constituencies which are on the south bank of
the Humber. It is the most profitable port in the country, it
has enormous inflows of oil and bulk cargo, it has got chemical
industries, it had Flixborough before it blew itself up. In other
words, it is an area of potential disasters. Let me ask you, since
I saw this fascinating list of equipment on page 12, how much
equipment have we got access to in South Humberside? You might
not be able to tell us now, I appreciate that, but perhaps you
could give us a note for the Committee.
First of all, there are prime movers. I thought that was God but
evidently not. What do we have in South Humberside and how quickly
can we get access to it? Further down there are detection, identification
and monitoring vehicles and high volume pumping. I would be grateful
because I have always been concerned, and we have got a very good
fire authority but we do keep trying to cut down the number of
engaged firemen, about what access we have got to equipment in
what could be a very dangerous area. Let me ask Sir KenI
see 10,000 out of 50,000 engaged firemen have been trained but
you are having difficulties in attracting people for training
on detection, identification and monitoring vehicles. Why is this?
Are they paid extra for training and, if they are not, why are
they not? This is a financial problem.
Sir Ken Knight: It is not a financial
problem, Mr Mitchell. There was a shortage at the time of the
Report. I am pleased to advise the Committee now that we are fully
trained on all of those vehicles. It is a very technical area.
We are requiring people to be able to deal with the technical
equipment on those vehicles, identify what the spillage is, identify
what the chemical is and therefore the action to be taken, but
I am pleased to report that they are now fully crewed and fully
Q66 Mr Mitchell: That is in all the
Sir Ken Knight: Yes, in all the
Q67 Mr Mitchell: Are they paid extra?
Sir Ken Knight: They are not paid
Q68 Mr Mitchell: Why not?
Sir Ken Knight: Because it is
fundamentally the role of the firefighter and it is in their job
description and role map to do this work, and actually there is
not a shortage of volunteers to do this work. They really enjoy
doing this work on the specialist equipment. I would prefer to
let you have a note on where the equipment is. I just wanted to
make the point that, of course, all the equipment is available
to Humberside because it is a national response, so it all comes
together when it needs to, as it did in Buncefield, so that it
can be brought together for a major incident.
Q69 Mr Mitchell: As it did to a degree
in the Yorkshire floods.
Sir Ken Knight: Indeed.
Q70 Mr Mitchell: The fraud intrigues
me because it was basically not a very clever fraud; it was quite
simple stuff. Why should the department be paying large sums of
money to a housing association to supply equipment to fight a
major disaster? Why was that not detected earlier?
Mr Housden: The basic thing, Mr
Mitchell, was that normally, of course, it would have been detected.
Q71 Mr Mitchell: Do you get a lot
of stuff from housing associations?
Mr Housden: It would have shown
up on a standard report as being a payment to be checked. The
individual concerned had an understanding of our financial software
which enabled him to suppress the report, so a further check a
bit down the line identified these payments and led to a police
investigation. It was not that the department was defenceless
but, of course, we have learned from that process and now have
a much more systematic set of arrangements.
Q72 Mr Mitchell: How long did the
Mr Housden: Four years, I am advised.
Mr Mitchell: And then he retires to the
South of France.
Q73 Chairman: It took you nine months
to detect the fraud, though.
Mr Housden: It was a considerable
Q74 Chairman: It was a long time.
Mr Housden: Yes, it was the best
part of that.
Q75 Nigel Griffiths: Mr Housden,
are you a fan of Strictly Come Dancing?
Mr Housden: Only at one remove.
Q76 Nigel Griffiths: In respect of
this Report I am Len Goodman, and in the face of the Craig Revel
Horwoods and what I think are some carping criticisms, I have
to say that, having been to see the London Fire and Rescue Service,
I was very impressed. If everyone who went and saw that was not
impressed I will go home and pickle my walnuts. This Report itself
I think deserves a better mark than six or seven. Yes, there are
some criticisms but the Chairman stressed the timetable slippage
and I would like to know if it resulted in any failure to protect
the public from actual terrorist incidents or suspected incidents
or catastrophic environmental events.
Mr Housden: It is difficult always
to answer those questions unequivocally, but I think that the
action the Department took in the early period whilst the equipment
was being procured, manufactured and delivered seemed to me to
be prudent and sensible. As soon as equipment has become available
it has been integrated with local responses, so generally I think
you can be confident about that.
Q77 Nigel Griffiths: If you had completed
the project by early 2003, what are the chances that the money
would have been spent on inferior equipment than was later available
and which you actually bought?
Mr Housden: On the basis that
there are, as the Report indicates, indications where poor procurement
and specification threatened value for money, had the Department
attempted to do it still more quickly then logically I think the
risks of those would have gone up. I have not seen the basis of
the estimate for 2003 as to whether a delivery date was doable
or realistic. Looking at it from this distance, the type of equipment,
the novelty and so forth, would naturally have suggested a longer
Sir Ken Knight: Can I just add
to this, if I may. It was not in the absence in the Fire and Rescue
Service planning for catastrophic disasters. We have talked about
the 7 July incident, which I said was not an unforeseen event.
There was a huge amount of planning having watched the four simultaneous
Madrid bombings take place, which mirrored what happened in London.
There was a huge exercise in Bank Underground in the City, Osiris,
which absolutely mirrored 200 firefighters being used on exercise
and then deployed on 7 July. There was not a vacuum of planning
for catastrophic events going on while this was happening.
Q78 Nigel Griffiths: Thank you, Sir
Ken. Page 5 mentions the 2005 Buncefield oil depot fire and Box
2 on page 22 highlights the flooding in the summer of 2007, particularly
in Yorkshire and the West of England. Could you have effectively
tackled those disasters with pre-New Dimension equipment?
Sir Ken Knight: We could, but
not as well I would argue. The New Dimension's high volume pumping
came into use very well indeed. The National Audit Office raised
a question, "What would have happened if all those events
over all those days had happened together, would we have run out
of equipment?" The truth is that an area of activity that
the Fire and Rescue Service does particularly well is pump water,
and there are 2,000 pumps on fire stations in this country, admittedly
a 3:1 ratio of pumping capacity compared with High Volume Pumps
and more logistics as well as Environment Agency pumps, and they
would have been deployed differently at different times in different
places, but I am confident we could have fulfilled that expectation
and that need.
Q79 Nigel Griffiths: Box 1 on page
5, the third point on High Volume Pumps, says that before the
New Dimension programme there was one larger capacity pump based
in Shropshire and now there are 46 larger capacity pumps. That
must be a step change in capacity.
Sir Ken Knight: And a huge value
that we have seen in reality.
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