The failure of the FiReControl project - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The Department failed to secure the co-operation and support of local Fire and Rescue Services. The project's success rested upon voluntary cooperation between local Fire and Rescue Services. Delivery of the project was fatally undermined from the outset by the Department's failure to acknowledge the independence and local accountability of local services and work to build their support for the project. In the future the Department must secure the buying in of those expected to use and operate new systems and must involve them in both the decision and the delivery of projects.

2.  The Department failed to apply effective checks and balances from the start. The project progressed too fast without essential checks being completed. For example Departmental and Treasury approval was given without proper scrutiny of the project's feasibility or validation of the estimated costs and savings. For all future projects, the Department must follow proper business case approval procedures and ensure that an appropriate level of challenge is applied to the approval process. Accounting Officer Directions must be sought where officials believe proposed projects do not represent value for money.

3.  The Department's management and oversight of the project was weak. The Department lacked the necessary expertise and experience to deliver the project and was over-reliant on consultants, whose performance was not managed effectively. The Department did not approach the project as being one of business transformation, but treated each element in isolation. So for instance the Department failed to understand the complexity of the IT system but prioritised building the new control centre. So today we have nine regional white elephants, most of which have stood empty since 2007. For all future projects, the Department should follow proper project and programme management procedures and not take on projects without ensuring it has staff with the right business change, programme management and IT skills

4.  The Department failed to manage delivery of the IT system by the contractor. The Department failed to follow the most basic fundamentals of good contract management. The poorly designed IT contract lacked early milestones or mechanisms to effectively manage prime or sub-contractor performance. The Department allowed the contractor to deviate from the agreed approach, and when problems did emerge, it did not take timely corrective action. The Department should ensure that all its future contracts contain terms and conditions which clearly define responsibilities and outputs, including those requirements which, if not met, would constitute a breach of contracts. Rewards and incentives must reflect the balance of risk.

5.  Despite the scale of failure and waste, no one in the Department has been held accountable. Convoluted governance arrangements, a lack of continuity among senior staff and an over-reliance on consultants impeded effective management and oversight. The Department's wider corporate governance arrangements failed to provide an effective check on the project. For future projects, the Department needs to clearly identify roles and responsibilities and to define clear lines of accountability. It should make sure that any such future projects are subject to robust challenge by its Board. More widely, Government as a whole through the Cabinet Office needs to embed a culture which accepts personal responsibility and accountability for major projects and must be clear as to how Government will address underperformance.

6.  The Department must ensure that the further £84.8 million it now intends to spend to obtain the original objectives of the FiReControl project is not wasted. The Department has made new money available to local Fire and Rescue Services to ensure greater collaboration. We are unclear how national resilience will be delivered given that collaboration between local services is not guaranteed and how the expenditure of a further £84.8 million will deliver value for money. The Department should manage the new funding as a distinct programme, with defined outputs, clear criteria for approval, appropriate milestones and transparent delivery arrangements and accountabilities.

7.  The regional control centres remain empty and expensive to run. Eight of the purpose-built regional control centres remain empty and continue to cost the taxpayer £4 million per month to maintain. It is likely that only five will be used by the Fire and Rescue Service. The Government must urgently undertake a review of fire, ambulance and police services to develop better co-operation and integration between the emergency services. This review should look at the potential for co-location so that good use can be made of the newly built fire centres which currently stand empty.

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Prepared 20 September 2011