Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

June 30, 2011 19:01 ET

National Audit Office Report-FBU Reaction

Prescott's Folly Still Costing Taxpayers £50,000 A Day, National Audit Office Slams Government Incompetence on FireControl

LONDON, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - June 30, 2011) -

Strictly not for use before 00.01 Friday 1 July

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said:

"The taxpayer has been taken to the cleaners. Millions of pounds were thrown away on management consultants, regional project directors, change co-ordinators, project assurance directors, PR and human resource directors.

"This project was run by Government with astonishing levels of incompetency. There was a wreckless use of taxpayers money at a time when frontline fire services were being cut.

"This project was badly thought out, poorly planned and managed incompetently. Throughout it all no one listened to what the professional firefighters and fire control staff were saying.

"The Fire Brigades Union was the lone voice highlighting soaring costs, incompetence and delays. The taxpayer is still paying £50,000 a day in rent for the 8 empty regional centres built to house the new control rooms.

"We gave evidence to two Select Committees. We constantly raised concerns with ministers and civil servants setting out precisely what the National Audit Office has identified.

"We paid for three reports from the Institute of Public Finance. These highlighted significant concerns which were never properly addressed.

"Our concerns going back to 2002 were ignored. We were dismissed as ignorant scaremongerers who didn't know as much as the politicians, civil servants and consultants running the project.

"This Project was and is John Prescott's folly. But the current Government has to learn from the mistakes made and take responsibility from here on in.

"We must not have local fire and rescue services, which are already seeing massive budget cuts, having to pay for this mess. Central Government created this problem, fire services face on-going costs as a result and central Government needs to pick up the tab.

BACKGROUND

The original estimates for the cost of the project may well be lower than the figures identified by the National Audit Office. They have often relied on later Business Case costs.

In a written House of Commons answer given on 27 October 2005 regarding the original cost estimates for regional fire controls then fire minister Jim Fitzpatrick said consultants Mott MacDonald "estimated project costs at £100 million, comprising project management costs, technology costs, accommodation costs and redundancy."

Selected parts from FBU evidence to the CLG Select Committee February 2010

1) The problems must be put down to lack of foresight, major errors at the beginning and since, poor project management, lack of stakeholder engagement or genuine 'sign up', an inability to take proper note of real concerns and the dismissal of doubters and sceptics out of hand.
2) Costs and timescales became totally out of control, leaving some FRS's with ageing systems that require imminent replacement. Many had not upgraded because of the expectation that a new RCC system would be in place by 2006/2007 and then later 2008/2009.
3) Many have no planned Control facility going forward. The responsibility of the fire authority remains to ensure control systems are fit for purpose to fulfil its statutory duty irrespective of the FireControl Project which may or may not be concluded.
4) Project Management was supplied by a series of Departments with little historical knowledge of the fire service, informed – if that is not putting it too strongly - by transient civil servants and consultants with no experience of delivering any fire service control system of any size, anywhere. It was overseen by a series of transient ministers.
5) The results are clear for everyone to see: no clear and consistent understanding of how emergency fire controls work, lack of leadership, controls, objectives and relevant technical expertise. Even with such a flawed process, a single 'Turnkey' contract could have removed some of the issues and led to a clear target to be achieved or penalties to be levied.
6) The original initial capital one off costs, based over 10 years, were estimated as £100 million (Mott McDonald Full Report 2003 page 143) which included new buildings (£25.2 million), systems (£36 million), project management (£12.2 million) and redundancy costs (£27.1 million) with ongoing savings on costs of maintenance (£28.1 million) and ongoing staff savings (£143.3 million).

4 January 2005 – FBU press release:

Government sent their first business case out for consultation but blanked out all the sensitive figures about costs and slashing staff numbers. The FBU were passed all the blanked out figures and said in a press release:

A controversial Government project to close all 46 fire service control centres in England has a "very high risk" of "total project failure" says a confidential report leaked to the Fire Brigades Union. The union says the report, marked restricted and confidential, highlights concerns the project will lead to cuts in fire services, push up council tax and put lives in danger.

The ODPM report – Firecontrol Project, outline business case volumes 1 and 2 - is so confidential the version given to fire authorities has all the key figures and financial estimates deleted because, it is claimed, they are "confidential or sensitive". In fact the hidden figures (leaked to the union) simply show how expensive and precarious the project is and torpedoes ministerial promises it will save money and improve the service.

Fire Brigades Union said:

"This dangerous plan will axe all our excellent command and control centres and be a financial burden on the fire service and council tax payers for years to come. It's expensive, it's risky, it won't save a single life and could end in total failure.

"Ministers are hiding the true costs from fire authorities and have made public claims which cannot possibly be justified….If such a key part of the fire service collapses into the total failure they say may very well happen then lives will be lost.

"It won't be benefits or tax credits being delayed, as happened after other Government foul ups, it will be a frontline 999 service. If the Government presses ahead with this folly they will have taken leave of their senses."

11 October 2005 – FBU press release:

FBU reaction to Regional Control announcement

The Government is heading for its next major technology disaster. They don't know how much this will cost or if it will work at all. If this goes as badly wrong as other IT projects it will put our lives at risk and the lives of the public at risk.

24 October 2008 FBU Press release:

Union warns over soaring FireControl costs

In addition there are rental costs for the new 9 regional control centre buildings of at least £400 million. Rents are already being paid on many of the new buildings rented by Government on long leases.

Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack said: "This Project has lost all credibility within the fire service. Everyone else knows this Project is already a disaster but the Government wants to plough on regardless.

"Vast amounts of public money is being wasted on a project which is unnecessary, already three years late, massively over budget and with no guarantee it will work as claimed. The Government's track record of major IT-led projects is truly appalling and this is underlined by what is happening in the fire service.

"Money is being thrown away on management consultants, regional project directors, change co-ordinators, project assurance directors, PR and human resource directors. No one ever dialled 999 and asked for any of those.

"We're short of firefighters in many brigades and in desperate need of more safety critical equipment and training at a time when firefighter deaths are at a 30-year high. Even a fraction of the money being wasted would make an enormous difference in every fire brigade.

"There needs to be a thorough public review of this entire project. A public service which provides a rapid response to save lives cannot be dealt with in this way."

26 August 2008 union warns again on soaring fire control costs

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "The public and the fire service are being taken to the cleaners. There is an army of management consultants, contractors and employment agencies swimming in taxpayer's cash.

"We're short of firefighters in many brigades and in desperate need of more safety critical equipment and training. Even a fraction of this money would make an enormous difference in every fire brigade.

"Instead, it is being wasted on management consultants, regional project directors, change co-ordinators, project assurance directors, PR and human resource directors. No one ever dialled 999 and asked for any of those.

"It is an appalling waste of public money on a project which is unnecesary, already three years late, massively over budget and with no guarantee it will work as claimed. The Government's track record of major IT-based projects is truly appalling and this is underlined by what is happening in the fire service.

"There must be an urgent independent review into what is going on with this project before it is too late. The Government thinks the project is going along splendidly, when almost everyone else in the fire service knows it is already a disaster."

8 July 2008 FBU Press release

Union warns over delays and soaring IT costs

The Fire Brigades Union has accused the Government of presiding over a fire service technology debacle over a project which is 3 years late and massively over budget. The Government has now announced that the 30% savings it promised the system would deliver will also not materialise.

The union said Government plans to close all 46 emergency fire controls in England and replace them with 9 regional centres is now in deep crisis. It said boasts and claims about the technology were being vastly overplayed in an attempt to shore up a failing project.

The costs of FireControl, as it is known, have climbed from an estimated £100 million at the start to over £1.4 billion as the project grew to include other items such as renting new purpose built premises. The Project will now result in the building rent costing twice as much as the technology.

Originally planned to be complete in 2007, it is not now scheduled to finish until late 2011 and even that date may not be hit. The Government unveiled some of the costs of each proposed regional control on 8 July, although not how the figures were reached.

FBU press release 2 January 2008

In a written House of Commons answer given on 27 October 2005 regarding the original cost estimates for regional fire controls then fire minister Jim Fitzpatrick said consultants Mott MacDonald "estimated project costs at £100 million, comprising project management costs, technology costs, accommodation costs and redundancy."

"Long delays and soaring costs have made this a disaster for the fire service. The entire UK fire service only costs £1.7 billion a year to run, so this is using up money on a scale the service has never seen before.

"Frontline fire stations and firefighters are being threatened with cuts while this Project soaks up hundreds of millions of pounds. The money could be spent on frontline fire services but is instead being diverted into this money pit of a Project.

"The Government needs to re-think its plans and consider what impact this is having in local fire authorities being bled dry of cash. The current uncertainty and the burden this is placing on the fire service simply cannot be allowed to go on."

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