Friday, 23 September 2011

Stopped, dropped, and rolled: half a billion squandered on failed fire control scheme


A Labour government scheme aimed at merging fire control rooms crashed and burned last year, leaving the nine regional fire centres it created unable to stop £469 million of taxpayers’ money from being burnt in the process, according to a recent report. The six-year old plan began in 2004, was scrapped by December 2010, and in essence became a poster child for Murphy’s Law.

Originally, “FiReControl” sought to create nine regional centres as opposed to the 46 local control rooms previously in place. Though the then Labour Government pledged the change would increase reaction time toward major events, such as national floods, fires, or terror attacks, in the end it did little more than waste time and taxpayers’ money.

The debacle of a scheme was “branded as a ‘white elephant’ in Parliament” for its “bungled budget” and “wasteful spending”. According to a June 2010 article in the Yorkshire Evening Post £6,000 coffee machines were even put in to at least one of the buildings.

Costly caffeine fixes for ghost buildings were just the tip of the half a billion pound FiReControl iceberg – it gets worse. The Daily Telegraph has claimed that the up-keep of these tailor-made centres, eight of which sit empty, is £4 million a month. With such absurdly uneconomical decisions made, it is no wonder the Commons Public Accounts Committee said the disastrous scheme was “’flawed from the outset’ and ‘one of the worst cases of project failure’ seen for many years”.

It is this lack of planning, budgeting, and general failure that is intolerable when taxpayers’ money is being sunk into any scheme. Planning and execution should have been overseen more closely. Heads should roll for such egregious waste

Yet no one has been held to account and the careers of most of those involved in this debacle have carried on as if nothing had gone wrong. John Prescott, former deputy Prime Minister, has been doing the rounds in the media today, quickly thrusting the blame toward the civil servants involved in the scheme. He told The Daily Mail, “They spent a lot of money on managing this project, a lot on external consultants. Nobody did a proper job of management.” In fact, Lord Prescott claims some have even since been promoted, though failing to point any resulting hindrance to his own career.

Unfortunately while some blame civil servants, some the Labour Party, and some technical failures; the fiasco has snowballed into a political game of hot potato. Had all of the smoke and mirrors encompassed in this scheme, not to mention political hot air, rightly set off some kind of alarm, a substantial loss of taxpayer money and political embarrassment could have been prevented.

When a half a billion of taxpayers’ money is being used to do something, people trust the Government to make sure it is worth it, and not to muck it up. If they do so, we expect someone to take the blame, and apologise. In the case of FiReControl, we’re all still waiting…

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