10 November 2008 | Paul Snell
The purchase of fire and rescue equipment to deal with major disasters was "poor value for money", according to an investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO).
Its report into the "New Dimension" project found over-ordering, poor record-keeping and weak contracting caused unnecessary costs and delays.
The programme was set up following the September 11 attacks to provide the fire and rescue service with infrastructure to deal with disasters such as floods or terrorist attacks. The Department for Communities and Local Government decided to procure the equipment centrally and spent £330 million on the project, including £190 million on vehicles and equipment.
"It has been sloppily managed with poor procurement, poor implementation and woeful financial management," said MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. "This project is simply too important to be allowed to go awry. The consequences of this programme failing could simply be unthinkable."
Cases examined by the NAO included the purchase of high volume pumps. The price of maintaining these has risen because the contract was agreed in euros, so a strong exchange rate has added £250,000 to the cost. Poor planning in different part of the project meant too many vehicles were ordered. The lack of service-level agreements and no competitive tendering for a maintenance deal for them also meant unnecessary costs of up to £7.78 million.
There was also criticism that consultants brought in to provide advice and train department staff ended up working full-time and charging around £1,000 a day, compared with the contracted cost of £500. The report said there was "no systemic evaluation" to measure performance.