Fire service IT deal lambasted

6 April 2010

6 April 2010 | Lindsay Clark

MPs have criticised the £200 million procurement of an IT system for UK Fire and Rescue Service’s command and control centres.

In a report out this month the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee found fault at the way in which the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) managed the purchase of the new system.

In 2007, French engineering group EADS won the FiReControl contract to build IT systems for nine command hubs for the service, to replace 46 existing centres. However, delays mean fire brigades may migrate to the new system during the critical period of the London 2012 Olympics.

Problems with the procurement process, which began in 2004, have played a role in the delays, the report says.

John Bonney, president of the Chief Fire Officers Association, told the Committee: “The rush to procurement meant the level of detail in the specification did not reflect what the professional people were saying. That has plagued the project ever since, both in terms of delays and being over-optimistic about how quickly it could be delivered, how much it was going to cost, and why certain things that were absolutely necessary were never specified and other things were put in that were not needed.”

FiReControl is one of three strands to the Fire and Resilience Programme, a £1 billion project to overhaul the management of UK fire services. A second component is New Dimensions, a £330 million project to give the fire and rescue service equipment, procedures and training to respond to a range of threats, such as terrorist attacks and flooding. The third element is Firelink, a communications system that connects vehicles to control centres.

The Commons report said the CLG has acknowledged some of the earlier criticisms, made by the Public Accounts Committee, of New Dimensions. Measures made in response include appointing a new head of procurement and making the department’s finance and procurement functions more closely involved with the Fire and Resilience Programme Board. However, the Committee questioned whether the lessons from New Dimensions were being fully applied to FireControl.

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