Friday, 17 July 2009

FiReControl will now be 3 years late

According to the Public Sector Information Portal the troubled FiReControl project that will link up fire services around the country to highly-sophisticated regional control centres has faced even more delays.

In 2004 the government said a state of the art control system would be in place by 2007 costing just £100m. But the latest delay announced by the Communities and Local Government (CLG) department means it will now not be deployed into a fire service until May 2011. According to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the cost of the project will now be approximately £1.4bn, a huge leap from the original £100m.

"FiReControl is a complex project that involves significant change to operating practices in the FRS as well as the development and installation of a major new national IT system. It is important that we continue to subject the new system to rigorous development to ensure public safety and meet FRS requirements," said the fire minister Shahid Malik.

He admitted the government was not making progress "as swiftly as expected" and thus the plan must be revised.

"By setting up joint teams of officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government and our main supplier EADS Defence and Security to work on a day-to-day basis with the FRS, we will ensure consistent progress. We will also give greater assurance to the FRS by setting short-term milestones for the delivery of the project," he said.

"Our priority for FiReControl is to deliver a modern system that meets the needs of the FRS and continues to ensure the safety of the public in the future for all types and scale of incident."

The FBU has estimated that with the extra delays, the government will have to pay another £15m in rents to keep the new regional control centres – a central part of the project – empty for longer.

"There will be more to pay for the army of consultants, civil servants and project managers needed to try and deliver the project pushing the costs of the delay," it said.

Matt Wrack, the FBU's general secretary, said: "This is a scandalous waste of public money when fire brigades are looking to make major cuts because of a lack of cash.

"These plans are becoming like the Monty Python 'dead parrot' sketch. Everyone knows the parrot is dead apart from government which insists, in the face of all evidence, that it is still alive. These latest delays push the project very firmly to the other side of the general election. They are leaving a disastrous legacy for a future government to have to deal with."

Wrack added that the government cannot even get the system to work properly, never mind the fact that it is years late and massively over-budget. "Instead they are letting it limp on, doomed in all but name, spending cash that should be going to pay for frontline services," he said.

On a small note of success for the modernisation of the Fire Service, its new secure radios project is due for completion by next year.

Firelink, which will give all firemen secure links to control rooms and interoperability with the other emergency services, has also been hit by delays in the past. It was originally due to be completed in December 2007 and in January 2008 it was pushed back to June 2009. But CLG has now revealed that the radio system has been installed in two-thirds of fire services, with a full national roll out due to be completed in spring 2010.

"This is an improvement in their current ability to deal with any kind of emergency - industrial accident, severe weather or terrorist activity - as they are now able to communicate on the same digital radio network used by the police and ambulance command centres when dealing with major incidents," Malik said.

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