The Chief Fire Officers Association has responded to claims from the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts that programmes designed to minimise waste from the failed FiReControl project could also offer poor value for money.
Following the publication of the Committee's latest report, CFOA has decided to provide additional clarification on some points following criticism from chair Margaret Hodge.
Hodge claimed: "The original FiReControl project was one of the worst cases of project failure we have seen and wasted at least £482 million of taxpayers' money. Three years after the project was cancelled, the DCLG still hasn’t decided what it is going to do with many of the specially designed, high-specification facilities and buildings which had been built. Four of the nine regional control centres are still empty and look likely to remain so.
"The Department has now provided fire and rescue authorities with an additional £82 million to implement a new approach based on 22 separate and locally-led projects. The new programme has already slipped by three months and projected savings are now less than originally predicted. Seven of the 22 projects are reportedly running late and two have been delayed by 12 months. We are therefore sceptical that projected savings, benefits and timescales will be achieved. Relying on multiple local projects risks value for money. We are not confident that local teams have the right IT and procurement skills to get good deals from suppliers and to monitor contracts effectively."
However, CFOA considers the Public Account Committee’s view that there is a lack of procurement skills within FRAs has not been evidenced in any way and is somewhat unjustified.
Development of a national solution
A full CFOA statement read as follows:
'Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs), aided by the Local Government Association (LGA), have for many years successfully procured both Mobilising and Command & Control systems. In fact, it was only during the time of the Governments FiReControl project that FRAs did not conduct any such procurement exercises.
'Of the 22 Improvement projects underway, 14 have undertaken the process of procuring new mobilising systems and of those 12 have now signed contracts. 1 project is in the process of issuing their Invitation to Tender (ITT) and the remaining project is currently evaluating bids. This figure includes two projects underway prior to the issuing of DCLG funding. The remaining projects are either upgrading or enhancing their current mobilising systems. 4 projects have completed this upgrade process with the remainder scheduled to complete by the end of 2013.
'It should be noted that development of a national solution was not one of the required components within the Business Case’s requested for from FRAs by DCLG. Both CFOA and the LGA were very clear from the outset of this process that a series of individual projects would not provide a nationally networked solution.
'However many projects, since forming their local partnership arrangements, have sought further resilience in the form of fall-back buddy arrangements. This is where one Control will answer calls and mobilise resources for another in the event of a technical problem or if a Control becomes over-run by call numbers. 8 Projects are self sufficient, providing suitable and sufficient fall-back arrangements within their own partnership arrangements. The remaining projects are currently exploring potential partners, 5 of which have already identified their ‘fall-back’ buddies.
'CFOA have undertaken to provide support to all 22 projects. They have undertaken over 70 visits across all projects since September 2012. The Control Projects Knowledge Exchange, a web-based support platform, now has over 100 subscribers facilitating the exchange of information between projects.'