It has been three and a half years since EADS Defence and Security (DS) won the contract to deliver the FiReControl project. Following Bob Neill's ultimatum at Harrogate in June, Robin Southwell, the CEO of EADS (UK) talks to FIRE about the project and addresses some of its challenges
Will the project be delivered according to the criteria that Bob Neill outlined in Harrowgate? (ie, on time, on budget and 'to quality').
It's good to be given the opportunity to speak to FIRE readers about the project. We've enjoyed working with the Fire Service community since we were awarded the FiReControl contract from CLG three years ago, and we're proud to be delivering a solution that we hope will make a lasting impact on the overall firefighting response.
I'd first like to emphasise just how committed EADS is to delivering this project, and indeed we have already successfully delivered a number of key elements that are worth highlighting. I'm pleased to say that work to date already satisfies over 40 per cent of the overall FireControl requirements.
At present, all equipment in the three first-wave control centres has now been deployed and fitted. Over 200 stations have been fitted with and are using mobilising technology, and 50 per cent of Fire and Rescue Services have FiReControl mobile data terminals fitted by the Firelink project.
Early feedback since fitting the mobile data terminals in the appliances has been really positive. FRSs have commented to our teams that they are extremely helpful and they are being used many times a week to assist them in coping with emergencies.
We are currently in cycle three of four in integrating the main mobilising system and work is on target within EADS and our subcontractors to ensure that system components are successfully delivered.
What is the state of the relationship between EADS and stakeholders such as fire and rescue services, the new-look CLG and members of the LGA? Is EADS' relationship with CLG different now than under the previous government?
In a programme as complex as this, the strength of the relationship between customer and contractor is as important as project management and technical skills. EADS has worked on a number of large scale projects with governments and other organisations across the world, so we are well aware that large complex programmes will always be challenging, and that issues will arise.
The FiReControl project has been no exception to this, and we continue to work through the issues that arise in collaboration with CLG and FRS teams wherever possible. Some of these issues are difficult, and demand robust debates and time to steadily work through to a mutually acceptable conclusion.
We are in no doubt that only the highest commitment to true collaboration and transparent partnership will guarantee successful delivery. Indeed CLG and FRS teams are working at EADS' site in Newport to encourage closer working relationships. The workshops that have been running with CLG and representatives from the FRSs since 2009 continue to make good progress.
EADS has made a marked effort to really understand the customer and the wider federated user community, not least by investing in expertise in the Fire and Rescue Service and the Local Government Association.
What effect has the last year's negative publicity and pressure had on those working on the project?
We are very well aware that FiReControl is an important project that will transform the way the English Fire and Rescue Service responds to emergency incidents. It is only right and proper that we are held to account for our performance and that all those affected by the project are allowed to have an open and frank debate about all aspects of it.
EADS is proud to have an extremely committed and expert team of people who are focussed on delivering the project in the best way possible. Indeed, many of our experts are ex-Fire Service personnel whose experience and unique perspective have proved invaluable.
Bearing in mind the new government's emphasis on localism, is there a danger that individual fire authorities may be able to opt out of the FiReControl project?
A key benefit of our FiReControl system is that it is flexible enough to be adapted to individual requirements, and discussions with CLG and Fire and Rescue Services centre on how the solution can best be tailored to the individual needs and wishes of the FRS. For example, EADS has considered alternative delivery architectures. Developing a model based upon fewer control centres could provide results as good as the current project, and might be considered more favourably by the fire and rescue community if the possibility of choosing to maintain the existing local control centre were available. EADS has designed a flexible, scalable solution for FiReControl which can adapt as requirements evolve.
We remain very alive to the fact that requirements from individual authorities might change and that FiReControl needs to be able to meet these.
Could you talk about the problems up until now? Why has there been such a delay, and why has the project gone over budget?
There have been technical issues with the project of course. This is a world first in terms of the integration effort, even if the sub-elements are tried and tested technology. In addition, risks have been mitigated with changes to suppliers as necessary. EADS has already demonstrated working systems in public forums including at the recent Fire and Rescue Exhibition in Harrogate.
EADS is scheduled to deliver a system as a part of CLGs FiReControl programme. We are on track to provide the final system before the end of 2010 and it will then be populated and rigorously tested. This is a complex phase and EADS is in continuous discussions with CLG to optimise the schedule to meet the needs of the FRS.
It is also worth pointing out that EADS is delivering the system to CLG within the originally agreed fixed price contract, so no direct increases to taxpayers result from issues at EADS.
How will the Fire and Rescue Service benefit once the project is delivered?
The project was established to improve fire and rescue resilience and capacity in England as part of the National Resilience Programme, which also incorporates Firelink and New Dimension. Improving technology by introducing FiReControl means that firefighter safety and public safety could be significantly improved.
Everyone involved in the project wants to see the end result as a world class integrated solution. It is already receiving considerable interest from overseas and the integrated technology is transferable to other sectors. Once delivered, EADS believes that new opportunities are there for further expansion to other emergency services and local government who are all tasked with reducing cost.
For the full version, refer to September's issue of FIRE magazine