The Public Accounts Committee report on the failure of FiReControl said it was one of the worst cases of project failure that the committee has seen in many years, which is saying something given the sheer volume of project failures in recent years.
It stated that the then department launched the project too quickly, without the fundamentals of project management being in place, whilst money leaked at an alarming rate (£69 million going to consultants alone). Unsurprisingly, the Fire Minister Bob Neill has laid into the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (later Department for Communities and Local Government) supremo Lord Prescott, saying it was another in a catalogue of Labour's IT failures: http://www.fire-magazine.com/content/article.aspx?Id=12248
What surprised this seasoned cynic was Lord Prescott's attempt to shift the blame entirely onto the civil servants, and more precisely, the then Permanent Secretary. Now I'm not saying many of the civil servants weren't up to scratch. There were clearly issues, evidenced by the colossal shambles of FiReControl - although this didn't seem to prevent transfers and promotions to other government departments to undertake similar roles. What really takes the biscuit is Lord Prescott's belief that them withholding information was not his responsibility.
Speaking to the Today programme, he told listeners that he does indeed take responsibility for the policy, but urged the Committee to step outside of convention and interrogate the civil servants. It is also conventional to accept responsibility for your department, as the interviewer kindly reminded him, sparking Lord Prescott to reiterate what he'd already reiterated: he was responsible for policy; those snidely civil servants should really be in the firing line.
This is plainly a case of the former Deputy Prime Minister having his cake and eating it. What is also staggering is that I distinctly remember being well briefed (by contacts who knew a real brief when they heard one) that his civil servants were not briefing him properly/at all (according to my brief). This had allegedly been going on for some time, back during the national strike negotiations, as they sought to cut him out of the loop.
At the time I thought if true this was vaguely sinister, although not at all surprising. So, he may be right in saying that civil servants were holding back information but he is wrong in blaming them for it. It is down to his mismanagement and he should be held accountable for that.
If the ODPM was too big and unwieldy, as we all realised, he should have dismantled it instead of building his own empire. No point blaming the servants once the house of cards collapses.
Posted September 21st, 2011 at 1135 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: email@example.com