Botched scheme cost taxpayers £469m

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JOHN Prescott’s FiReControl project has finally been condemned by the Public Accounts Committee as one of the worst public works failures we have seen in many years.

We now know that around £469m of hardworking taxpayers’ money was poured into replacing England’s 46 standalone fire and rescue control rooms with a network of just nine regional control centres linked by a new, but sadly flawed, IT system.

Synthesis would bring efficiency savings - but the result was a series of white elephants.

As the National Audit Office reported in July, the Labour Government’s decision to impose a regional approach on local fire and rescue services was a ‘comprehensive failure’ and ‘a catalogue of mismanagement’, costly consultants’ fees notwithstanding.

I write as a 12-week public consultation on a proposed merger of East and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services is drawing to a close. An exercise which, as reported by this paper recently, is set to absorb a sum in the region of £50,000.

What result might we expect if the merger went ahead?

In my experience, geographic mergers in the public sector generally cost more than they save, because of the upheaval which the process necessarily entails.

That is why I am so strongly opposed to a merger plan.

There are massive savings that can be garnered from local collaboration and joint working short of a formal merger. Interestingly, that turned out to be the broad consensus received when the coalition Government consulted nationwide on the future of fire and rescue control centres.

We remain fully committed to improving the fire and rescue service which is why the Government will be making available £81m for fire and rescue authorities in England to help them improve efficiency and technology in their control centres. As a guideline, this could provide up to £1.8m for each authority.

The Minister for the Fire Services, Bob Neill, has invited authorities to submit their plans and funding bids by November 4. These will then be assessed for value for taxpayers’ money.

Meanwhile, we are actively identifying how any legacy assets from the FiReControl project – such as control centre buildings – can be salvaged. We owe that much to the taxpayers who funded John Prescott’s botched scheme, although it now transpires from the NAO report that ‘it was not generally supported’ anyway.

FRANCIS MAUDE

MP for Horsham