Fire control centre plan scrapped

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Indy Politics

A multimillion-pound scheme to replace 46 fire control centres in England with nine new sites is to be scrapped, the Government announced today.

The surprise move to "terminate" the so-called FiReControl project follows a series of delays and increased costs since it was announced by the Labour government several years ago.

Fire Minister Bob Neill said today he had reached agreement with the main contractor, Cassidian, to call a halt to the troubled project.

In a written ministerial statement to Parliament, the minister said: "The progress of the project has caused serious concern, and so in June this year I made it clear to the main FiReControl contractor, Cassidian (formerly EADS Defence & Security), that the main IT system must now be delivered to time, cost and quality.

"At this point, we activated a key milestone in their contract requiring the main IT system to be completed in three control centres by mid-2011.

"We told Cassidian that no additional taxpayers' money could be invested in this project, nor would delivery of a system of reduced quality or functionality be acceptable.

"Following extensive discussion with Cassidian, we have jointly concluded, with regret, that the requirements of the project cannot be delivered to an acceptable timeframe. Therefore the best outcome for the taxpayer and the fire and rescue community is for the contract to be terminated with immediate effect.

"Cassidian and the Department for Communities and Local Government have reached an acceptable settlement over this, although the details will remain commercially confidential."

Mr Neill said that over the next few weeks efforts will be made to identify any legacy assets from the project, including the control centre buildings.

The Government will cease funding the project as quickly as possible and will start to consult with fire and rescue services about developing alternative plans.

Mr Neill said: "We recognise that fire and rescue authorities will now wish to review their control arrangements in the light of today's decision. This Government does not intend to impose any solution for the future of control room services.

"I know that the uncertainty around the future of this project has been frustrating and unsettling for the fire and rescue community and those closely concerned with their interests. My objective has been to deliver operational certainty for the fire and rescue service and financial certainty for the taxpayer."

The Fire Brigades Union, which has been campaigning against the project since it was first announced, welcomed today's decision as "long overdue".

General secretary Matt Wrack said: "For seven years the Fire Brigades Union has been sounding the alarm about this project, often as a lone voice, and this decision shows that we were right.

"While the project was going on, staff in emergency fire control have been treated appallingly, and I hope that, at long last, their security of employment can be confirmed."