A plan to replace fire control rooms with new regional centres ended in "complete failure", costing the taxpayer almost half a billion pounds, according to a damning report by a committee of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee said the so-called FiReControl plan, launched by the previous Labour Government, was one of the worst cases of project failure it had seen for years and was "flawed from the outset".
The project was launched in 2004, with the aim of replacing 46 fire and rescue control rooms in England with nine new regional centres, but the coalition Government scrapped it last year after a series of expensive delays.
The committee said in its report that a minimum of £469 million had been wasted, with eight of the purpose-built new centres remaining empty at a cost to the taxpayer of £4 million a month to maintain.
It is likely that only five of the centres will be used by the fire service, said the report, which criticised the Department for Communities and Local Government for excluding fire and rescue services about the design and content of the new centres.
Consultants made up half the management team, costing £69 million by 2010, but they "were not managed", said the MPs.
"The project had convoluted governance arrangements, with a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities. There was a high turnover of senior managers, although none have been held accountable for the failure," the report said.
"The committee considers this to be an extraordinary failure of leadership. Yet no individuals have been held accountable for the failure and waste associated with this project."
The contract was poorly designed and the department awarded computer work to a firm with no direct experience of supplying the emergency services, which relied mainly on sub-contractors, said the report.
The Government has earmarked £84.8 million to meet the project's original objectives of improving efficiency but the MPs voiced concern that the department could not say how this will provide value for money.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: "The department's ambitious vision of abolishing 46 local fire and rescue control rooms around the country and replacing them with nine state-of-the-art regional control centres ended in complete failure.
"The taxpayer has lost nearly half a billion pounds and eight of the completed regional control centres remain as empty and costly white elephants.
"The project was rushed, without proper understanding of costs or risks. The leadership relied far too much on external consultants and the frequent departures of senior staff also contributed to weak management and oversight of the project.
"The contract to implement a national IT system linking the control centres was not even awarded until a full three years after the project started.
"The contract itself was poorly designed and awarded to a company without relevant experience. The computer system was simply never delivered.
"No-one has been held to account for this project failure, one of the worst we have seen for many years, and the careers of most of the senior staff responsible have carried on as if nothing had gone wrong at all, and the consultants and contractor continue to work on many other government projects."
Fire Minister Bob Neill said: "John Prescott's FiReControl project is the latest in Labour's catalogue of costly IT failures.
"Not for the first time, hard-working taxpayers are paying for Labour's inability to manage risks and control costs.
"I welcome this report which exposes the absence of basic project management and leadership for a major undertaking. Labour must be held accountable for this comprehensive failure."
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "The fire and rescue service is repeating the same mistakes at a local level as CLG did over FiReControl. The FiReControl project failed because ministers failed to listen to the voice of control staff and their professional representatives. We argued that the project was not resilient and there was insufficient scrutiny of costs and contracts.
"Now the present Government is leaving it to local fire and rescue services to clear up the mess, making ad hoc arrangements without an overall view of national resilience. There needs to be proper oversight, not the closure and merger of control rooms. For the second time, we urge ministers to consult with professionals in the service and in particular the representatives of the control staff who work in it."
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