I wish to update the House on my department’s work to improving local fire control room services and further progress on disposing of the the regional control centre buildings - the main legacy asset of the terminated FiReControl project from the last administration.
FiReControl was a poorly conceived and badly delivered top-down programme of the last administration to create regional fire control rooms. It was terminated after running repeatedly over-budget and behind schedule, and to avoid further taxpayers’ money being wasted.
The 9 regional control centre buildings were procured through a private developer scheme from 2004 onwards and completed between June 2007 and February 2010. The leases run for 20 or 25 years from completion. As noted on 26 January 2009, Official Report, House of Commons, Column 108W, the last administration decided not to include break clauses in the contracts, forcing taxpayers to shoulder the ultimate liability for the empty buildings.
The National Audit Office, in their report The Failure of Fire Control, were highly critical of the top-down FiReControl project. They stated:
The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success - local fire and rescue services. The department rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures. Ineffective checks and balances during initiation and early stages meant the department committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits and an unrealistic delivery timetable, and agreed an inadequate contract with its IT supplier. The department under-appreciated the project’s complexity, and then mismanaged the IT contractor’s performance and delivery. The department failed to provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, over-relying on poorly managed consultants and failing to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor. The department took a firmer grip of the project from 2009 and terminated the contract in December 2010 to avoid even more money being wasted.
The department’s failure to manage the project as a whole has resulted in the creation of empty regional control centres. The 9 regional control centres were purpose-built to house the new computerised equipment and were designed specifically for that purpose. The department’s decision to prioritise the procurement of the centres over the IT system at an early stage meant that the first centres were completed in June 2007, just 3 months after the IT contract had been awarded
(National Audit Office, The Failure of the FiReControl project, HC1272, 1 July 2011).
Supporting local control room improvements
This government’s approach has been to support locally determined and delivered control room improvements. As today’s Future control room update shows, the first of the projects, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, has completed.
The 2 fire and rescue authorities have worked in partnership to procure and implement a new resilient solution which went live on 25 November 2013. This enables both fire and rescue authorities to take the other’s calls and to act as a fallback for the other, while negating the need for secondary control rooms. This is a significant milestone in delivery of the future control rooms scheme. Furthermore, 9 projects are on track to complete by the time of the September 2014 update, with an additional 8 projects scheduled to complete by the end of this calendar year. Only 1 project is currently forecasting completion later than March 2015, and that by only 8 weeks.
There has been significant progress in delivering the resilience benefits, with increases in delivery of 9 of the 10 benefits identified, and significant increases in 6 of those. These non-monetarised benefits will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of control centres by introducing state of the art technology and effective back up arrangements to cope with spate conditions or systems failure.
Forecasted savings now stand at £129 million. This is £2.5 million more than the September 2013 update and, significantly, £1 million more than the early estimates of March 2012. In summary, our assessment is that the future control room projects continue to remain on track to deliver the benefits outlined in the original national summary.
Dealing with the legacy buildings
The marketing and disposal of the remaining regional control centres has also made further progress.
Firstly, the department has reduced its overall estimated on-going costs. Since 2012 to 2013, facilities management costs have been reduced by approximately 45% and other running costs savings have been made, reflecting a reduction in cost from £3.8 million to £2.7 million annually. Since September 2013, electricity costs have also been reduced by approximately 40% annually. We have also taken steps to reduce energy consumption across the regional control centre sites, resulting in a reduction in costs of over 25%.
Five of the 9 centres have now been sub-let or transferred. The letting of the fifth centre, Wolverhampton, in December 2013 was a considerable achievement as it was the first let to the private sector (an IT company). It is estimated that this letting will save the department in the region of £11 million. Furthermore, heads of terms are being negotiated with public sector organisations for the Wakefield and Taunton regional control centres. The 2 remaining centres (Castle Donington and Cambridge) are being actively marketed and interest has been shown in both.
We will continue to market the centres and target specific sectors, e.g. data centres, and review our disposal and marketing strategy on a quarterly basis. Ministers will provide further updates in due course.
Both documents have been published on my department’s website and I am placing copies in the Library of the House.
(Future control room services scheme: summary national picture of fire and rescue authority improvement plans March 2014 update)
(Ex-fire regional control centres: marketing and disposal summary update)