A lack of knowledge and accountability at senior government level has lead to one of the worst IT cockups in recent memory.
A select committee report into the bodge job on the FiReControl project has shown that £469 million of public money has been poured down the drain with little evidence of any benefits.
The report claims that the attempt at consolidating 46 rescue control teams into nine ‘state of the art’ facilities ended up as “one of the worst cases of project failure that the Committee has seen in many years”.
And considering recent debacles such as the bungling of NHS IT systems that is quite a claim.
But even with a history of overreaching projects hampered by disappearing project leaders, unrealistic financial targets and a reliance on outsourced consultants, FireControl managed to shock the committee with staggering levels of inadequacy.
Public Accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge MP lambasted the Department for Communities and Local Government for costing the taxpayer “nearly half a billion pounds”. The result has been eight of the completed regional control centres remaining “as empty and costly white elephants”.
“The project was rushed, without proper understanding of costs or risks,” Hodge said. “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.”
In fact the reliance on external consultants was to such an extent that £69 million was spent by 2010, with over half the management team made up of consultants.
Coupled with a high turnover of senior managers on the civil servant side, a situation was created wherein no one has been held accountable despite the report concluding that this is a failure in leadership.
The report is likely to support calls for greater level of expertises in government, to enforce control and responsibility in the future.
A lack of consultation with the fire services lead to “hugely unrealistic” costs and savings projections, as well as a “naïve over-optimism” regarding the project’s deliverability.
“The Department demonstrated poor judgement in approving the project and failed to provide appropriate checks and challenge,” the report concluded.
The project was started in 2004 and was scrapped by December last year, another sign of a costly IT hobby signed off by Blair and dropped by the Coalition.
However, a further £84.8 million will be ploughed into the project, in order to meet the “original objectives”. Unfortunately there is little confidence in the Department to bring about the right changes, and there are worries it is unable to ensure an adequate response to a “large scale incident”.