England

Regional fire brigade control centre plan scrapped

  • 20 December 2010
  • From the section England
West Midlands fire control centre
Image caption New control centres such as the one in the West Midlands have remained vacant

A multi-million-pound scheme to replace 46 fire control centres in England with nine regional sites will be scrapped, the government has said.

The Firecontrol project has suffered a series of delays and increased costs since it was announced by the Labour government several years ago.

Fire Minister Bob Neill said agreement had been reached with main contractor Cassidian to end the project.

The Fire Brigades Union welcomed the decision as "long overdue".

'Frustrating and unsettling'

In a written ministerial statement to Parliament, Mr Neill said progress of the project had caused "serious concern".

"Following extensive discussion with Cassidian, we have jointly concluded, with regret, that the requirements of the project cannot be delivered to an acceptable timeframe," he said.

"Therefore the best outcome for the taxpayer and the fire and rescue community is for the contract to be terminated with immediate effect."

He added: "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."

Mr Neill said any assets resulting from the £423m project, including the vacant new centres, would be identified.

The centres are standing empty because of problems with their computers.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said the rent alone on the empty centres had cost the taxpayer £6.5m.

'Treated appallingly'

The FBU has campaigned against the project since it was announced.

FBU 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."

Clive Betts, chairman of the communities and local government committee, said the decision came as no surprise.

He said: "In the last Parliament our predecessor committee published a report about the Firecontrol project that criticised both department and the contractor for their handling of this much-delayed initiative that has gone massively over budget.

"Many of the concerns in that report echoed those raised by the same committee in its 2006 report on the fire service.

"From the outset five years ago it was clear there were considerable risks associated with a project that fire authorities and local authorities refused to support fully because they were unconvinced, even at that stage, that the aims of enhanced resilience and efficiency would be achieved."

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