Overhauled fire control network 'delayed and over-budget'

The government’s flagship Fire Control project to link nine regional fire control rooms is running late and is set to overspend its IT budget by nearly 60%.

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The government’s flagship Fire Control project to link nine regional fire control rooms is running late and is set to overspend its IT budget by nearly 60%.

The figures are revealed in a report by the Commons communities and local government committee.

Ministers awarded a £200m contract contract to supply the IT infrastructure for nine planned regional fire control centres to EADS Defence and Security Systems in March. The plan was to network the nine centres – which are to replace 46 existing fire brigade control centres – and provide a call management system allowing the centres to automatically back each other up during major incidents.

The Fire Control scheme has been controversial in the fire service, with the Fire Brigades Union opposing the regionalisation of fire control centres and the proposed network. The FBU argues that networking could lead to a “domino effect” if there is a problem at one centre and has protested that the level of staffing in the nine centres is not enough to handle calls during a major incident without flooding the system.

In its report, the parliamentary committee says: “IT costs were originally budgeted at £120m, with a planned completion date for the IT part of the project of 2009. The latter has slipped to 2011, with the cost now estimated at £190m.”

The MPs warned that the Fire Control project merely highlighted delivery failures across the Department of Communities and Local Government.

“The fact that the department cites a project two years behind schedule and 50% over its initial IT budget as an example of how it is improving its delivery mechanisms highlights the persistent challenge that CLG continues to face,” the report says.

A parallel Firelink project, to replace telecommunications for the fire service across Britain with a digital network and fit new radio systems to 3,000 fire and rescue vehicles was originally set to be completed in December, but has also been delayed, withy completion now expected in June 2009, the report revealed.

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