The waste of money by the last Labour government was truly staggering. Labour MPs in the North East should hang their heads in shame for allowing nearly half a billion pounds to be spent on Fire Control Centres which remain empty.
And no apology for her party’s failure from Durham’s MP – there’s a surprise!
Northern Echo Report:
FLAGSHIP plans to replace fire control rooms with regional command centres ended in “complete failure”, costing the taxpayer nearly half-a-billion pounds, MPs claimed today.
In a damning report, the influential Public Accounts Committee said the “FiRe- Control” shake-up, launched by the Labour government in 2004, was one of the worst project failures it had seen in many years and was “flawed from the outset”.
The redundant North-East Fire Control Centre, in Belmont, Durham City, is costing the taxpayer about £1.1m a year. Because of various legal agreements, the final bill could reach £27m.
The centre has stood idle since plans to merge the fire services of County Durham, Teesside, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland were scrapped last December.
Proposals to axe North Yorkshire’s control room, in Northallerton, for a regional centre in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, were also dropped, along with the national project.
Fire chiefs are in urgent talks with Whitehall to find a future emergency service use for the Belmont centre, but no deal has yet been reached.
A County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said FiRe- Control’s failure was disappointing, but it was preparing a funding bid for a new control system and was in dialogue over the future of the Belmont centre, to see if it could be used for the benefit of local people.
Redcar’s Liberal Democrat MP, Ian Swales, a Public Accounts Committee member who asked the panel to investigate FiReControl, said the project had been a “monumental waste of money” and it was “ludicrous” the North- East centre had been built three times as big as needed.
But he said its best future use could be “something completely different”.
Peter Wilcox, of the Fire Brigades Union in the North- East, said the project had been a “debacle of unimaginable scale with escalating budgets and worthless contracts” and a use should be found for the Belmont centre, recouping some of the public money wasted.
Bob Neill, the Conservative Fire Minister, said taxpayers were paying for Labour’s inability to manage risks and control costs.
However, Roberta Blackman- Woods, Labour MP for Durham City, said there were important lessons to be learned by everybody and it was vital that the Government took on board the report’s recommendations when considering all future projects.
She called for a “constructive use” to be found for the Belmont centre, in consultation with the local community.
Nationally, today’s report suggested that only five of the nine regional centres would eventually be used by fire services.
MPs also said at least £469m had been wasted and eight of the centres remained empty, costing the taxpayer £4m a month to maintain.
They slammed the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for excluding “reluctant” fire services from helping plan the centres and said consultants made up half the management team, costing £69m by 2010.
The Government has earmarked £84.8m to meet the project’s original aim to improve efficiency, but MPs questioned this and called for a review of the nation’s emergency services to find the best uses for the redundant facilities.
They also said no one had been held responsible, despite an “extraordinary failure of leadership”.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairman, 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.”
In July, a National Audit Office report branded the project a “comprehensive failure”.