£121,000 a month ‘wasted’ on empty fire building

UNUSED The Fire Service Regional Control Centre at Kites Croft Business Park near Titchfield.
UNUSED The Fire Service Regional Control Centre at Kites Croft Business Park near Titchfield.
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TAXPAYERS are paying out £121,000 a month for an unused fire control centre near Fareham.

Despite the FiReControl scheme being cancelled in December last year, the building’s long-term lease means taxpayers will continue to pay the huge rent charge for the next 22 years.

The empty 30,000sq ft centre at Kite’s Croft, in Titchfield, is part of a national fire control scheme which was meant to cost £120m – but before it was cancelled it was estimated to be five-times over budget and heading for an eventual bill of £635m.

Today the National Audit Office condemned the FiReControl project for spending at least £469m over seven years and not delivering any improvements in fire and rescue services.

It concludes the project was ‘flawed from the outset’, and that the last government failed to convince local services that the hi-tec project was needed, while hugely underestimating its costs and exaggerating its benefits.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: ‘This is yet another example of a Government IT project taking on a life of its own, absorbing ever-increasing resources without reaching its objectives.

‘The rationale and benefits of a regional approach were unclear and badly communicated to locally accountable fire and rescue services who remained unconvinced.

‘Essential checks and balances in the early stages of the project were ineffective. It was approved on the basis of unrealistic estimates of costs and under-appreciation of the complexity of the IT involved and the project was hurriedly implemented and poorly managed.

‘Its legacy is the chain of expensive regional control centres whose future is uncertain.’

FiReControl was supposed to improve the efficiency and technology of fire and rescue services by replacing 46 local control rooms with nine purpose-built regional control centres - using a national computer system to handle calls, mobilise equipment and manage incidents.

But the audit office’s damning report also admits that future costs from the project are likely to remain high because of the long-term leases agreed with developers.

It recommends that in future all contracts set out ‘the requirements which if not met will constitute material breach’ so that they can be cancelled more easily.

Last year The News reported that if the Fareham control centre had opened next year as planned it would have cost more than £7m.

The building is held on a lease by the CLG from the Easter Group, a specialist developer of business parks which runs the Kite’s Croft industrial estate.