Union calls for action over Hampshire fire control centre bill

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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THE Fire Brigades Union has told ministers to ‘get a grip’ after it was revealed taxpayers pay £121,000 a month for an empty building.

A report by the National Audit Office shows that money is still being wasted on an unused fire control centre near Fareham – despite it being cancelled in December last year.

And the building’s long-term lease means taxpayers could pay the huge rent charge for the next 22 years.

Hampshire FBU vice-chairman Nigel McCullen said it was an absurd situation to be in while the threat of job losses hangs over their control room staff.

‘The cuts faced by our members are potentially dangerous, leaving fewer people able to deal with emergencies and straining the service during busy periods,’ he said.

‘While at the same time we are wasting money, day after day, on an empty building. Someone in the government has got to get a grip on this and sort the problem out.’

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.

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

Mr McCullen added: ‘I hate to say we told you so – but from the very start the FBU said this was a bad idea and would cost more money than it would save. We predicted it would become a massive white elephant and that is exactly what has happened.’

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

The audit office concluded the project was ‘flawed from the outset’, and that the Labour government failed to convince local services that the project was needed, while hugely underestimating its costs and exaggerating its benefits.

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

Hampshire fire authority chairman, Cllr Royston Smith, said: ‘I have always agreed with the FBU on this issue. It was a shocking waste of money and one which I advised against at the time.

‘Hopefully someone will soon be found to sub-let the buildings to reduce the amount of money wasted.’