Why did FiReControl spiral out of control? The Public Accounts Committee gives its verdict...
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published its report into the failure of yet another government IT project, slamming the FiReControl project as "one of the worst we have seen for many years".
The project had aimed to create nine regional fire control centres to co-ordinate the actions of 45 fire and rescue services across England, replacing 46 local fire control rooms. But it was scrapped by the coalition government at the end of 2010, after years of delays and cost overruns.
Now eight of the purpose-built centres remain empty and continue to cost the taxpayer £4m per month to maintain, according to the PAC. The total cost of FiReControl's failure: close to half a billion pounds of public money - at least £469m - gone up in smoke.
So what went wrong? The PAC took evidence from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and representatives from the fire and rescue services to reach its conclusions. Here are four reasons why another ambitious government IT project failed so spectacularly to deliver on its promises.
Failure 1: Taking a top-down approach, instead of getting local buy-in
PAC said FiReControl was flawed from the outset because DCLG did not have sufficient power to impose a single national approach on locally accountable fire and rescue services - yet they tried to do this anyway.
Local services were reluctant to change how they operated but, rather than engaging with the service to persuade them of the advantages of FiReControl, the PAC report notes that DCLG excluded the services from decisions about the design of the regional control centres and the proposed IT infrastructure. Yet the local services were the ones who would have had to swallow any long-term costs and residual liabilities.
Analyst house TechMarketView notes that this ill-fated top-down approach also dogged the government's attempt to overhaul NHS IT - the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).
Failure 2: Rushing in without proper checks and balances
The PAC report notes the project was rushed - launched too quickly as the government sought to deliver on wider aims to ensure better co-ordinated national responses to national disasters such as terrorist attacks. All this haste to hit the ground running meant...