Fire service IT row heats up

Union officials claim that the cost of building nine high-tech regional control centres has doubled to £2bn, a charge the government strongly denies

The government has slammed claims from a trade union that the cost of introducing new regional high-tech control rooms for the fire service could double to £2bn.

The £1bn FireControl project is being run by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and will see 46 local fire service operations rooms replaced with nine regional high-tech control centres.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for an independent assessment of the plans after comments from Home Office minister Jim Fitzpatrick to its members suggested the costs could spiral to £2bn.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said frontline fire services could suffer in order to pay for the rising costs of the project.

"A vast amount of money desperately needed for frontline services will be diverted to a technology project which won't save a single life," he said in a statement.

But the ODPM has called the FBU's figures "a fiction" and denied that any minister has ever said the cost would rise to £2bn.

The ODPM says the running costs of the new control rooms is £1bn over 15 years along with £74m of additional investment over the first six years and that this will lead to a £20m reduction in annual running costs.

There will be almost 400 fewer fire service staff needed to operate the new control rooms but the ODPM says it hopes this can be achieved without the need for compulsory redundancies.

A statement from the ODPM said: "This project is not about regionalisation, it is not about cost cutting: it is about making responses faster and more effective, ultimately saving more lives."

The FireControl project is due to be up and running by the middle of 2008 — a date which has already slipped because of delays in the procurement of the national secure FireLink digital radio network for the service.