Negative report harms single fire service plan

September 20, 2011

National News

Tim Pauling – Aberdeen Press & Journal 20 September 2011

A warning shot has been fired across the bow of the Scottish Government over plans to form single fire and rescue services.

It follows a report which said replacing fire control rooms with new regional centres in England ended in "complete failure", costing taxpayers almost half a billion pounds.

The public accounts committee said the so-called FiReControl plan, launched by the previous Labour government, was one of the worst cases of project failure it had seen for years and was "flawed from the outset".

The project was launched in 2004, with the aim of replacing 46 fire and rescue control rooms in England with nine new regional centres, but the coalition government scrapped it after a series of expensive delays.

The public accounts committee said in its report that a minimum of £469million had been wasted, with eight of the new centres remaining empty at a cost to the taxpayer of £4million a month to maintain.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge 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 2007, the Scottish Government abandoned plans to cut the number of fire control rooms from eight to three.

While the current reforms do not include plans to reduce the present number, there are concerns that the new fire chief may consider the idea as a way of reducing costs. The report was held up as a warning to the Scottish Government over its plans to create national fire and police services.

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "This case serves as a stark warning to the SNP, in particular the finding that "the project was rushed without proper understanding of costs or the risks."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the report and the plan for a national force were not comparable, adding: "Reform will strengthen the connection between the fire service and the community, meaning closer integration with planning partners, more local engagement and more councillors having a say in how services are run."

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