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back to article Auditor declares FiReControl a 'comprehensive failure'

The project to create nine regional control centres for fire and rescue linked by a new IT system has been a comprehensive failure, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). A newly published report from the government auditor, "The failure of the FiReControl project", says the scheme was fatally flawed because the …

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FAIL

Well at least it was...

... a **comprehensive** failure. Seems like they covered all the bases; no sense in doing anything half-arsed. Oh, wait...

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Stop

How?

How do you spend 469 MILLION pounds and not get anything out the other end? Somewhere someone must have been jumping up and down about signing off these cheques? Is there going to be any kind of criminal investigation? I can't decide which would be worse, the fact that you can spend this much through sheer stupidity or no one spotted the graft.

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Silver badge

well...

Buying land, building buildings that stand empty, and paying for 24/7 security presence at them adds a fair bit to the bill.

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Meh

And of course

The lawyers and consultants usually take the largest slice of any project - don't imagine it's actually spent on anything that could produce a result.

There will be an incredible amount of useless minutae on record that will remain unread and unloved until the eventual heat-death of the universe... that doesn't come free you know

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If you read the report

You wil find that PA (who from observations of external documents and reviews appear to have some questions to answer) get away almost scot free! Anonymous for all the obvious reasons.

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Pint

More Than...

...Murphy's Law.

Better put the politicos involved on the scale and see who got fat on too many steak dinners fed them by vendors.

You don't throw around a Billion Bucks (TM) without a lot of backflow.

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ITIL, TOGAF, ZAMAN... Lalalala...

Yeah... Let me see Government IT project as the golden standard of IT delivery... Lalalala....

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So...

All that cash spent on getting PRINCE2 up and running wasnt wasted then....

oh! wait a minute

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FAIL

Who is aware of PRINCE?

So you have a group of possible IT staff (being charitable) who have not been involved in a major government IT procurement project before. At what point does someone become aware of PRINCE2? Is it the responsibility of the IT consultants to do this???

Hands up at the back those of you in IT who (without Googleing) knows what PRINCE2 is and could trot out it's salient points? Not many I suspect.

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Anonymous Coward

PRINCE2 - a way to manage failure

It's really a glorified documentation standard, you can be fully compliant and not actually produce anything.

And being a British gov standard we adopted it here in Oz, we're also using it to *not * deliver projects. The paperwork is imaculate though, if highly ficticious as senior PMs use it to apportion blame with the assistance of compliant project boards.

How many large PRINCE2 projects have hit their original time and bodget estimates? My knowledge is zero and the only ones marked as success had the definition of that success greatly reduced while the costs blew out.

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Flame

Ohhh Goody....

..... more of my hard earned taxes pissed away by a bunch of incompetent chair shining waste of space government employees. Sooner or later they are going to have to start either employing competent people, or else we will have to consider having our very own "Arab Spring".

Still, I guess a lot of Consultants got paid well for advice that was ignored by their management as usual. I have never understood why they even bother hiring consultants in the first place if they already know more about IT than the consultants do.

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regrettably

CLG appear top have spent too much time listening to (and paying) their consultants!

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FAIL

Interesting

While in another comment thread about striking public sector workers the zeitgeist appears to be supportive of the public sector, here is (yet) another good example of why the public sector simply can't be trusted to run important projects. Like it or not this is a recurring theme.

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But wait a minute...

If it wasn't for inept public sector workers which money-teat would all the private sector 'consultants' and 'suppliers' suckle off. We're keeping you guys in work FFS. Show some gratitude at least...

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Mushroom

that's backwards!

Surely you should be thanking me, as a net tax payer, for giving you the money in the first place!

Thanking the public sector for handing out my money to incompetents doesn't seem to be a particularly sustainable path.....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Angus Wood - "Interesting"

But isn't the problem with most government IT contracts that they have been outsourced to the governments friends in the private sector to run and make massive profits from. So it makes perfect sense to see this as a typical goernment IT balls up and still support the public sector workers who were on strike.

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Anonymous Coward

Letters and or digits.

Happens ALL the time on public sector projects, even the pishy little ones I get involved in. Gov departments very rarely have a clear idea of the size of the job and what they want, and are unwilling to commit time and money to a proper analysis to find out. So you're very often buggered from the start, with no nailed-down requirements to aim for.

Then the bright ideas creep in, the wouldn't-it-be-nice-if, the can-you-make-it-do-this-as-well. And because you've got no concrete spec (and because they are, after all, your customer) you can't really tell them NO.

(AC because, they are, after all, my customers)

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Happy

disaster from the beginning.

II was on a team bidding for this contract. The whole team regarded the bidding process as so bad that we wanted our company to withdraw. Senior management said no so we spent £thousands submitting our bid. When we heard we had install the bid workers breathed a collective sigh of relief.

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Odd

The west-midlands fire control centre (Broadlands, Wolverhampton) is visible from my office window right now - still has cars in the carpark everyday - and has done for the last 12 months at least. Very fancy building, loads of security (I've seen less secure government DC's), massive gennys outside.

I wonder what they do in there all day if there's no computers in it?

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=fire+control+centre&hl=en&ll=52.637145,-2.120973&spn=0.003203,0.009645&sll=52.636631,-2.11843&sspn=0.003203,0.009645&t=h&filter=0&radius=0.24&z=17

(Its the building 100yds south of M54 between the two NE facing "U" shape arrangement of buildings - though the Google pic must be old - as the buildings no longer under construction, and hasn't been for a while).

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FAIL

I wish it was unbelievable

But it isn't, it's just another disaster in a long list.

I don't have the time and inclination to add up the total cost of all the IT disasters Labour were responsible for, but with this, the probation/police/prison service, and the NHS IT system they're well over the billion, and if you include the money spent on ID cards and nameless other projects, it wouldn't surprise me if it was ~5bn in total.

And there they stand criticising the coalition for their policies when they managed to piss all this away...

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Obvious question......

So, who gets fired?

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FAIL

Actually

Nobody

Because its all run by committee (part of the reason the project failed in the first place) no one person is responsible for the almighty cock up.

But if sufficient blame can be pinned on any 1 person, then what happens is that person retires early and might have to give up a few quid from his/her pension.

If you try firing the person, all that happens is you have enquiries, and union involvement and unfair dismissals and court reviews that end up costing 10 times what an early retirement would have cost.

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Silver badge

So, who gets fired?

Well, Gordon Brown did. Sort of. But he still has a job.

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Stop

Government Sector

@Angus Wood: I don't think it's particularly fair to tar all "government workers" with the same brush. For instance, the Fire Service is, generally speaking, fairly good at dealing with fires. The Ambulance Service is, again generally speaking, fairly good at dealing with emergency medical care. And so on. What none of these people are good at dealing with is complex IT projects.

Clearly, some of that is because these people don't have backgrounds in IT and someone has been promoted into the "IT Manager" position who came up through the ranks of dealing with something completely different. Or they were told by central government to outsource the whole thing because it wasn't a core competency. And now your public sector worker is expected to manage a complex outsourcing contract as well!

And, of course, the private sector never gets these wrong, do they? Do they? Of course they do, and they get it wrong for the same reason that the public sector does: because these are political decisions that have nothing to do with 95% of the division's staff and are never really worked through with someone who actually has some insight into the real problem. CEO of large company or director of large government bureaucracy (or, worse, MP of some piddling constituency) reads something in the loo about how integrating your IT systems can save you a bundle if you call IBM/Fujitsu/whoever. So they go and make it a policy without trying to grapple with what could possibly go wrong.

So fire the bosses, but don't pretend that "the public sector can't be trusted". After all, you trust them with your health, education, etc.

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FAIL

"a standard model of call handling and mobilisation"

Thankyou for calling FireControl, consistently voted best supplier of fire-related services. Please note that your call may be monitored or recorded for use in our office Christmas party compilation tape.

Please press 1 if you have set the bed on fire with a dog-end, press 2 if your head is stuck in railings, press 3 if your oil refinery has exploded, press 4 if your cat is stuck up a tree, press 5 if you are about to detonate a dirty bomb in Whitehall, press 6 if your house is about to be engulfed by a forest fire, press 7 if your tanker full of corrosive chemicals has overturned on the M1, press 8 if you forgot you'd left the chip pan on and went back in the living room to watch part two of Corrie, and press 9 if you just want a bunch of buff firemen in uniform to turn up to your hen party.

Press 0 to hear these choices again.

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RW
Devil

Are huge failed IT projects a Labour specialty?

Or did previous governments mess up equally badly, equally as often?

It wouldn't surprise me to be told that Labour was particularly bad about this. They seem to have had a penchant for putting unqualified incompetents behind important desks. Sometimes I wonder if this was because all potential new hires were subjected to ideological vetting and their mastery of Marxist-Leninist dialectic was viewed as far more important than actually understanding the job and being able to do it.

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Happy

@RW

"Or did previous governments mess up equally badly, equally as often?"

Well there was the classic Nimrod AEW b*llsup which left GEC with a £100m in profit (cost+) and cost the tax payers c£1bn in the 70s and early 80s.

The UK aid defense system was another massive piece of s**t.

"They seem to have had a penchant for putting unqualified incompetents behind important desks."

Any idea which front bencher of *any* UK political party has an actual IT qualification? Serious project management skills?

"subjected to ideological vetting and their mastery of Marxist-Leninist dialectic was viewed as far more important than actually understanding the job and being able to do it."

A charmingly old fashioned view of the Labor party. Tony Blair's "genius" was making the Labor more Thatcherite than the Conservative party, not less.

As for understanding the job well Andrew Lansley spent *years* as a shadow Health minister and was thought to be a safe pair of hands.

And then he introduced his reform proposals.

I'd say *all* political parties should beware of *two* things.

"I've got a great *big* idea"

*It'll need a good IT system"

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databases

Labour appeared to have a bit of a fetish for databases, especially big ones.

to be fair though, the potential scope of IT projects had been quite a lot higher in the Labour era, it's hard to say if the others would've screwed up on the same scale (I take it as a given that they would've screwed up...)

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Erm

How much paperwork do you file, mail and fill in these days?

Very little I would hope, many of these databases were about eliminating paper copies of medical records. Every time your records are requested they are mailed around and when you move house and register with a new GP these files are again moved around.

If you want to store data electronically then you need a database.

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Holmes

Lots of databases

Yep, thats stating the obvious, but missing the point.

Sure, if you want to store information electronically, you will do it in a database; the operative word there is IF.

When I said labour seemed to have a fetish for big databases, I meant that they had a fetish for collecting and centralising data. There is lots of information that a goverment simply doesn't need to know to operate, they just wanted to know it.

And on the medical records bit, your records don't need to be stored in a big fat central database that can be mined at will, they simply need to be electronically retrievable or transferable, which is a totaly different thing.

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Well..

@Big_Boomer.. If my experience of the public sector is anything to go by, a bunch of consultants got massively overpaid for advice that anyone with any actual technical competence could tell was cobblers, which the managers nevertheless followed to the letter because, obviously, consultants they're paying £80K a year each to must know better than their own techy staff that they're only paying £20K a year each to.

Not that I'm bitter or anything, now I'm somewhere where the word 'Gartner' doesn't bring on my seizures any more.

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Were many real government workers

anything to do with it at all I wonder?

A few pointy haired "executives" having a bright aidea and a whole lot of "consultants" making themselves rich out of our taxes might be more to the point...

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Facepalm

FiRE Control Project

Was a complete bodge from day 1. As someone who works in a Fire Brigade Control Room, it was very clear to me as well as everyone else that the whole concept was flawed.

Dropping from 46 to 9 was supposedly bringing more resilience and redundancy into the entire network. FAIL !

The locations of the new 'Centres' were meant to be in areas considered resilient to natural events such as flooding etc, yet more than one were built in areas that are historically known to have been effected by flooding. FAIL !

The so called 'networked' approach to the new centres meant that a Brigade in Scotland or the north of England could mobilise applianes in London for example, and vice versa. Yet there was never any kind of real time information update except for your own resources. FAIL !

The 'new' system would include a brand new nationwide interoprable radio network that would be all singing and all dancing. This has already been up and running for the last 3 years, paid for from a different budget. FAIL !

The 'new' system would be very cost efficient, yet it would have proved far cheaper to replace the mobilising system in every existing Control Room at a cost of no more than £1M each and achieve total modernisation across the board for a total of no more than £50M. FAIL !

Brigades would be able to take calls and mobilise appliances for their 'neighbouring' brigades. This has been happening for over 20 years already and works extremely well. FAIL !

The system would be designed and built by experts following extensive consultation to make it the most efficient and up to date system available. The actual 'consultants' in a lot of cases were ex Fire Service senior officers, who knew there was a cash cow and starting milking it for ridiculous amounts of money. They got away with this by simply telling the government what it wanted to hear. Ex Fire Service officers are not and never will be I.T consultants. FAIL !

Fire engines would have satellite based navigation systems which would allow the nearest appliance to sent to an incident to cut down attendance times. Brigades already use proximity based systems and quite a few have SatNav/GPS systems in their appliances, so it would have made little if any difference. FAIL !

The local knowledge that is so important to us to help keep things running smoothly, could, according to a certain ex minister 'be put into a databse and used when required'. Yet the government has admitted time and time again with other similar organisations that local knowledge makes a massive difference in service delivery. EPIC FAIL !

I could go on all night posting cock-up after cock-up in relation to this project that was doomed from its inception.

What has happened since ?

The Fire Service has gone back to continually providing excellent levels of performance and service delivery, despite being put through the mill like so many other public services, due in no small part to the good will of the rank and file shop floors members who make it work.

Management continue to book meetings....

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Joke

So....

Another successfully run government project then? Champers and gold bars (from a vending machine?) all round!

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Angel

<Title/>

RE: "more of my hard earned taxes pissed away..."

This isn't strictly true; the FC project got me a job and paid my salary for a few years and I'm awesome. AC for a reason.

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it works

paid for a really nice big BMW for one of my acquaintances - call me sad, but I loved the way that I could email the car a set of google maps to the pub, I appreciated he was a fairly sound lad technicall, and I despaired at the project, especially at the use of very expensive contractors....

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Flame

Beware *any* government minister whose plans begin

"I've got a *big* idea"

"It'll need a good new IT system (possibly with database)"

NHS IT reform, National ID cards, regional fire control rooms, air traffic control (managed to p**s a way a fair bit but often forgotten), NIRS2, unified courts/prison/parole system (I'm sure there are others but I'm nearly spitting blood at this point)

*All* began with those 2 little sentences.

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FAIL

Clueless management...

The problem, as usual is the arrogance of management...

They think they know better, and won't consult the people below them who actually have to deal with things on a daily basis, such as the people who run the existing fire control centres on a daily basis. Surely they will have a good idea of where money can be saved, and there improvements can be made.

IT outsourcing companies are exactly the same, the views of non technical managers are treated like gospel, while the views of staff lower down the chain who know the systems inside out are ignored. So you get competent technical staff lumped in the same boat as incompetent technical staff, and both are expected to run systems that were chosen by people with no technical knowledge and no knowledge of the requirements of the people who will actually have to use these systems.

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Pirate

Name and Shame?

Why is it that only the suppliers get named, and not the Civil Servants in charge of the project? Come on El Reg, get digging! Give us some names. Tell us where they work. Let's all go and ask them for our money back. Let them be made redundant first. Why should we suffer before they do?

Come on, let's find some rope and a tree... What do you mean Health & Safety won't let us? Yes, I've done a risk assessment. Yes I know it says they will die at the end, but at least it is slowly. We have managed the risks to increase their life expectations. By about 20 minutes. Yes, we will all wear gloves if that helps. Environmental Impact? Yes, there will be an impact when we cut them down. Yes, okay, we will wear hard hats. Yes, they can wear hard hats as well. You did read the bit about their condition at this point? Recycling? Yes, we can do that. Roses would look lovely next year with all those worms...

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Facepalm

But they were only doing their job

The civil servants concerned were trying to implement Blair's brilliant idea about 9/11 type incidents. The idea was given shape and form by John Prescott, who clearly articulated, at the right level of technical detail the way FiReControl would work. Or so i am told. The civil servants were just carrying orders, They plodded round the Fire Brigades explaining how Blair's brilliant idea would work and got very upset when they were told what they could do with it.

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Or

the very expensive consultants (one mention) who really screwed it up.

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Unhappy

8 new high security offices, with air con and backup geneartors.

Perhaps a data centre consolidation project? How many departments hardware could be fitted onto *one* site?

If HMG has them on 20 year leases (at *least*) you could put quite a lot of kit in them and their bandwidth *should* be enough to allow remote management. So *no* staff re-location.

Never happen of course. The "disruption" will cause too much loss of "service" blah blah..

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Coat

They never learn

I know the person who had this bright idea. It seemed, in Whitehall, perfectly logical and reasonable. It wasn't - but their minds could not see past their civil service training into the minds of the people delivering emergency services. Whitehall deeply despised the Fire Brigades for being antiquated, inefficient, unco--ordinated and - worst of all - independent of them. Fire Brigades had a fairly healthy contempt for Whitehall which they showed (undiplomatic I know, but they had good reason).

FireControl was not about efficiency, modernisation, shiny technology etc. It was a way for Whitehall to take charge. If it had ever worked the independence of local Brigades would have gone for ever, and they all knew that. Good riddance. Er, anyone want a purpose built command and control centre designed for fire brigades only, with a thirty year lease? You could probably work out a good deal with CLG - they're stuck with the leases.

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Anonymous Coward

C & C Centres

They could actually sell these buildings to mobile phone/call handling/insurance/whatever companies, who i am sure could make use of them.

Trouble is, if you go rooting round on various news sites out there, you will find evidence of the catalog of errors that were encountered in relation to the construction. The one at Wakefield in West Yorkshire for example, had to have massive amounts of corrective work done on it due to the relatively poor standard of construction. Large areas of the building were no-go areas for a long time.

My favoured method for disposal of these buildings would be to cut the ties completely and bring in the bulldozers...

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FAIL

One recurring theme of *all* these f**kups seems to be

they never survey the *current* state of a system (fire brigade, ambulance, hospitals etc) *before* they announce the new super-duper solution.

I find it *very* hard to believe that *all* centres were hopeless. My gut feeling is that like a lot of human institutions they follow the bell curve.

Some might well be *staggeringly* bad with a measurably worse chance of surviving a fire or having your property burned to the ground before *anyone* turns up to do something.

Most of the rest are reasonable and some would outstanding.

But bringing the laggards up to *average*, and then moving the average up a notch (or two) requires careful analysis and *patience*, which ministers seem to be incapable of.

It would appear that data sharing which (supposedly) was going to be one of the benefits of this system, was already happening. It needed enhancing, *not* a root and branch change.

If you've no real idea of the performance level of the *current* system, at least down to regional, (and preferable individual control room) level how would you know if you've made *any* improvement?

It should be *impossible* to make such an investment and demonstrate *no* reduction in average response time (on a regional, not overall basis), fewer deaths etc.

But I think they did manage to do just that.

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Childcatcher

@Databases.

It's not Databases. It's Database Thingies, as a minister whose name I forget allegedly described New Labour's magnum opus, ICL Pathway.

Closing the newspaper, possibly to save a woman who may know where the bodies are buried and can't be trusted to take one for cosy nostradamus, was nothing compared to sinking a big company to keep the Minister in charge of the Benefits system in a job, can't remember his name.

Anyway. The reason it failed is F obvious. There weren't enough ITIL3, Prince2 consultants on it and it should have been put in the cloud.

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