Fire Control procurement goes up in flames – NAO sends DCLG to the naughty step

The National Audit Office (NAO) report (available here) on the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) ill -fated FiReControl project is one of the most critical NAO have written. Ever. Other than the fact that DCLG did finally pluck up the courage to terminate the whole d**n thing last year, there little else positive to say.  (And by the way, don't you just hate the fact that  it was called FiReControl, with three capital letters, as if it was some trendy Shoreditch design studio...)

But here's paragraph 1 of the NAO conslusion. It's a great summary of the problems.

This is an example of bad value for money. FiReControl will have wasted a minimumof £469 million, through its failure to provide any enhancement to the capacity of thecontrol centres of Fire and Rescue Services after seven years. At root, this outcome has been reached because the Department, without sufficient mandatory powers, decided to try to centrally impose a national control system on unwilling locally accountable bodies....  At the same time, it tried to rush through key elements of project initiation andended up with an inadequate IT contract, under-appreciating its complexity and risk, and then mismanaged problems with the IT contractor’s performance and delivery.

There are so many issues that contributed towards half a billion £ of taxpayers money being wasted, it's hard to know where to start. Bad planning, poor assessment of costs, lack of stakeholder buy-in, a dysfunctional contracting strategy, buying new buildings years before the IT was ever going to be ready... we need to go through the detailed report and come back with a distillation of the key procurement lessons learnt. We'll do that sometime soon.

Here's another killer fact - and another reason for failure - from NAO:

During the life of the project there have been five different Senior Responsible Owners, four different Project Directors and five officers supervising the delivery of the technology

So, to conclude for today at least. While you can't possibly pin the blame on one person for all this, who was in charge of the DCLG while this fiasco was unfolding? Step forward, Peter Housden, permanent secretary of DCLG and its predecessor Departments from 2005-10.  So what happened to Housden? Sacked? Resigned in ignominy?

Not exactly. He was knighted in the 2010 Birthday Honours list and appointed Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government in that same year.

And that's just one reason why this sort of thing will, sadly, happen again, and again...

Voices (2)

  1. VegasChild:

    So, can we use “doing a Housden” to describe the all to frequent practice of very senior people who preside over a fiasco and get rewarded at the end of it. To be clear, this doesn’t only happen in the public sector.

    Here in Vegas we have much clearer rules – you loose your money (i.e fail), you loose your seat at the table.

    There must be plenty of other examples of Housdenizing out there

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