Half a billion £ up in smoke. And Macavity (and the Minister) aren’t there!

The UK Government has announced exciting plans to revolutionise fire control processes across England. Here's ODPM Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP, who has responsibility for Fire.

"There is a compelling need to modernise and rationalise the control rooms in England, as part of the overall modernisation agenda.... we need control centres that are resilient enough to deal with a terrorist attack or any natural disaster... The new national network will provide the Fire and Rescue Service with a modern, effective system that will better protect the public. The centres will use the latest proven technology ....The network will deliver a service that is resilient...  It will also be much more efficient, which will free up resources for other Fire and Rescue Service work, such as fire prevention."

SORRY! Just went into a time-warp there.  Must have been those faster than light particles they've discovered at CERN...

That quote was from Means of Escape, (great name for a website incidentally), the "industry's leading online fire safety magazine" - in August 2005. The article ends, "The national network should be fully operational by 2009".

And last week the Public Accounts Committee published their report into the FireControl  shambles that has led to a waste of some £500,000,000 (let's spell it out for full effect) of taxpayers' money with virtually no discernible benefit. We've covered this before, but my point in featuring that quote is this.

The PAC report sprays the blame around - civil servants, consultants and contractors, the suppliers all get covered - and with some justification. And in retrospect, kicking off such a project without the buy-in of the Fire Authorities seems crazy - but it is the same story that we've seen with other public sector disasters such as the NHS IT system, which never had stakeholder buy-in.

But who pushes these crazy projects through? Who ignores the advice that I guarantee you wiold have been given by civil servants? THE POLITICIANS! THE MINISTER! Step forward Mr Fitzpatrick. And probably others.

They want a vanity project for their cv, employment for their constituency, or they may even believe their idea is actually for the public good. But they too often don't understand major programmes or programme management, and they think they can somehow trample over stakeholders, or other impracticalities inherent in the scheme, and "just make it happen".

So why does the PAC report barely mention Ministers? I'll leave you to work that one out.

It does say, "Cabinet Office needs to embed a culture which accepts personal responsibility and accountability for major projects and must be clear as to how Government will address underperformance."

But no civil servant will take on half the projects pushed by ministers if they have to assume "personal responsibility"! No-one would have touched this one for sure. Or the ID Card scheme.  (Not a single civil servant I knew ever thought that would work or come to fruition).

And finally, we should keep a close eye out for the projects that are kicking off now,  or currently proposed,  that we'll look back on in 10 years time and think "why on earth...?"

Any nominations?

Voices (3)

  1. 5th Columnist:

    The Joint Strike Fighter, which those who fly it call ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’. You can get three of them at today’s price for every abandoned Fire Control Centre project. Mind you, we don’t have any Aircraft Carriers to put them on yet so we can wait for our 20 or so to rise in price.

    We’re buying JSF cause MoD say the Eurofighter couldn’t fly from carriers, …except in India who have modified theirs, and it’s scareing the pants off their neighbours it’s that good. How many of those 3,000 BAE jobs could that have saved eh?

  2. Huhh?:

    This goes to the heart of what’s wrong with the current govern-mental process in this country:-

    1. Ministers too incompetent to see what they’re doing is insane (interesting as the rest of us can!)
    2. A civil service too diffident to do anything than put up passive resistance (which means what little chance these vanity projects have are reduced to below zero), and
    3. Great truckloads of “somebody else’s money” that has no real consequence if you squander it. (I often think there’s a private competition going on between past and present ministers to see who can waste the most – competition is fierce at the moment)
    4. Big Consultancy and Big Plc being given the keys to the trucks of money with a vague edict to “spend it well”

    It’s very sad that those undertaking this total and utter cluster-f*ck are the supposed best and the brightest of several oxbridge generations…

  3. Final Furlong:

    Very good Peter.

    Always happy to take up reins on this one….

    The first horse upon which I will place a bet, isn’t an outsider but sadly is one that will keep fallling at most hurdles, eventually go lame, and then be shot when its legs finally give way under the weight of its reinless, egotistical rider (and he will continue to flog the dead horse of course…). GP Commissioning!

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