Norfolk fire scheme 'badly managed' say MPs

Shaun LowthorpeA controversial scheme to create nine regional fire control rooms - including one covering Norwich - was inadequately planned, poorly executed, and badly managed, say MPs.Shaun Lowthorpe

A controversial scheme to create nine regional fire control rooms - including one covering Norwich - was inadequately planned, poorly executed, and badly managed: but the government should plough on anyway because it would cost too much to scrap, according to a committee of MPs.

The government wants to scrap the existing 46 control rooms as part of a �423m shift towards a regional system.

A report by the communities and local government select committee said the scheme had been put at 'substantial risk' because of a host of problems including poor relations with its IT provider and a lack of openness among civil servants.

In the East of England, Cambridgeshire will be the first to move to the regional system in September next year followed by Suffolk and Norfolk, which is expected to move from its Hethersett headquarters to the outskirts of Cambridge in May 2012.

The MPs said that many fire authorities had reservations about the project because of a lack of openness and collaboration among civil servants, while fire chiefs were still struggling to implement the system at a time when they should be focussing on the high profile safety concerns posed by the Olympic Games in 2012.

But despite the criticisms the committee said ministers should carry on because the �8m costs of carrying on were less than scrapping it.

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The chief fire officers' association has also written to ministers reconfirming its support in the project. But the Conservatives said the report was a further example of waste by the Labour government and the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) renewed its call for the project to be scrapped.

Jamie Wyatt, brigade secretary of Norfolk FBU, said: 'It's absolutely shocking the amount of money that's been wasted on this project from start to finish. We urge the government to be realistic and say enough is enough and pull the plug on it.'

South-West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser, who has previously raised concerns about the scheme, said: 'This is a damning report, and cause for continued concern about the future of fire and rescue service cover in Norfolk.

'We currently have a first-rate fire service in the county, but it seems to me that the Government has failed to offer any assurance that the quality will be maintained or improved as a result of the Fire Control Project.'

David Worsley, chief executive of Fire Control East, which will run the new regional control room said the criticisms related to the government's handling of the project and he was still confident that plans were on track in the East of England.

'We have acknowledged that not everything has as smoothly as we would wish for, but lessons have been learned,' Mr Worsley said.

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