A PARLIAMENTARY watchdog today launched a devastating attack on the failed Regional Fire Control Centres programme.
NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay and his predecessor Malcolm Moss had joined forces to spotlight growing concerns over the escalating costs of the project which had included a new centre based at Waterbeach near Cambridge.
The empty Waterbeach centre alone was at one stage haemorrhaging £160,000 a month and overall, before it was scrapped by the Coalition Government, the project nationwide had lost half a billion pounds.
Now the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has published its report on the doomed fire control centres programme – which should have created eight regional centres- and lambasted those involved in setting it up.
Mr Barclay has been on the cross party committee delving into the wreckage of the abandoned scheme which he claimed today “was flawed from the start”.
He said the committee had found the project had “weak management, failed to deliver its IT, was not even wanted by most fire authorities, and no one has been held accountable for a scandalous waste of money.
“In fact the failure was so catastrophic that the report notes that ‘this is one of the worst cases of project failure that the Committee has seen in many years.’”
He added: “This was a pet project of Lord Prescott as part of his desire to impose regionalisation across England, although I doubt his Lordship who is a fan of using Twitter will be tweeting about it today.
“I am pleased that this report has seen the light of day. There were no plans to carry out a National Audit Office study and Public Accounts Committee hearing until Ian Swales MP (another Committee member) and I called for this issue to be investigated.
“This followed my campaign during the General Election to highlight the waste of the empty fire control building at Waterbeach which cost £23 million to build, £118,000 a month to stand empty, and still is sitting unused today wasting money.!
Mr Barclay said the accountable officer for the regional fire control programme from 2005 to 2010 was Sir Peter Howden and “surprisingly, he has since been promoted to be the top civil servant in Scotland.
“Half a billion pounds would have paid for a lot of retained fire stations and firefighters.
“To put it in context, Manea fire station costs just £60,000 a year to run. “Cambridgeshire Fire Service could have made much better use of this money. Lord Prescott should tweet an apology to taxpayers in Cambridgeshire, but I am sure he will sit quietly in his ermine today.”
Adrian Clarke from the Fire Brigades Union said they had been the one organisation calling for a rethink of the regional control policy.
He said: “I don’t want to be in this position but we have been saying this would happen right from the start back in 2004.
Ironically Suffolk is to merge its fire control centre with Cambridgeshire to save money but it will be centred on the existing control room at Huntingdon.