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FiReControl Project

Volume 502: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2009

At the start of this debacle in March 2004 we were told that tried and tested methods would be used for IT, and that the project would be done and dusted by November 2007. There has been a little bit of slippage on the time scale, but is the Minister serious and does he stand by the words of his predecessors? Was the IT really tried and tested, because that clearly does not seem to be the case?

The case for FiReControl is absolutely compelling—[Hon. Members: “No, it is not!”] It is interesting, because I met representatives of the Chief Fire Officers Association only last week, which is as committed to FiReControl as ever. The idea that the Opposition are better placed to talk about national resilience in the context of the fire service than the CFOA is frankly laughable. FiReControl will improve national resilience and bring unprecedented levels of co-operation and interoperability—[Interruption.] That is a difficult word as well. For the first time, we shall have a national network with nine regional control centres, all of which will be able to operate at peak times in a way that we have never seen before.

Given the vast over-cost and the considerable delay, does the Minister believe that taxpayers are seeing value for money?

We would not have engaged in the project if we did not believe that it was value for money. All the major stakeholders believe that it is value for money. Sometimes I think that the Conservatives seem to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The set-up costs of the FiReControl project are already £400 million over budget, the project is years behind schedule and the Local Government Association and the Chief Fire Officers Association—previous supporters of the Government on the project—are bailing out. In his written statement of 15 July, the Minister promised to underwrite all pre-cutover upfront costs of the project. Is he still in a position to meet that undertaking?

We are fully committed to ensuring that FiReControl is achieved as set out. The idea that there is a £400 million overspend is so far off the mark that it is frightening. The reality is that when rescheduling took place in July this year the cost went up from £380 million to £420 million. Those costs will all be reaped back from EADS via royalties and a reduced fee for FiReControl operations.