Fire centre fiasco set to cost another £220m

TAXPAYERS face having to pay another £220m to resolve the fiasco of the Government project to set up a single fire control centre to cover the whole of Yorkshire.

Ministers finally pulled the plug on the botched project – which soared over budget, behind schedule and was widely opposed – last year, leaving them with the headache of what to do with eight empty control centres around the country.

Now the Government has said it is willing to offer Yorkshire's four fire services a "significant" contribution towards the 5,000-a-day rent if they still want to use the new Yorkshire building in Wakefield – but they will leave it up to officials in the region to decide what to do.

They warned, however, that if fire services do not want to use the building, and want to keep their own control room rather than sharing, there will be limited money available from the Government for improvements.

Despite having already spent 230m on the FireControl project before it was scrapped, a consultation released by the Government yesterday outlining four broad options for the future of control services revealed taxpayers will have to pay another 223m to 365m to be able to fully use a new digital radio system which was part of the scheme.

The FireControl project was drawn up to reduce the current 46 control rooms around the country and move them into nine larger buildings – one in each region of England – to improve the ability to respond to major events.

It came in the wake of the flooding which struck swathes of Hull and South Yorkshire in 2007, when emergency services struggled to cope with the massive volume of calls.

But the project spiralled from its initial budget of 120m to an expected 420m before Ministers pulled the plug in December when the company responsible for it, Cassidian, said it would not be able to meet deadlines.

Fire services in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Humberside are expected to decide over the coming weeks whether they still want to work together to make use of the new building.

The expensive new building in Wakefield – kitted out with a 6,000 coffee machine – is costing 5,000 a day in rent already, and fire services had been concerned about the costs they would face when they moved in.

Over the coming weeks they will hold talks on what to do, and want to find out how much the Government is willing to contribute towards the rent.

One fire source said "everything is on the table", but Ministers have made clear they are willing to sell the lease on the building if fire services are not willing to use it.

Fire Minister Bob Neill said: "This Government believes that the fire and rescue community is best placed to decide the future of their control services.

"No solution will be imposed.

"The consultation reviews the legacy assets from the project, as well as lessons learnt, and encourages the sector to make best use of these in their future plans, for the benefit of both the taxpayer and local communities."