By Tony Collins
The defence and aerospace supplier EADS is widely regarded as the main supplier of the FireControl project which was cancelled in December 2010, with wasted costs of at least £469m.
But did the project have too many consultants, some of whom were accountability-free? The question is raised by report published today on FireControl by the National Audit Office.
“The implementation of FiReControl was heavily reliant on consultants and interim staff, who contributed around half the Department’s [for Communities and Local Government] project team at a cost of £68.6m, over three-quarters of the total spend on the national team supporting the project.
“PA Consulting was contracted to provide consultancy services at a cost of £42m to the end of March 2011. Its staff held key positions throughout the project, including the Project Manager, one of only two senior members of the team who remained on the project throughout its duration.
“Despite the Department’s reliance on consultants, there was no framework to assess their performance until the end of 2008, when the National Audit Office recommended that the Department’s contracts with consultants should include mechanisms to enable regular objective monitoring of performance, such as performance indicators and key milestones.
“Without such mechanisms, the Department was unable to determine whether or not the services provided offered value for money.
“A review of the FiReControl project by the Office of Government Commerce in 2008 similarly found that some consultants in key management roles did not have a level of authority matching their responsibilities, which led to decisions being referred to others.
“Other consultants were found to hold a disproportionate (and accountability-free) amount of authority. In response, the Department reviewed its use of consultants and interims within FiReControl and reduced the number employed, leading to a fall of 24% in consultancy costs between 2008-09 and 2009-10, and a further fall of 26 per cent in the following year.”
The failure of the FireControl project – and many other central government IT-based programmes dating back decades – shows the need for independent challenge as projects progress or otherwise.
Gateway reviews are independent reports on the state of a project but they appear to be ignored if they’re too critical, as in the cases of FireControl and the Rural Payments Agency’s Single Payment Scheme; and the Gateway review reports are secret – even today – so there is no outside pressure on departments to act on them.
What’s to be welcomed is the intervention of the Cabinet Office in major projects. FireControl systems could have been delivered. They could have worked. But there were too many missed deadlines and continuing uncertainties, as the NAO points out in today’s report.
The Cabinet Office’s major Projects Review Group, as it was then, said the FireControl contract should be ended – and it was a few months later, amicably, in December 2010.
All credit to the NAO for naming PA Consulting, as well as the main supplier EADS.