Stakeholders sabotage project for regional 999 call centres

Stakeholder management case studies

By Geoff Reiss
FireControl was the name for a project to replace all the UK’s local 999 call centres with nine regional centres.

Of the roughly 1,500 people who work in the 46 call centres spread around the UK, about 350 are on duty at any one time. We all hope not to need to dial 999 but if you do, you will get through to one of these 350 people any time, day or night.

This project had been dreamed up in central government and, with remarkable prioritisation, the nine buildings were quickly designed and building contracts placed. In addition, in March 2007, then Fire and Rescue service minister Angela Smith, award an eight-year £200m contract to supply the IT infrastructure for the new regional control centres. The whole thing was expected to lead to a 30% cut in staff.

Could it be that some politicians were keen to have their photos taken in front of the sparkling new buildings?

Let’s consider the stakeholders in this initiative. Right at the top of any stakeholder list would be management and staff of the 46 call centres. Right?

And which organisation represents these key stakeholders? Step forward the Fire Brigades Union, the FBU, which represents firefighting personnel and control staff at all levels within the fire and rescue service across the UK including the 1,500 people who work in the call centres.

So, it was a bit of a worry when the FBU got to hear about the project and threw their hands in the air in horror.

The FBU launched a campaign against the regionalisation of emergency fire control rooms. The union stated that the
‘project had virtually no acceptance amongst the workforce’.
Members of the fire brigades union had
‘grave concerns about the diversion of money to the project, and questioned the feasibility of having 30% fewer control staff available to answer emergency calls across the country during spate conditions’.
There were fears that the regional 999 system would ‘become swamped with calls and come to a complete standstill, and the loss of local knowledge amongst call takers was considered a significant risk’.

Therefore, this key stakeholder group was no supporter of the project but was activity engaged in trying to stop it. They became what some stakeholder management people call mutineers.

In the face of such feedback from such a significant stakeholder group, the project had to be abandoned.

The Department for Communities and Local Government cancelled the whole project in December 2010 after concluding that ‘it could not be delivered to an acceptable timeframe’. At the point the decision was made, the Department estimated it had spent £245 million on the project and calculated that completion would take the total cost of the project to £635 million, more than five times the original estimate of £120 million.
‘It could not be delivered to an acceptable timeframe’ is political speak for ‘we make a total cock up’.
But by this stage both the building work and the software development was well under way.

The software contract was cancelled, at a price. The building projects were left to run to completion on the basis that some use would be found for these delightful new buildings.
Unused call centre building after failed project – stakeholder case study

For example, the £23 million Regional Control Centre in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire sat empty for four years costing £160,000 per month to keep clean and secure until it was eventually sold off in 2012.

All nine buildings lay empty for some time. One of the nine buildings is now used for the public good. The building at Fareham, Hampshire, today houses a part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Years later, others have been sold or put to use in other ways.

In total, the NAO estimated that £469m had been stuffed down the toilet for this calamity.

If the project management team had met with, consulted and listened to the key stakeholders before placing contracts for software and construction, 99% of this money would have been saved. Still, some politicians probably did get their photos taken smiling on the construction project worksites.

Bibliography

National Audit Office (NAO), 2011, The failure of the FiReControl project. REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL. Available online at https://www.nao.org.uk/report/the-failure-of-the-firecontrol-project/

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