Empty fire control centre: rent-free lure not enough
A rent-free period and a £1 million grant was not enough to lure a tenant in to a vacant 999 fire control centre in Taunton that is costing taxpayers around £5,000 a day, it has emerged.
The empty building in Somerset was earmarked to answer emergency calls for six fire services in the South West.
But in 2010 ministers pulled the plug on the call hub and plans for eight other regional super-centres as technical problems left the Government with a £500 million bill.
In May, MPs on the cross-party Public Accounts select committee criticised civil servants for letting the facility continue to do nothing after Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service expressed interest in moving in.
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Now, in an annexe to the committee's damning report on the failed project published last month, it has emerged the lengths the Department for Communities and Local Government went to get the fire service on board.
The incentive package offered included a rent-free period of four years, a 75% rent subsidy for the rest of the tenure, £50,000 a year until 2015 for "facilities management" costs and a £1 million capital contribution.
But Devon and SomersetFire and Rescue Authority rejected the offer, tabled in October, after they considered moving only their control room, area command and some overspill staff, which would not fill the centre.
In extra evidence to the committee, which DCLG was ordered to provide, it said: "The savings that (Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority) could make by releasing the space then occupied by these functions were considered to be in the region of only £200,000 per annum, which was considered unaffordable when set against overall costs and the (fire service) reluctantly rejected the department's offer."
It went on that "offering substantial discounts to attract tenants is an option" that will be considered.
It means the saga of the region's most notorious "white elephant" is likely to continue for some time yet, despite the efforts to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
The note also revealed there were expressions of interest for the building from Somerset County Council, the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton and a private company trading as Una Group.
Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the select committee, had told Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary of DCLG, the situation in Taunton was "crazy". Sir Bob admitted "substantial subsidies" were available to entice tenants into the centres.
The FireControl project was championed by Labour but ditched by the coalition Government. The committee said it was "one of the worst cases of project failure" it has ever seen.
"The project was cancelled in 2010 but the Department has still not resolved how it will use the facilities and buildings which had been constructed," it said
DCLG is keen that most of the benefits, including recurring savings of £126 million, can be delivered by locally determined solutions at a cost of around £82 million.