The Home Office still has not ‘got a grip’ of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) project, despite being granted a three year extension and an increased budget up to £3.1 billion.
This is according to a new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that highlights a department with an “unhealthy ‘good news’ culture,” which resulted in erroneous optimism with regards to the cost and length of the project.
PAC chair Meg Hillier commented that: “Neither the emergency services, nor the PAC, are convinced that the Home Office has a credible plan to deliver a reliable and effective service anytime soon. In the meantime services are having to find work arounds and buy new equipment to prop up the old Airwave system.”
The long-awaited ESN was due to replace the current Motorola-owned Airwave system, which is part of Britain’s critical emergency national infrastructure and is currently in use by the fire, police and ambulance service.
The ESN project is the government’s attempt to shift from Airwave, a radio-based network of communication, to a dedicated 4G network that will include a mobile network of Sim Cards that have priority over commercial users.
The committee notes that the emergency service responders who will be required to use the technology have not been sufficiently convinced that it will be ready to replace the current system by December 2022. The first initial test of the ESN Direct system will only be used by 120 users, far short of the 300,000 potential responders that will rely on the service.
Emergency Services Network Delays
The project has encountered delays and problems over the years and many expected it to be completed by now. Back in 2014 when the engagement process with supplies began, then Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims Mike Penning said: “A modernised communications network is vital to help the emergency services protect the public and save lives. We are on track to deliver this critical part of our national infrastructure by 2017.”
The Home Office has admitted to the PAC that the commercial structure for ESN is: ‘highly disaggregated and adds complexity to an already difficult task.’
ESN was due to replace the current Motorola-owned Airwave system, which is part of Britain’s critical emergency national infrastructure. The PAC believe that Motorola has a ‘monopoly position as Airwave’s owner.’
The committee wants the department to submit a written plan to PAC by October this year. The plan should outline how it plans to manage the risk presented by Motorola’s position and the possible outcome that they need to extend Airwaves contract once again.
PAC chair Meg Hillier commented that: “The Home Office’s reset of the Emergency Services Network programme has failed to deliver any more certainty. The financial benefits originally predicted for this programme are rapidly evaporating and it will not now realise cost savings, on the most optimistic forecasts, for at least a decade.”
“The key technology behind the ESN is not yet fully proven and we were not convinced that the Home Office has the capability and plans to deliver a coherent single system that provides the functionality and dependability the emergency services demand.”