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ESN: needs ‘house in order’

The delayed Emergency Services Network (ESN) is likely to be even later than expected, says an official audit. A Home Office failure to manage risks has led to delays in bringing the intended benefits of ESN to emergency services, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The delays also mean introducing ESN is now forecast to cost £3.1 billion more than planned, and this forecast is highly uncertain. The minimum forecast delay in switching off the current Airwave system is three years, as it’s now scheduled for December 2022. To date, the Home Office’s management of this critical programme has represented poor value for money, the auditors concluded. The NAO recognises that a Home Office’s ‘re-set’ has addressed some of the programme’s issues – introducing a staged approach to the roll out, replacing a key piece of technology, strengthening its management teams and processes, and re-negotiating contracts.

The successful delivery of ESN is reliant on emergency services being satisfied it is a suitable replacement for Airwave. The Home Office has said emergency services will not have to use ESN until it is “as good in all respects” as Airwave. However, emergency services are concerned that the coverage and resilience of ESN may not match Airwave. Commercially, the Home Office is renegotiating the programme’s main contracts with Motorola and EE, but these are behind schedule. Motorola needs to be carefully managed as it is both a main supplier to ESN and the owner of Airwave, the auditors note. It could therefore benefit financially from further delays if Airwave is extended. The Home Office is also yet to agree who will be responsible for running the ESN service once it is launched.

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, says: “The success of the Emergency Services Network is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe. The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

Some 470 organisations are expected to use ESN when it is ready; this includes all 107 police, fire and ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales; another 363 others in the public, private and third sectors are expected to use the network and contribute to its costs.

To view the full 51-page report, visit the NAO website.

Comment

For Labour, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, called it ‘a completely shocking indictment of mismanagement and incompetence under this Government’. She said: “At a time when public services, including our emergency services, have been undermined by Tory cuts it is incredible that they have also wasted billions through their appalling mismanagement of the new radio system.

“It’s been clear for some time that under this Government the Home Office has routinely ruined the lives of British citizens, but now they are squandering enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money too. They are callous and incompetent.”


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