The Public Accounts Committee continues to have serious concerns about the cost and delivery of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – an ambitious programme to change the way emergency services communicate with each other in Great Britain.
The Home Office is replacing the Airwave radio system used by the 105 police, fire and ambulance services with ESN, a system not yet in use nationwide anywhere in the world.
The system is intended to save money by sharing an existing commercial 4G mobile data network instead of building a dedicated public service network, and to provide emergency services with better mobile data capabilities.
However, it has been beset by delays and uncertainties concerning continuity of service provision, new IT infrastructure, and the form and functionality of devices intended to be used in emergencies.
The Committee first reported on ESN in January 2017, highlighting concerns about the delivery timetable, potential overrun costs and the absence of detailed contingency plans.
In April 2017 it described plans to take part of Airwave out of service early as striking “a major, potentially catastrophic” blow to the ability of emergency services to carry out their jobs.
The Committee has closely followed the project’s progress since then, most recently taking evidence from the Home Office, senior police and others in October 2018.
The Home Office told the Committee that, following a review of the programme, extending the use of Airwave to the end of 2022 is expected to cost £1.1 billion.