Ministers face ‘crisis of confidence’ over delayed and over-budget emergency service network, MPs warn
The Government’s delayed and over-budget plan for a new emergency services communications network is creating a “crisis of confidence” among police, ambulance and fire officials, MPs have warned.
The Public Accounts Committee hit out after the revelation that the Emergency Services Network (ESN) will cost at least £3.1bn more than expected and be at least three years late.
The National Audit Office found in May that the replacement for the existing Airwave system will cost £9.3bn and will not be in service until after 2022.
The system is used by all police, fire and ambulance services across Great Britain to link up control rooms and teams in the field.
The PAC said the Home Office’s plan to deliver the programme is “still not sufficiently robust”, despite ministers resetting it last year, after accepting that its aim to have the transition ready by September 2017 was not achievable.
They add that further delays and cost increases are “inevitable”, but that given the status quo is “costly”, there remains little option but to press on with the programme.
The committee also highlighted that technology for some parts of ESN is still not ready, such as that which can be used by aircraft, while coverage is still not available in certain areas, such as on underground railways.
Chair of the committee, Meg Hillier, said neither the emergency services or the committee believed the Home Office had a "credible plan to deliver a reliable and effective service anytime soon".
She said: “The endless delay in delivering a new system for our emergency services to communicate and share data is creating a crisis of confidence as police, fire and ambulance on longer have trust in the new system being delivered.
“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.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Emergency Services Network (ESN) will provide police, fire services and ambulance crews with an innovative mobile-based communications system that can transform their emergency response and result in savings of £200 million a year.
“This ambitious project has not been without its challenges, but following our thorough review and decision to roll ESN out in stages, our approach has gone to plan, with the network already live and devices and software being tested.
“We will continue to monitor progress to ensure the successful delivery of this programme.”