12 December 2002 | Robin Parker
Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on the procurement of a controversial police radio system, according to government spending watchdogs.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says buying the digital Airwave radio network nationally cost the taxpayer £300 million more than if systems had been bought locally.
In its report, Public Private Partnerships: Airwave, the PAC says the system is “more sophisticated and expensive than it really needs to be”.
It says regional procurements would have offered limited intercommunication between police but would have made it easier for the other emergency services within the same region to join the network.
But a Home Office spokeswoman branded the £300 million figure “questionable” and said regionally procured systems do not guarantee equal quality.
“It’s sophisticated, but that’s what we need - a mobile police force that can communicate without interference, without the background noise of control rooms and without officers endangering themselves by going out of range.”
She added that a national system would allow officers to use their own equipment anywhere.
But the PAC said the ability of officers to communicate outside their home force areas had yet to be rigorously evaluated.
By 2005, more than 50 police forces in England, Wales and Scotland are expected to use the £1.5 billion system from O2, the former mobile communications arm of BT.
It was mired in controversy earlier this year when the National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the fire service for pulling out of joint negotiations.
A spokesman for the Police Information Technology Organisation, which introduced the system at the seven forces that have signed up to it, said: “Now that we’ve seen these forces are using the network, they’re using them in innovative ways that hadn’t even been realised at the outset.”