The current Airwave comms system is being used at a cost of £620m a year © Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The current Airwave comms system is being used at a cost of £620m a year © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Cost of new blue light comms system hits £9.3bn

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
17 July 2019

The cost of upgrading the communication system used by UK emergency services has ballooned to £9.3bn, according to a report.

The report, from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said this figure was up £3.1bn on an original forecast, but “costs of the programme are still uncertain”.

The PAC said the Emergency Services Network (ESN) project was three years late and £1.4bn of the extra cost was associated with extending the contract to run the existing Airwave system until 2022. MPs said it was “likely” Airwave will need to be extended beyond this date and it “seems inevitable” that costs will rise further.

The report said the Home Office (HO) failed to ensure the contractors – Motorola and EE – delivered ESN to the timetable agreed in original contracts, while the fact that Motorola is also the monopoly owner of Airwave meant the HO has “limited leverage” in any future extension of the Airwave contract.

The HO “reset” the project in 2018 and is “trying to improve the contracts by changing them” but the PAC said a new contract was signed with Motorola five months late and a new EE contract had not been signed when the committee took evidence. The HO agreed a 5% discount with Motorola to extend the Airwave contract until 2022 at a fixed price of £620m a year.

MPs said the HO “still asserts” ESN will be eventually about half the cost of running Airwave, but this is not expected to happen until 2029, “a delay of seven years compared to the 2015 business case”.

PAC chair Meg Hillier (Labour) said the technology behind ESN was “not yet fully proven”.

“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 no longer have trust in the new system being delivered,” she said.

“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 workarounds and buy new equipment to prop up the old Airwave system.”

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