A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has raised further concerns over a planned new communications system for the emergency services.
The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is intended to replace Airwave – the system currently used by emergency services in Great Britain to communicate.
But in a report published today (10 May), the NAO has indicated the technology required to make the new setup work is not yet ready.
For example, aircraft are currently unable to receive the signal needed to communicate with those on the ground and devices are unable to communicate directly with one another without a network signal.
Technology to enable emergency services to make near-instant calls at the push of a button is also still in development, the report says, and unlikely to meet user requirements until at least 2020.
The report also raises concerns that the Home Office does not yet have a detailed plan of how the different pieces of technology will work effectively together.
The Home Office now forecasts that ESN will cost £9.3 billion, £3.1 billion (49%) more than initially planned, according to the report. It also states Airwave will be switched off in December 2022 – three years later than originally planned.
The NAO adds that it believes that these costs are highly uncertain, and that ESN is unlikely to be ready by 2022.
In 2017, the Home Office ‘reset’ plans for the ESN having admitted it was not possible to deliver the programme in the way originally intended. The NAO does say that this has addressed some issues.
Commenting on the report, Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “As my committee predicted, the delays to the delivery of Airwave’s replacement have continued and the costs have escalated. The Emergency Services Network is to be used by police, firefighters and ambulance crews for the communications they need to do their life-saving jobs.
“The revised forecast cost of ESN is now £9.3 billion, an increase of almost 50%. Worryingly, the NAO finds that the Home Office’s cost estimate for ESN is highly uncertain and that it is unlikely to meet the already delayed 2022 date to switch off Airwave.
“The Home Office must take an urgent and honest examination of its ability to deliver to its new schedule for this critical project.”
The PAC has previously aired concerns about the project, warning in May 2017 that replacing of existing communication systems could be a “potentially catastrophic” blow to emergency teams.