New emergency services system ‘failing to deliver savings’

17 Jul 19

Cost benefits of a new emergency services communication system are “rapidly evaporating”, MPs have said.

A communication system for all 107 emergency services in England, Scotland and Wales has been beset by delays and is increasing in cost, according to a Public Accounts Committee report out today.

The ‘Emergency Services Network’, which will include 4G mobile data capabilities, was announced as replacement for the existing radio-based system in 2015 and with a completion date of December 2019.

But the project was ‘reset’ in September 2018 meaning contracts with private contractors had to be renegotiated, growing the bill to £9.3bn – £3.1bn above the original business case. The new completion date is December 2022.

The PAC said that the Home Office – in charge of delivering the project – does not have a clear plan for implementation of the ESN, which will be used by services such as police, fire and rescue and the ambulance service.  

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “Neither the emergency services, nor the PAC, are convinced that the Home Office has a credible plan to deliver a reliable and effective services anytime soon.

“The Home Office’s reset of the ESN 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 forecast, for at least a decade.”

Although the cost has ballooned by £3.1bn, the Home Office still said it will be cheaper than the previous system – although the old system will need to remain in place until 2029, seven years longer than initially proposed.

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.”

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