Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Would you not argue that it is quite a lot of money extra to pay for the improvements?
  (Mr Gieve) It is a lot of money but we think that it is worth paying for the improvements.

  21. Various police authorities thought it was not worth paying. According to paragraph 1.21 of the report several police authorities said they had an obligation to pursue best value and that this radio system did not meet their requirements under local best value. Were they wrong?
  (Mr Gieve) They were right in thinking they could have bought something else more cheaply which would have met some of the requirements locally, but not all. You have to understand this was also part of the negotiation with the Home Office on funding this project.

  22. Which you solved by bunging all the local police forces money specifically for the Airwave project. You resolved the project by stuffing their mouths with gold.
  (Mr Gieve) We resolved it by saying we would pay the costs in the first three years.

  23. One of the original ways in which you structured the deal was that local police authorities were going to buy the equipment separately and that was going to encourage them not to over-order their equipment. By paying them directly now and helping them with the initial startup costs are you not watering down that mechanism?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not think so. The thinking behind leaving a competitive market in some of the equipment was to get some contestability within the market. If you have more than one person offering terminals, that in itself would be the main constraint on the price rising. The second point is that we were not paying for the full cost of this. This is a 19-year contract and we offered to pay £500 million in the three years of the last spending review, that is up to 2003-04. They still have a very big interest in the costs.

  24. I am not a technology expert, so you will have to forgive me if I get this wrong. According to paragraph 1.14 you did conduct a review in 1998 of mobile phone technology developments. You tried to identify whether future developments in mobile phone technology would make the system you were buying obsolete. You concluded that was not the case. Do you still stand by that? Have you updated that review? Mobile phone technology has moved on a lot.
  (Mr Gieve) This was the examination by Professor Benjamin who reported in 1999. We have not updated that since then. Equally, we have no new reason to think this is going to be outmoded technology.

  25. To the complete layman, apart from the encryption, what is the difference between this system and giving all your police officers mobile phones?
  (Mr Asque) The difference between the technologies is that this technology was designed to meet a requirement which is subtly different from people using a mobile phone. This requirement for emergency services calls for a high level of integrity in the signal, but especially a very fast call setup. For example, making an emergency call is almost instant in this technology, whereas we all know with a mobile phone, where you have to dial through, it does take an awful long time to make that connection. The technology facilitates that very fast call setup. That is one of the main differences between the TETRA technology and the mobile phone technologies and this includes the ones which are developed now rather than the ones developed originally; it includes third generation mobiles, not just the second and first generations.

  26. According to figure 2, "A police force joining Airwave will receive a grade of service across its geographical area based on a greater than 87% probability that an officer wanting access to Airwave would receive a channel without having to queue. It does not sound that great. What happens if you are one of the 13 out of 100 police officers who desperately needs to get through and cannot get through?
  (Mr Asque) There is no way of giving an absolute guarantee with a radio system that it will always make a connection and always be interference free. There is always a risk that can be engineered out to a very small percentage.

  27. Thirteen% is quite large.
  (Mr Asque) That is based on an assumption of an implementation. That is a starting point. If you require better than that, you can engineer the system to increase that level. It is not an absolute, it is a figure just based on an assumption of the way a network can be put in. If a police force had an extra requirement, the contract allows for additional facilities to be added on to meet their individual requirements. That is just a base level. It is not an absolute. There is no technological level which you cannot go over.

  28. What police force in their right mind would not be forced to buy the improvements, given that otherwise they have a system which gives them at least a one in ten chance when they are trying to get through of not getting through? Presumably this could be an officer with his life in danger.
  (Mr Asque) Compared to the existing systems which do not provide comprehensive cover and where it is not possible to measure the performance available, this new system has been engineered with a much higher level of integrity than other systems. The figures may not look good in the way that you have described them, but in practice we are actually providing a much better level of integrity of radio system.
  (Mr Gieve) Coverage is the other thing. There has been discussion about coverage but the figures we are talking about for Airwave are hugely better than you get on commercial mobile phone networks. If you have been on a train, you will know that it cuts out now and again.

  29. I have never seen a police officer on a train, or in the rural area where I live in Cheshire, so I am not sure the police need the technology.
  (Mr Gieve) The coverage in rural areas is a plus point for Airwave, In North Yorkshire, which is trying it now, they say it has absolutely transformed the position.

  30. If you were one of the 13 out of 100 police officers who could not get through, then you might try your mobile phone, because you have another way of getting through to the police station.
  (Mr Asque) It is very unlikely that a mobile phone would work better than this system because it has been engineered to a much higher standard. There will always be cases where it might not work, but it may be that just taking one step to one side will make all the difference. It is that critical in these sorts of radio systems. It does not mean that you are completely out of coverage; it may mean that a small change would bring you back into coverage.

  31. Paragraph 1.11 says "There were also two deadlines putting additional pressure on PITO and the project. First, Greater Manchester Police needed the new radio communications service in time for the Commonwealth Games. I represent a Cheshire constituency so we are close to the Commonwealth Games. Will Greater Manchester Police have this system up and running for the Commonwealth Games this summer?
  (Mr Gieve) No. We hope they will have it up and running in some districts of Manchester but it will not be the main system used at the Commonwealth Games.

  32. So one of the two deadlines putting additional pressure on PITO was completely missed because it is not going to be used for the Commonwealth Games. The other is the vacation of the radio spectrum.
  (Mr Gieve) We have moved that one as well in the sense that we will not switch off the existing systems until the police are satisfied they can do without them. Nonetheless, these were two reasons why we wanted to press ahead.

  33. Why was it so important for the policing of the Commonwealth Games that this system was up and running?
  (Mr Webb) It was a request at the time from the Greater Manchester Police that we actually did that. Quite frankly they were concerned about their existing system. The existing system is perfectly capable of supporting the Commonwealth Games but it was a desire, if they had to have this in for operational purposes, to get it in before the Games rather than doing it during the Games.

  34. Do you think it will affect the policing of the Commonwealth Games?
  (Mr Gieve) It will affect the "how" and we have sought assurances from GMP that it will not affect the safety of the Games and they are satisfied that they can do it without Airwave. They would have preferred to do it with Airwave.

  35. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say this is worth all the money because of the incredible improvements in the efficiency of policing it would bring and at the same time say that it will not make any difference.
  (Mr Gieve) No, I am not saying it will not make any difference. They would have preferred to do it with Airwave because no doubt it would have allowed them to do it more efficiently than they can with their existing system.

  36. Do you agree with the conclusion of this report in paragraph 15, that the events on 11 September ". . . make it all the more important that all our emergency services have the best communications and information sharing capability"? Do you agree with that?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  37. Do you therefore think that the fact the Fire Service is not on board undermines that?
  (Mr Gieve) No. I should say that since 11 September in government we have been reviewing and are still currently reviewing whether we should change the requirements on interoperability which underlie the Fire Service procurement and will underlie the Ambulance Service procurement. The experience in New York brought out two things. The first is that if you pull people in from outside the region, which they had to do, it is very important they have equipment which can work with the equipment in a particular place. So that is service interoperability. The Fire Service procurement which is currently under way allows a modest amount of that but not full interoperability between regions of the Fire Service. Secondly, you need to be able to communicate with the other emergency services efficiently. We are currently reviewing whether we should put greater requirements on the Fire Service procurement and the Ambulance Service procurement than we have hitherto. We are hoping to reach a decision on that very quickly.[3]

  38. I recently went to the fire control centre in Cheshire which runs the whole of the Cheshire Fire Service. While I was in the control centre, there was an accident on the M6 and they despatched fire engines to the scene of the accident. It took them a while to find it; in fact they could not find it because it turned out that the police had got there first, dealt with the accident but not bothered to tell the Fire Service who were then going up and down the M6 looking for the crash. I cannot see that the Airwave system, because the Fire Service is not involved in it, is going to make any difference to that kind of daily problem the emergency services face which was one of the original reasons for this whole project.
  (Mr Gieve) There are attractions in having a single set of networks and we may well get that in Cheshire. The Fire Service has not yet placed any orders. The Lancashire Fire Service, for example, has taken Airwave so there you do get that correspondence. Whether you would want individual police superintendents able to talk directly to fire engines is a subject for some debate. In crises especially you would want to have a clear chain of command; you can get confusion if people are corresponding laterally.

  39. They start co-operating with each other. God forbid!
  (Mr Gieve) No, they will co-operate. This is what the review I have spoken about is currently looking at. Do you want individual policemen to be able to communicate with individual fire officers? Do you want in an emergency to keep a clear chain of command on a team basis down the fire side and the police side but to co-operate at other levels? There are different levels of interoperability and deciding which of these is essential is what we are trying to nail down now.

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