Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 265)



  260. May I ask about responsibility for this within government? The Home Office are responsible for the police. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are responsible for the Fire Service. Health are responsible for ambulances. The Cabinet Office are responsible for emergency planning and for joined-up government. The OGC is responsible for competition and procurement at the DTI. The Radio Agency with yourselves are responsible for the emergency spectrum. Who do you see as the main champion in all of this for your main project?
  (Mr Webb) For our project it is the Home Office.

  261. Not the Cabinet Office?
  (Mr Webb) No, not the Cabinet Office. We are delivering a service solely to the Police Service.

  262. You are not looking for help or sponsorship or support from the Cabinet Office.
  (Mr Webb) We have had discussion through the Home Office with the Cabinet Office, the same as we have had discussions with other enterprises. As far as we are concerned we are as keen as everyone else to provide a far more joined up environment.

  263. Do you think this project represents a good example of joined-up government?
  (Mr Webb) Not at this present time, but it is a good step on the way to that in the sense that for the first time we have provided a joined-up service for the Police Service which is a major step forward.


  264. If the research you are undertaking led to a belief or suspicion that the technology could be a health hazard, what effect would that have on the contract?
  (Mr Gieve) If there were evidence that this was damaging to health, then we would have to change it. First of all the police authorities as employers would have their obligations under health and safety. Secondly, O2 as suppliers of the technology have to meet all health standards, which they currently do. If research led us to change those health standards because of new science, then we would have to change the system.

  265. With a potential loss of up to £2.9 billion.
  (Mr Gieve) No. Who the cost would fall on would depend on who pulled the plug and in what circumstances. If international health standards changed, our first response would be with O2 to see whether we could not make the system work consistent with the new health standards. You have to understand that the main danger which is thought to arise from mobile phones arises more with the existing analogue system than with a digital system like Airwave. Nonetheless, if science moves on and we set new health standards, we will have to negotiate some changes, not necessarily at public cost.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for appearing before us. This is a very important contract. The whole Committee recognises the need for radios to be improved but, as you have heard, members of the Committee do have some serious questions about whether the system is over-engineered, whether it provides value for money and interoperability with other emergency services. We are very grateful to you for the way in which you sought to answer our questions. Thank you very much. Order, order.

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