Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
22 APRIL 2002: AIRWAVE
In the note of 20 June John Gieve was asked
for a note updating the position on the procurement of a radio
communications systems for the Fire Service in England and Wales.
My office agreed that we would reply, given
ODPM's responsibility for the Fire Service, and I am pleased to
attach a note meeting the Committee's request.
We have consulted the Home Office and the Cabinet
Office in preparing the attached response.
1. On 7 May 2002 the then Fire Service Minister,
Alan Whitehead, announced the Government's intention to procure
a national radio communications system for the Fire Service in
England and Wales. he made clear that the Government would fund
a new national competition to supply the equipment and that work
on that would start immediately.
2. This decision followed a detailed evaluation
of, and means of achieving, the level of interoperability between
emergency services' communications systems that was necessary
to be able to deal with events of the scale of 11 September. In
November 2001, the Home Secretary had commissioned the Civil Contingencies
Secretariat to research the options. That was done via an interdepartmental
group of officials, including the Office of Government Commerce,
which reported to the Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC) in February
2002 on the strong case for interoperability.
3. The Presidents of the professional associations
representing the Chief Officers of each service subsequently agreed
a joint requirement for communications interoperability and resilience
between the police, fire and emergency ambulance services. The
associations' agreement requires both same-service and multi-service
interoperability between wide-area radio systems. It does not
extend to fire service at-incident communications for which there
are sound operational safety reasons. A further Ministerial meeting
held in April took the decision to adopt a national procurement
strategy for the fire service in preference to the previous regionally-based
process, in the light of the Chief Officers agreement and professional
advice on operational, technical and procurement issues.
4. A new specification reflecting the enhanced
requirement for interoperability is therefore in preparation.
It will be drawn up in terms of a functional rather than a technical
requirementwith the contractor responsible for achieving
end-to-end functionality and performance. As far as is reasonably
practicable, the specification will build on the work done in
relation to the previous regional procurement exercise. The project
will be taken forward by the existing project team, appropriately
strengthened and restructured.
5. Preliminary discussions have already
begun with fire authorities, via the Local Government Association
(LGA), the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association
(CACFOA) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), on how best to implement
the new strategy. ODPM will send a formal circular to fire authorities
explaining the change in strategy and how the national procurement
will be taken forward.
6. The current outline timetable for the
`Firelink' procurement is:
Notice in the Official Journal of
the European Communitiesby December 2002;
Contract awardby April 2004;
7. The project team is carrying out a risk
assessment in the context of maintaining existing equipment and
considering options available for providing interoperability in
the interim; and has briefed potential suppliers on the background
to the strategic change of focus.
Mavis McDonald CB
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
1 July 2002