The government is planning to replace the Airwave system currently used by police, fire and ambulance services in Great Britain (the emergency services) with a new Emergency Services Network (ESN). ESN is a high-risk programme that aims to roll out new technology, untried anywhere else in the world, to an ambitious timetable across all emergency services. We published a report in January 2017 that concluded it was unlikely that the December 2019 target date for delivering ESN would be met and that the Department needed to reassess its timescales. It also concluded that the Department had not budgeted for delays, nor put in place detailed contingency plans to manage them. Following our evidence session in November 2016 the Department told us that ESN will be delayed by nine months until September 2020. It has also now come to light that extending the Airwave contracts, the Department’s sole mitigation against delay in putting the new system in place, might not be possible. In January, Motorola informed us that Vodafone, a key supplier to Airwave, will from March 2020 stop providing an important piece of infrastructure that Airwave requires to function, essentially turning it off. This raised the possibility that emergency services may not be able to communicate with each other after March 2020 until transition to ESN is complete in September 2020. We therefore recalled the Department to give further evidence in February 2017.
18 April 2017