1.We published a report in January 2017 examining the Home Office’s (the Department) progress with the Emergency Services Mobile Communications programme. After receiving new evidence in December 2016 from the Department and in January 2017 from Motorola, we recalled the Department to give further evidence in February.
2.The 105 police, fire and rescue and ambulance services (the emergency services) in Great Britain currently communicate using the Airwave system. The Airwave contracts were due to expire in 2019 and in 2011 the Government set up the programme to look at options to replace Airwave. The chosen option was the Emergency Services Network (ESN). This replaces the dedicated radio-based infrastructure of Airwave with 4G mobile-data technology, which should save money by sharing a network with EE’s other customers. In December 2015, the programme signed contracts with Motorola and EE to deliver the main components of ESN.
3.Our January 2017 report found that the technology for ESN is unproven and such a system has not been implemented anywhere else in the world. We concluded that ESN will therefore require extensive independent testing to ensure it works under pressure, in a live environment, and to assure the emergency services that it will be at least as good as Airwave. We found that it was unlikely that the December 2019 target date for transitioning to ESN and switching off Airwave would be met and we recommended the Department reassess its delivery timescales and milestones. We also noted that, despite the high likelihood of delay, the Department has not put in place detailed contingency arrangements, or made budgetary provisions, for delay.
4.The milestone dates for ESN in the 2015 full business case allowed 21 months for designing, building and testing the network and 30 months for all emergency services to transition to ESN from Airwave. The Department’s progress against this timetable slipped soon after finalisation of the business case with contracts signed two months later than planned and detailed designs finalised three months later than expected. The National Audit Office estimated, therefore, that the programme to deliver ESN was running five to ten months behind schedule. At our November 2016 evidence session, the Department conceded there would be a “little slippage”.
5.In December 2016, the Department notified us that these delays had grown and it had pushed back the start date for transition by nine months, from September 2017 to July 2018. In turn, all emergency services would therefore finish transitioning onto ESN in September 2020. The Department confirmed that it would consequently be seeking an extension to Airwave and that it had started discussions with Motorola over the commercial arrangements for doing so.
6.The Department’s decision to push back the end date for the transition period is a reversal of the Department’s earlier decision to bring forward the end date of transition to December 2019, from March 2020, compressing the transition period. Emergency services have a strong preference for a gradual roll-out, so the additional time gives more opportunity to learn from early adopters, rather than have all services switch to the new system simultaneously. The current timetable allows all regions, except London, 12 months to transition and regions starting earlier will therefore have a longer period of dual-running. At our November evidence session, emergency services told us that before switching off Airwave they will require an extended period to test the end-to-end ESN network and ensure it can run for a sustained period trouble-free. The Department repeatedly told us that emergency services will not be forced to use ESN if it does not meet their requirements.
7.In November, Motorola told us that in order to extend Airwave past December 2019 it would need notification one year in advance, by December 2018, so it could ensure the necessary staff and logistics were in place for continued service. With transition not now starting until July 2018, this means the Department will have to identify any extension requirements just six months into the transition period, and before any single region has completed its transition. The Department acknowledged this but said the plans could be adapted and that it was looking to firm up the transition schedule over the next couple of months. It expects to know which regions will need an extension long before the end of 2018.
8.In February 2016, Motorola purchased Airwave, meaning it is now responsible for providing both Airwave and elements of ESN. As a condition of the sale, the Department secured an agreement with Motorola to extend Airwave on a monthly and regional basis, at a fixed cost, if they required it. In November, Motorola confirmed to us that it will honour this commitment, subject to the Department providing the necessary advance notifications. The possibility of extending Airwave gave the Department the safety net required to proceed with ESN quickly. It told us: “essentially, the risk is a financial risk rather than an operational one. If the roll-out timetable were to slip to the right, we would run Airwave for longer and we would be in parallel for longer. We probably wouldn’t be countrywide. As the Chair said at the beginning, there are significant costs but the ones identified are essentially a full-year cost if the entire programme slipped everywhere for a year, and that is not what we would expect. It is essentially a financial risk”.
9.However, in January 2017 Motorola and the Department informed us that it may no longer be possible to extend Airwave as expected. Vodafone, which provides the critical Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) service that Airwave requires to function, plans to turn off this system in March 2020 and replace it with a new Internet Protocol (IP)-based service. This is in line with technological developments in the telecoms sector, and other suppliers are withdrawing similar services. Airwave, an older system, is not currently compatible with the new IP-based service that Vodafone plans to introduce. Airwave will therefore need to be upgraded to work with the new Vodafone system, or reconfigured to work without it. Motorola told us in January that, “as it stands today [ … ] Airwave (including London Underground) will cease to work after March 2020 unless there is a major two year programme of upgrade in this core network infrastructure (beginning in 2017)”. Any investment would be on top of the £475 million the National Audit Office previously estimated as being the cost of extending Airwave nationally for a year.
10.The Department told us, in February 2017, that it was due to meet with Motorola and Vodafone later that month to discuss options and that it was confident the issue would be resolved. The Department confirmed that Motorola remained contractually obliged to supply Airwave for a fixed price, however it told us that requiring it to absorb high additional unexpected costs may damage relationships. Instead it would prefer to negotiate to find a solution and believed it had at least a year to do this. The Department conceded that “extra work will be required, we will have to have commercial discussions about the terms of it, and we will have to talk to the users about any operational implications, but I am confident that that can be dealt with”. The Department promised it would provide us with regular updates on progress resolving this issue and the scope of any additional cost.
11.The Department has also yet to firm up arrangements to provide network coverage in some remote areas. ESN coverage will be provided by EE, which is currently expanding its 4G mobile network to cover all of the UK, bar some remote areas where coverage will be provided directly by the programme. Underground service in other cities is being provided as part of the main ESN contracts. Coverage in the London Underground however is being developed separately, with the Department working with Transport for London (TfL) to provide it. TfL is taking the lead role in developing plans and negotiating with suppliers, with partial funding from the Department. The Department told us that contributions were still being negotiated and that there is a financial hole that will need to be plugged, depending on the solution chosen.
12.At our previous evidence session in November the Department had told us it hoped there would be an announcement “in the next couple of months” from TfL and the Home Office on how ESN will work on the London Underground. In February, however, the Department told us that a business case for providing coverage will not be complete until June or July 2017.
13.According to the current transition timetable, emergency services in London will start to transition to ESN in November 2017. It seems doubtful that coverage on the London Underground will be available by then, as the business case will only be approved five or six months earlier. Emergency services in London are unlikely to want to start transitioning to ESN without this essential coverage. The Department told us that transition timetables are driven by the original Airwave contract endpoints, but there is now more flexibility to change them. It also said it will discuss with the Metropolitan Police Service the optimum time to transition.
5 C&AG’s report, Upgrading emergency service communications: the Emergency Services Network, Session 2016–17, HC 627, 16 September 2016, paragraph 2.22
6 , paragraph 2.22
7 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
8 Letter to the Committee from the Home Office, January 2017
10 Letter to the Committee from the Home Office, January 2017
12 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
14 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
15 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770, ,
16 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770, ,
18 , paragraph 3.15
19 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
20 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
21 Letter to the Committee from Motorola, January 2017; letter to the Committee from the Home Office, January 2017
23 Letter to the Committee from the Home Office, January 2017
24 Letter to the Committee from Motorola, January 2017
31 Oral evidence taken on 16 November 2016, HC 770,
18 April 2017