Latest Public Sector News


New emergency services radio system to be at least £3bn overbudget and three years late as Home Office failings blasted by NAO

An overhaul of the communications system used by the UK’s emergency services will be at least £3bn overbudget and three years late, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed.

The Emergency Services Network was created to replace the current system Airwave, but the Home Office has already delayed its delivery by three years until 2020 when it decided to “reset” the programme in 2017.

Originally due in 2019, the Home Office forecasts the ESN will cost £9.3bn, 49% more than initially planned, with £1.4bn just being spent on extending the old Airwave system.

But now the NAO has cast doubt on the ESN’s forecasted costs and delivery dates, and stated that the current £3.1bn overspend is a direct fault of the Home Office’s management.

The damning report said its management of this critical programme has led to “delays, increased costs and poor value for taxpayers,” and said that the Home Office was “in danger of needing another costly reset unless it gets its house in order.”

Emergency services have communicated through Airwave’s dedicated digital radio network since 2000, but in 2011, home secretary Theresa May signed off on plans to buy the cheaper and more efficient ESN.

The NAO said it recognised that the Home Office’s reset had addressed some of the programme’s major issues by introducing a staged rollout, replacing a key piece of technology, strengthening its management team and processes, and re-negotiating contracts.

But the government’s spending watchdog warned that serious risks still remain, and that it believed the forecasted costs to be “highly uncertain” and that it is highly sceptical that ESN will be ready by 2022.

It pointed out that the required technology to allow police, fire and ambulance services to communicate effectively on the system is not yet ready, and that the Home Office is yet to come up with a detailed plan of how it will integrate different elements of the technologies.

It said the Home Office does not have the capability it needs to integrate and test ESN and that whilst it expects the new network to be cheaper, the NAO said the savings will not outweigh the costs until at least 2029.

The Home Office says that ESN will bring £1.5bn in financial and economic benefits by 2037, although police representatives told the NAO they had not agreed these figures.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The success of the ESN is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe.

“The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

Image credit - BrianAJackson


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment



public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the open more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Cities as places of opportunity

29/04/2019Cities as places of opportunity

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, asks: if cities are pl... more >
Shaping healthy places with district councils

29/04/2019Shaping healthy places with district councils

District councils are achieving excellent outcomes by shifting health solut... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >

the raven's daily blog

Empower your reader, choose print

07/05/2019Empower your reader, choose print

We are on a digital rollercoaster, swirling and twirling through a variety of different online advertising platforms – have we forgotten about traditional marketing plat... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this feeling of imminent change than the article James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has penned for us on p28. In it, he highlights... read more >