Police Federation

Government must get a grip of new radio project

17 July 2019

The continuing delay in introducing a replacement for the Police Airwave radio communications system is potentially putting police officers and the public at risk.

That’s the warning from the Police Federation as a new Parliamentary report reveals that the Emergency Services Network (ESN) is now at least three years behind schedule and more than £3bn over budget.

The damning report – published today (17 July) by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee – concludes:

  • The plan for delivering ESN is still not sufficiently robust and the Department does not yet have the skills to make it work; 
  • Failures to date have undermined the confidence of users that the programme will deliver a system that is fit for purpose and meets their needs;
  • Further delays and cost increases are inevitable.

Simon Kempton, who leads on ESN for the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “Radio communications can literally be a life line for police officers. If the equipment they are using is out dated or unreliable it puts them – and the public - at risk.

“I have been in situations where I have been on duty had to call 999 from my own mobile phone to ask for back up because I was in an area where my radio had no signal. That cannot be an acceptable situation.

“We were promised that ESN would be up and running by then end of the year but yet again we are being told of further delays and spiralling costs.

“The Government need to get on top of this issue and fast or the run the risk of the ‘cutting edge’ technology that ESN promised will be obsolete before it is available on the streets,” said Mr Kempton.

Despite continued assurances that the new communications system would be operational by December 2019, latest figures from the Home Office suggest the new system will not be functional until at least 2022 at an increased cost of £9.3 billion, more than £3.1 billion over the agreed budget when the contract was awarded in 2015.

Mr Kempton also highlighted the ‘hidden costs’ that forces are being expected to meet in order to keep the current radio system running.

“There are on-going issues with Airwave and the cost implications of maintaining it and ensuring officers have reliable equipment which is fit for purpose is increasing and falling on cash-strapped local forces,” he said. “The police service was expecting and planning for the new system to be up and running this year. This is not happening and now won’t happen until at least 2022,” he said. 

The Public Accounts Committee has suggested in their report that the prospect of further cost increases raises doubts over the value for money case for ESN. This is even more worrying considering we are expecting a future-proofed system based on the latest technology.

Mr Kempton continued: “Airwave relies on an old network and ESN is expected to piggyback on the current 4G technology, which even now is being replaced by 5G and yet we are still being told ESN will be the solution we were promised in 2015 and in 2018 when the Home Office ‘reset’ the parameters of ESN.

“Before we go any further with ESN, we should be looking at a greater involvement with operational police officers, the very people that will have to rely on ESN and who understand the needs and demands that will be placed on the new system. And those responsible for this project should listen to those officers and act on what they are saying.

“The Government must get a firm grip of this issue to prevent further delays and costs and ensure that this fiasco is not allowed to turn into a disaster,” Mr Kempton concluded. 

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