Select Committee on Public Accounts Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister


  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 requirement—with 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 Communities—by December 2002;

    —  Contract award—by April 2004;

    —  Implementation starts—2005;

    —  Implementation complete—by December 2007.

  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

Permanent Secretary

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

1 July 2002

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