Upgrading emergency service communications – recall Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.The “little slippage” in delivering the ESN programme that the Department told us about in November has now become a delay of nine months. At our November 2016 evidence session the Home Office (the Department) told us that there would be “a little slippage” in delivering the Emergency Services Network (ESN). The Department told us subsequently that it was pushing back the date on which emergency services would start transitioning to ESN from September 2017 to July 2018. This would allow more time for testing of the new system to assure emergency services that it can be relied on before Airwave is switched off. At our February evidence session the Department reiterated its commitment to us that emergency services would not be forced onto ESN and that it would not be compressing the 27-month transition period any further. Consequently, the transition period for ESN now runs to September 2020, nine months later than originally planned. Airwave contracts will therefore need to be extended to provide emergency services with the ability to communicate without an interruption in service. To facilitate this extension Motorola need to know, by the end of 2018, which regions will require the Airwave service after the end of 2019 to ensure the necessary logistics are in place. This means that the Department will have to identify any regions needing dual-running just six months into the 27-month transition period. The Department acknowledged that it was still firming up its transition plans but said that it expects these to be complete long before the end of 2018.

Recommendation: The Department should ensure it is in a position to know which regions require an extension of Airwave by the end of 2018. Motorola must confirm that receiving notice at the end of 2018 will give it enough notice to carry out the work required to extend Airwave from December 2019.

2.With ESN delayed until September 2020, it is not clear how emergency services communications will be provided from March 2020, given that it might not be possible to extend Airwave beyond that date. Motorola told us previously that it had the ability to extend Airwave beyond December 2019, on both a monthly and regional basis, as long as it received notification by December 2018. In late January 2017, however, Motorola informed us that extension beyond March 2020 may not now be possible. This is because Vodafone, a key supplier to Airwave, plans to withdraw a core network Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) service, without which Airwave cannot run. The Internet Protocol (IP) based service that Vodafone will replace it with after March 2020 will not be compatible with Airwave. Extra investment is therefore needed to upgrade the infrastructure either to make Airwave work with the new system or work without it. This cost is in addition to the £475 million annual cost of extending Airwave nationally as previously estimated by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Department agreed a fixed price for extending Airwave with Motorola in February 2016, as a condition for approving its purchase of Airwave. Motorola therefore has a contractual obligation to provide the Airwave service post March 2020, but the Department told us that enforcing that obligation could damage supplier relationships. Instead, it would prefer to negotiate first with Vodafone and Motorola to find a solution. The Department is due to meet with the suppliers to discuss options and conceded that while it is very confident that this issue can be overcome, extra work will be needed.

Recommendation: The Department must urgently engage in conversations with Motorola and Vodafone to explore the full range of options for resolving this issue and provide us with regular updates on progress and estimates of any additional costs.

3.It is extremely disappointing that the Department’s risk management and assurance arrangements did not pick up earlier the risk that emergency services communications could be unsupported from April to September 2020. The NAO concluded last year that the Department appeared to be under-rating the seriousness of the risks to delivering ESN, a judgement that the Department disagreed with at the time. In our November evidence session, however, the Department acknowledged that ESN was a high-risk programme and the Permanent Secretary assured us he had scrutinised this programme more than any other in his time at the Home Office. The Department has had since 2000 to plan for Airwave’s replacement and Motorola conducted due diligence ahead of its purchase of Airwave in February 2016. A general risk of Airwave not being able to function beyond 2020 was on the Department’s risk register but it told us it had no knowledge before January 2017 of the specific issue that emerged concerning supporting Airwave after March 2020. The Department only found out about the issue around the same time as Motorola told this Committee, which does not reflect well on either its risk management arrangements or the quality of relationships with its suppliers.

Recommendation: Given the warning to the Department that it was underestimating the risks, it must review all the current risks to the programme and be realistic and open about these. The Department cannot afford to be caught off-guard again. The suppliers must accept their share of responsibility and ensure they are upfront about problems in delivering the network.

4.Providing emergency services communications underground is a significant and imminent risk to this programme but the Department has not yet finalised how ESN will work underground. EE will provide ESN network coverage and is currently expanding its 4G network coverage to match that of Airwave. The Department is separately working with Transport for London (TfL) on how to extend coverage into the London Underground. TfL is currently leading negotiations with potential providers and will be responsible for approving the final technical and commercial arrangements. The Department told us in November 2016 that there would be an announcement in the next couple of months on how coverage will be provided for the London Underground, but a business case for providing this coverage will not now be complete until June or July 2017. The current transition timetable has London as one of the first regions to begin transitioning to the new system, in November 2017, which would mean going from business case to roll-out in just six months. The Department told us that the timetables for regional transition are flexible and that it would discuss with the Metropolitan Police Service exactly when they want to start transitioning to ESN.

Recommendation: TfL and the Department must, as a matter of urgency, work together to ensure that there will be coverage that enables the emergency services to contact each other underground. It needs to ensure that there are no delays to reaching an agreement with suppliers as this may have knock-on effects on the programme. We expect regular updates on progress in resolving this issue. The Department should work with regions to review the existing transition roll-out plan so that those regions that are best prepared move first.

18 April 2017