Effective, reliable mobile communications are vital for police, firefighters and ambulance crews to do their life-saving work. But despite repeated warnings from this Committee and others, the Home Office’s (the Department’s) programme to create the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) has been beset by problems. Delays to the delivery of the programme have continued and costs have escalated. ESN is now three years late and expected to cost the taxpayer at least £3.1 billion more than planned. The Department’s original approach was far too optimistic given the level of risk, and its governance arrangements were insufficient to deal with problems that emerged.
In 2018 the Department announced it was to ‘reset’ the programme, but we are not yet convinced that it has done enough to turn the programme around. The plan for delivering ESN is still not sufficiently robust and the Department does not yet have the skills to make it work. The programme faces substantial levels of technical and commercial risk, and 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. On current evidence it seems inevitable that there will be further delays and cost increases. The department has put itself in a position where the status quo is costly and leaves little option but to progress with ESN. One company, Motorola, is involved in both the new and the old contract leading to perverse incentives and putting the department in a weak negotiating position. The committee has seen other examples where the lack of a market in certain technical or IT products and services puts the Government in a weak contractual position. This is the eighth occasion that we have examined the programme. We will continue to be concerned about the progress of this programme until the Department has a clear plan for delivery and can demonstrate that it has the skills and capacity to meet the substantial challenges ahead.
Published: 17 July 2019