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Emergency services communications system late and ‘£3.1bn overbudget’ | UK News

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An overhaul of the communications network used by emergency services is forecast to be £3.1bn overbudget and is likely to be delayed again, according to the government spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) also said key technology for the ESN (Emergency Services Network) is not yet proven in “real-world conditions” and that the entire system may not be ready in time.

It has already been delayed three years, to 2022.

The ESN will replace the Airwave digital radio network used by 108 police, fire and ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales to communicate between control rooms and the field.

It is intended to take advantage of high-speed mobile data and save money by sharing an existing commercial 4G network.

But the NAO report says the project has so far been “poor value for money”.

It is now projected to cost £9.3bn, according to the Home Office, £3.1bn more than predicted in 2015.

The NAO suggests costs could spiral even further, saying the “forecast is highly uncertain”.

It also accuses the Home Office of not having a “robust and sufficiently detailed plan” that shows it understands the challenges of bringing in the system.

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The NAO suggests costs could spiral even further, saying the ‘forecast is highly uncertain’

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The success of the Emergency Services Network 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.”

The original plan was to start using ESN in September 2017 so that Airwave could be replaced in December this year.

That date was pushed back to 2022 and the Home Office changed its strategy, saying the system would be phased in instead of introduced in one go.

But the NAO says the 2022 launch date “seems unlikely”.

“The Home Office must take an urgent and honest examination of its ability to deliver to its new schedule for this critical project,” said Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said ESN would transform the response of emergency services, meaning faster treatment for people in need while saving £200m a year.

“It is already allowing people to make 999 calls from areas where it was previously impossible, with almost 400 new masts built so far in some of the most remote areas of Britain,” said the spokeswoman.

“When fully implemented, its mobile technology and infrastructure will transform the emergency response of police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews. This will result in faster and better treatment for victims.”

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