Delays to ESN likely to be prolonged

A new report from the National Audit office has said that the Emergency Services Network (ESN) is likely to be even later than expected and the government’s already increased forecast costs are highly uncertain.

Intended to replace Airwave, the system used by emergency services in Great Britain to communicate, the Home Office now forecasts that ESN will cost £9.3 billion, 49 per cent more than initially planned.

The report argues that, to date, the Home Office’s management of this critical programme has led to delays, increased costs and poor value for taxpayers. In fact, the new plan is for Airwave to be switched off in December 2022 – three years later than its original date of 2019. The NAO believes that these costs are highly uncertain, and that ESN is unlikely to be ready by 2022.

Since the NAO last reported on the progress of ESN in 2016, EE has upgraded its network to enable priority emergency calls to be made by emergency services and has extended its coverage to reach 98 per cent of the population of England, Wales and Scotland. However, the report highlights how serious risks remain which the Home Office is yet to resolve.

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.”


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