Home Office preps new ESN business case this year with updated timeline and spending

Formal timescales and funding remain uncertain, but most recently available estimates suggested that the project will – at best – complete delivery a decade late and at double the originally intended cost

The Home Office will this year publish a revamped business case for the troubled Emergency Services Network programme, including revised projections for delivery date and cost that account for the impact of project’s commercial disputes.

The most recent estimates included in government major projects data suggested that, in the best case scenario, work on ESN will fully replace the incumbent Airwave network at least a decade later than the originally intended date of 2019, and at a cost of £12bn – double the initial projection.

But even these significant disparities may be further adjusted, subject to the new business case, which is being developed in light of the need to find a new supplier of core voice and video communications for the network. The chosen firm will replace Motorola Solutions, whose £400m ESN contract was ended two years early in late 2022.

The tech provider’s exit came in the midst of a commercial dispute with the Home Office over the amount being charged for support of Airwave network – which is also owned by Motorola. The conflict ultimately resulted in the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority ordering the company to lower its prices by £200m a year.

Potential replacements for Motorola’s planned role in ESN were invited to bid last summer for a £1bn-plus 10-year contract. Costs associated with this procurement process will be factored into the financial figures included in the new business case, according to policing minister Chris Philp.

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But the updated estimates will also account for the significant cost controls imposed on Motorola by regulator – who ruled that the firm had exploited a position of “virtually unconstrained monopoly” to generate “supernormal profits” – and the resultant money set to be saved on continued support for Airwave.

“The Home Office is in the process of procuring a new supplier for mobile radio and data services and intends to release a revised Business Case in 2024, which will set out a new timetable and costs, taking into account the impact of procurement activity and the proposed CMA charge control,” Philp said, in response to a written parliamentary question from Scottish National Party MP Alan Brown. “New timescales cannot be confirmed until the procurement is complete. ESN must be ready prior to Airwave shut down and time has been set aside to allow a safe and orderly transition of users.”

He added: “The Home Office’s priority is to deliver the ESN as swiftly and safely as possible and Airwave will only be shut down when it is safe to do so.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, the minister appeared to characterise “Motorola’s withdrawal from the [ESN] programme” as a decision taken on the part of the tech firm to leave the project.

But, at the time the company’s departure was revealed by PublicTechnology, both parties said that they had “agreed” with one another to terminate their contract – a process which required the Home Office to pay Motorola exit fees totalling £45m. This included a one-off payment of £27m “to settle outstanding milestones and disputes”, as well as £18m for the provision of certain ongoing services in which Motorola will “continue testing [to] enable the Home Office to ensure that ESN works with Airwave”.

Sam Trendall

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