Delays in Emergency Services Network project draining £330m a year from police budget
Report from National Audit Office claims forces are spending money to keep ageing kit in use as the project to implement a new network faces continuing setbacks
Credit: Sascha Steinach/DPA/PA Images
Delays to the implementation of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) are draining more than £300m a year from the Home Office’s policing budget, according to a report from the National Audit Office.
ESN will provide a secure mobile communications network for use by police, fire, and ambulance services. It will replace the existing Airwave network, with migration work originally scheduled to begin this summer, ahead of the outgoing platform being shut off for good by the end of 2019 – a deadline that is now set to come and go long before many organisations will be able to make the switch.
According to data sets recently released by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the whole-life cost of the ESN project – on which work began in 2011 – is a little over £5bn.
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But savings achieved via its implementation of ESN were expected to provide 80% of the funding needed for an additional £1.3bn programme of work to replace ageing IT systems being used by police forces across England and Wales.
With the ESN currently “at least 15 months behind schedule”, according to the NAO report, forces are having to continue spending money to keep old technology in use.
“Forces we visited told us that they are having to make significant investments to extend the life of their Airwave equipment while they wait for the ESN system to become available,” the NAO said.
All the while Airwave needs to remain in use, the Home Office must carve out £330m a year from police budgets to fund its upkeep, auditors claimed. This represents the vast majority of the total cost of £400m that needs to be spent each year on maintaining police ICT systems.
A reformed business case for ESN is due for publication later this month, and the IPA data sets indicated that the scheduled completion date has been put back by a year to 31 December 2020.
The NAO report said: “Forces we visited told us that they are having to make significant investments to extend the life of their Airwave equipment while they wait for the ESN system to become available.”
The report looked at the wider financial and strategic landscape of policing, and concluded that the Home Office has “no overarching strategy of its own” for policing, and “significant gaps” in its understanding of where services are needed.
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