Capita hops on UK's years-late, billions-over-budget Emergency Services Network to keep legacy system alive

What could go wrong?


Capita has won a contract to ensure existing Airwave emergency radios can work with the UK's Emergency Services Network (ESN), should the 4G pipe dream ever get switched on.

The ESN scheme is meant to provide fully featured voice and data communications for blue-light services across the UK. But bungling by the Home Office means it still not clear when the system will be ready – the original deadline was September 2017, the latest estimate is 2022.

It is currently an eye-watering £3bn over budget.

Capita's Software Division said the award covered "creating and delivering a new solution that will interface with Airwave but at the same time, be compliant with ESN. This will enable emergency services to use both Airwave and ESN in tandem during the transition."

police hat by lester taken from sstock images

Home Office cops an earful for emergency network feck-ups - £3bn overbudget and 3 years late

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The system will run on EE's 4G network, giving police, ambulance and fire services priority, but also needs to include functions offered by the existing Airwave platform like peer-to-peer communications where there is no coverage and push-to-talk functions. Underground and air-to-ground communication are other stumbling blocks for the ESN.

The nationwide system was split into a variety of parts in order to encourage competition. But this made the contracts less attractive and parts of the system only attracted one bidder, removing any supposed competitive pressure.

The original idea was to switch off Airwave in 2019 and replace it with ESN. Then a "new strategic approach" was adopted. This handed Motorola another extension to its Airwave contract and a phased introduction of ESN functions.

The Public Accounts Committee made clear last summer, in its eighth probe of the project, that the Home Office has "still not got a grip on whether it can deliver the programme" and "still does not have an integrated plan for how and when each emergency service will deploy ESN".

Airwave walkie-talkies costs about £1.7m per day to run.

The committee said that despite Home Office efforts to "reset" the project, it remained unclear if the department had the necessary skills to make it work and that yet more delays and budget overruns seems inevitable.

The other issue for the Home Office is an increasing loss of confidence from users.

We hate to say "we told you so", but The Reg did point out a few of these issues back in 2015. ®

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