UK Home Office dishes out contracts to 999 control room vendors after wasting cash on network tech it abandoned

Another chapter in the sorry Emergency Services Network saga

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Capita's contract to hook up emergency services control rooms under the UK's troubled Emergency Services Network (ESN) is being renewed for £6.5m without competition.

The outsourcer has become the latest in a list of control system software suppliers to win the Home Office's favour without having to fight it out against rivals over contracts that could total £32.5m.

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The Home Office has decided to award the deals to ensure that police, fire and ambulance control centres are able to link up with the new ESN, whenever it finally arrives. It was originally set to go live in 2017, but has been dogged by delays and is £3bn over budget. The expected go-live date for the new communications network is now set for 2024. The project was completely revised in 2018.

The government department's first plan to link to the ESN was using Motorola Wave7000. It offered grants to ESN end-user organisations to help pay control centre vendors for the necessary integration work.

But when the decision was taken to shift to Motorola's Kodiak system instead, it left users high and dry, or, as the contract award notice put it: "As a result of the recent reset of the programme, the ESN solution has moved from Wave7000 to Kodiak, meaning that any investment in and development of a Wave7000 interface was lost.

"The Secretary of State for the Home Department, therefore, concluded that, to meet the programme timetable and to avoid duplicating costs, it would contract directly with the ICCS [Integrated Communications and Control Solution] vendors to upgrade their solutions to Kodiak."

super happy

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Capita is one of five control room vendors to get the work without further competition. Each contract is set to be worth up to £6.5m. The other companies on the list are Saab, Systemes et Telecommunications, Frequentis, and APD Communications.

The public sector can get around competitive procurement rules because the "necessary proprietary intellectual property rights required to be licensed under the contract" are owned by the vendor. "There is no reasonable alternative to the awardee in the circumstances," the award notices said.

Earlier this week there was some good news for the troubled ESN project as it completed its 500th base station.

Users, however, remain sceptical about progress. Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority has pointed out that the current system, Airwave, is set to be turned off well before the deadline for rolling out ESN. The official date for turning off Airwave is still 2022.

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Meanwhile, Capita has not covered itself in glory providing control centre software. In March, a report by the Police Inspectorate found that the implementation of Greater Manchester Police's new IT system led to a huge backlog in dealing with crime.

"Many of the staff we spoke to still lack confidence in iOPS and the PoliceWorks system. In particular, problems with the system's speed and functionality, coupled with issues regarding data quality and the ability to search systems," it said.

Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins later said the force had "worked closely with a number of external agencies in order to mitigate reduced service levels and continue to work with Capita to ensure advancements in the system are maximised and tailored to suit the needs of GMP". ®

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