Up to £895M up for grabs in UK Emergency Services procurement
Here we go again: Next piece in troubled ESN upgrade
The UK’s Home Office has put up to £895 million ($1.1 billion) on offer in the search for a tech supplier to provide “user services” for the Emergency Services Network, a controversial public sector project that is delayed by more than five years and over-spent by billions of pounds.
The ESN has long been intended to replace Airwave, the UK’s current radio communications system for ambulance, fire services and police which offers very limited data services.
Contracting began 2015, when it was forecast that some services would be live in 2017. Now it seems unlikely that the full replacement will be ready before 2029.
In the latest procurement round, UK government is looking for a supplier to provide “end-to-end designs and managing the integration of all systems and interfaces necessary to deliver ESN,” according to a tender notice.
These systems include network and IT infrastructure and Mission Critical Services (MCX) supporting Mission Critical Push-to-Talk (MCPTT), Data (MCData) and Video (MCVideo) features. User Services must be resilient by design and optimised to work over mobile networks, it said.
“There are 300,000+ frontline emergency service users who will depend on ESN, using handheld devices or operating equipment in 45,000 vehicles, 66+ aircraft and more than 100 control rooms. All of Mobile Services Suppliers coverage will be available for ESN with specific contract provision for the majority of roads; user defined Critical Operational Locations; up to 10,000 feet in the air and 12 nautical miles from Britain’s coastline,” the tender notice said.
Hopeful bidders must get their tenders in before 19 June 2023, and keep them valid for 24 months. The initial term of the contract lasts until the end of 2031 with the possibility of two 12-month extensions.
In 2015, the Home Office contracted with mobile network provider EE to provide priority access to its mobile 4G network and increase network coverage. Motorola Soutions was also contracted for software and systems including critical features not normally found on a mobile network, such as a first-of-a-kind "push-to-talk" functionality.
In 2018, the project was revised, which Home Office boss Matthew Rycroft later called a "mindset reset." At the same time, Joanna Davinson, who was then the chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office, told the Public Accounts Committee that each year’s delay would create £550 million ($686 million) in additional annual costs.
Delays have meant buying new equipment for the old network and service organizations coming up with their own data solutions to fulfil user needs while they wait for the new network.
In 2021, the UK’s Competition and Market Authority began consulting on whether to investigate Motorola's contracting with ESN and Airwave, because of a perceived conflict between providing both the old network and its replacement.
- UK emergency services take DIY approach amid 12-year wait for comms upgrade
- UK's Emergency Services Network unlikely to start operating until 2029
- £2B in UK taxpayer cash later, and still no Emergency Services Network
- UK police to spend tens of millions on legacy comms network kit
In October last year, the CMA put forward plans to cap Motorola's fees on the existing Airwave network, which, together with the Home Office's negotiations with Motorola, led the US tech supplier to walk away from its £400 million ($498 million) contract for ESN.
With Motorola gone from the critical push-to-talk and data solution provided by ESN's Lot 2 contract, the Home Office has been forced to re-procure the work and expects to appoint a new supplier in 2024, leading to further delays and uncertainty for service users. ®