Delivery of troubled Home Office comms network programme pushed back to 2029

Work on Emergency Services Network began in 2015 and is now expected to complete a full decade behind original schedule

By Sam Trendall

12 May 2023

The target delivery date for the new Emergency Services Network has been formally reset to 2029 – a full decade after the platform’s originally intended launch.

Work on the project – which has now been rechristened from ESN to ESMCP: the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme – first began in 2015. At this point, the new network was scheduled to go live by the end of 2019, replacing the incumbent Airwave system, which has been in operation since 2000.

Throughout its eight years of work to date, the project has been subject to multiple delays, cost increases and other issues – most recently an increasingly troubled relationship between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions.

The technology firm owns and supports the Airwave network, and had been intended to deliver the core voice application of the new communications network for the UK’s police, ambulance and fire services.

But this £400m contract was terminated by mutual agreement – and at a cost to the Home Office of £45m –  amid a dispute over the amounts charged by Motorola for ongoing delivery of the Airwave platform. The UK Competition and Markets Authority recently imposed price controls that will force Motorola to reduce by more than £1bn its contracted price for delivering Airwave. The decision – which the company intends to appeal – came in light of an investigation by the regulator that concluded that Motorola is currently making about £200m a year in “supernormal profits” via the deal.

The CMA also indicated that it now expected ESN to go live no earlier than about 2029.

For the first time, this timeline has been included in official Home Office documents. The department’s most recent submission of major projects data included a project completion deadline of the end of 2026.

In a newly published letter announcing the appointment of Simon Parr as the project’s senior responsible owner, the department indicated that the programme leader will be “required to undertake this role until achievement of programme close planned for end FY2028/29 – including business adoption; this date will be confirmed through the business case cycle”.

The letter, undersigned by Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and Nick Smallwood, chief executive of government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, added that the programme “has an urgent need to meet the Major Projects Review Group conditions and PAR (project assessment review) recommendations”.

With the completion date now pushed back by more than two years, Parr’s initial tasks will include reaching agreement on a business case, project plan, and budget. The most recent estimation for delivery cost was £12bn – double the project’s original budget. But the extra 27 months of work, and the need to replace Motorola, is likely to result in further spending increases.

As SRO, Parr’s time will be entirely dedicated to the project until its completion – which includes the safe shutdown of Airwave.

The letter said that he will be expected to ensure “timely delivery of the initiative, but also openness and pragmatism of response to risks and issues that threaten that”.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared

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