The Home Office is reviewing the way its Emergency Service Network programme is managed, amid concerns that completion of the much-delayed and over-budget programme could be pushed back yet further.
The projected cost of the programme to replace the communications network for emergency services including police and fire brigades has risen by nearly 50% since work began in 2011, to £9.3bn. The switch to ESN from the existing network, Airwave is not expected to happen until December 2022 at the earliest – three years later than originally planned.
In a May report, the Public Accounts Committee said the Home Office had failed to “get a grip” on whether it can deliver its Emergency Services Network programme despite extending its budget and deadline multiple times
Responding in a Treasury minute this week, the Home Office said that it is now “reviewing ESN’s governance and management structure to ensure it will support the ramp up phase of delivery”.
“Parts of the new governance structure have been implemented following consultation with the suppliers, users and the funding sponsoring bodies,” it added.
It has set up an independent assurance panel, including “senior representatives with a wealth of experience of major programmes and the telecoms sector” to advise the department on the programme, the response said.
The panel has agreed a programme of work “based upon the challenges currently being faced by the introduction of ESN”, it said.
“Any outcomes from these reviews will be disseminated across the department and other funding organisations and will both aid and provide assurance to the Home Office accounting officer and the senior responsible owner,” it added.
The department said it was also strengthening oversight of the project at senior level as part of the review.
PAC had called for strengthened oversight of the programme, after concluding that warning signs that the programme could fail were missed because of an “unhealthy, ‘good news’ culture” in the department.
Elsewhere in the response, the Home Office confirmed that it had pushed back the planned publication of its revised business case for the programme by two months to March next year.
Plans submitted to the National Audit Office earlier this year earlier this year said it planned to complete the business case by January.
The delay is happening despite PAC’s call to publish a “revised and approved business” case by the end of 2019 at the latest.
The department said that while it expected to complete the plan for the business case by the end of the year, the approvals process is “likely to take a little longer, and we are targeting the end of the 2019-20 for that”.
But the department did confirm it would come up with a “Plan B” in case the programme cannot be delivered or provide value for money, as recommended by the NAO in May.
“The revised business case includes a value for money options analysis, including plan B options in the event that ESN proves undeliverable or no longer provides value for money,” the department said.