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Government planning for ‘undeliverable’ ESN

The government has agreed to all of the Public Accounts Committee’s findings in its investigation into the Emergency Services Network, but there is still a chance the programme could collapse

The Home Office is to implement all the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its July 2019 report on the over-budget and delayed Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) deployment, but it will also plan for a total failure of the troubled programme by building a “Plan B” into its revised business case “in the event that ESN [the Emergency Services Network] proves undeliverable or no longer provides value for money”.

In its response to the work of the PAC during the 2017-19 parliamentary session, which has just been published online, the Treasury said the government agreed with all the recommendations set out by the PAC in its report.

Back in July, PAC chair Meg Hiller said the delays and cost overruns to the ESN project were creating a “crisis of confidence” because none of the emergency services that are supposed to benefit from the upgraded 4G mobile network – which replaces a terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network run by Motorola’s Airwave unit – had any trust in the new system being delivered.

“Neither the emergency services, nor the PAC, are convinced that the Home office has a credible plan to deliver a reliable and effective service any time soon,” said Hillier.

“The Home Office’s reset of the ESN programme has failed to deliver any more certainty. The financial benefits originally predicted for this programme are rapidly evaporating and it will not now realise cost savings, on the most optimistic forecasts, for at least a decade.”

The PAC recommended that the Home Office should: set out a detailed programme, including a realistic date for switching off the Tetra service; take steps to improve programme oversight; agree with users a set of specific criteria to be used to determine when ESN is ready and who gets to decide that those criteria are met; learn appropriate lessons from the failure of the initial ESN delivery partner contract when it selects a replacement supplier for KBR; better manage the risks inherent in Motorola’s ownership of multiple parts of the programme, including its ownership of Airwave; and set out a revised and approved business case by the end of 2019.

The Treasury disputed none of these recommendations and reported that the Home Office has made progress on meeting some of them.

It has already established an Independent Assurance Panel, including senior representatives with a history of working on government IT and telecoms projects, which has agreed a programme of work based on the challenges faced by ESN.

Read more about ESN

  • Home Office quietly announces a major extension to the ESN project, pumping over £200m of additional taxpayer money into its contract with EE.
  • The PAC’s latest evidence-gathering session for its inquiry into the delayed and over-budget Emergency Services Network has laid bare a number of crucial errors made over the past few years.
  • The delayed Emergency Services Network is slipping further behind schedule and is getting more expensive all the time – and the Home Office’s management of the project is to blame.

It has also begun work on a staged Operational Assurance process designed to improve confidence among emergency services users, on sourcing a new delivery partner through the Crown Commercial Services Management Consultancy 2 Framework, and on improving its relationship with, and understanding of, Motorola, including taking steps to ensure the supplier is appropriately incentivised in both its roles as a future supplier of services to ESN users and as owner of Airwave.

“The department is in the process of refreshing the business case,” said the Treasury in its response. “This requires an update to the technical delivery, but also intense work with users to understand their thinking on deployment timescales.

“We intend to complete the plan by the end of the year. Completing the process of getting this business case through approvals is likely to take a little longer, and we are targeting the end of 2019-20 for that.”

The ESN programme is currently three years behind schedule, and £3.1bn over budget.

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