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New emergency services network is at least £3.1bn over budget, NAO reveals

The Home Office estimates that work to overhaul the UK’s emergency services network (ESN) is already running three years late and £3.1bn over budget.

But a damning report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) on Friday (10 May) revealed the project could cost even more, and is unlikely to be ready by the revised deadline of 2022.

The public spending watchdog found that while certain parts of the programme had progressed since its last report in 2016, the technology required to enable emergency services to communicate is not likely to be ready until at least 2020.

Devices still require a network signal to communicate with one another and aircraft are unable to receive the signals needed to communicate with those on the ground, the report revealed.

The NAO said the Home Office had failed “to demonstrate that it understands the challenges emergency services face in introducing ESN, such as incurring extra costs by having to switch”.

The report also warned that the delays could present a number of commercial risks. The Home Office has already spent an extra £1.4bn on extending Airwave, the current system, which is managed by Motorola. It is now negotiating a new contract with the company, but this is also running late. The supplier, the NAO stated, must be “carefully managed” as it could “benefit from financially from further delays if Airwave is extended”.

The Home Office expects that the new network will ultimately usher in £1.5bn in financial and economic benefits by 2037. However, £643m is linked to increases in police productivity which the police were not consulted on.

“The success of the Emergency Services Network is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe,” said the head of the NAO Amyas Morse. “The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

The Home Office has not yet responded to a request for comment.