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ESN leader Shipley’s departure set to prompt BAPCO questions

David Bicknell Published 19 March 2018

Gordon Shipley due to leave Home Office project at end of March after five years leading programme; emergency services attending BAPCO event likely to want new ESN timeline details


Members of the emergency services community will turn up at the annual March conference of British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO) over the next couple of days with plenty of questions on recent developments on the Emergency Services Network (ESN) project.

The project, which is run by the Home Office, will eventually see the replace the existing Airwave communications network used by the police, fire and rescue, and ambulance services, being replaced by an enhanced commercial 4G network delivering critical voice and data for emergency services.

Contracts were signed at the end of 2015 with mobile network operator EE, which is providing the  new network, and Motorola Solutions, which is providing the public safety applications and user services.

But the technically ambitious project is now at least nine months behind schedule, is also the subject of a Home Office review and forthcoming National Audit Office (NAO) report later this year, and has just seen the departure announced of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) programme director, Gordon Shipley.

Shipley is set to leave at the end of the month. He was due to appear at BAPCO to provide an update on ESN, but his session will now be led by Stephen Webb who is director of Law Enforcement Programmes at the Home Office and is Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for the ESN project.

Commenting on Shipley’s departure, which apparently followed soon after the most recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing into the project’s progress, a Home Office spokesperson said,

“With the Emergency Services Network entering a new and longer delivery phase, the Programme Director, Gordon Shipley, having led the team for the past five years, will be stepping down on the 28th March.

“A new director will be appointed to lead the programme through the next phase and we will be making an announcement shortly on who this is.”

Shipley’s departure will do little to convince emergency services chiefs in police, ambulance and fire regions throughout the country that the project is any nearer being pulled back on track. The project was due to see a phased implementation throughout the country, starting in Autumn 2017 in the North West. That was then put back until this summer. But now with the Home Office’s own review due to report in July, followed by an NAO report, it is unclear when a new timeline will emerge.

This is an area on which Webb is likely to be grilled at BAPCO tomorrow. Given that the programme is looking for a new leader and has two reviews – internal and the NAO’s – pending, it is difficult to see the Home Office announcing any new timeline to which it could stick. Emergency services forces’ officials are likely to point to the huge investments they are making for ESN, with little indication of when they can see a likely return on their investment.

The Home Office insisted that the project has made progress, pointing to the public seeing some of the incidental benefits of the ESN, such as its improvement of the 4G mobile network, with 90% of the UK now covered. The Home Office has also pointed to the first successful demonstration of ESN working over a live public mobile network.

Engineers performed the test on 8 February between an EE mobile mast site in Bristol and a location in Basingstoke. This is the first time Motorola Solutions’ software has linked together with the live EE mobile phone network and demonstrated prioritisation of emergency services communications on a public network.

Those close to the programme say Shipley’s departure was a reaction to the ongoing delays and that his stepping down reflected a need for someone senior to be seen to be leaving. One ESN watcher likened Shipley’s departure to that of a football manager leaving by mutual consent after the team has slipped down the league table. There is said, however, to be no specific criticism of Shipley’s management of the programme that has prompted his departure.

Insiders say Simon Ricketts, a former CIO at Rolls Royce, and now Senior Technology Advisor at the Home Office, is playing a key role. Although Ricketts, whose work began around nine months ago, had initially been a background figure, his influence is said by some to have grown. It is possible, some suggest, that the increase in Ricketts’ influence and knowledge of the project made it possible for Shipley’s departure to be confirmed.









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