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Home Office insists ESN 2019 switchover on track

David Bicknell Published 26 July 2016

Impact of Brexit and worries from NAO head Sir Amyas Morse over Whitehall priorities will not affect rollout of new network starting in 2017, Home Office says


The Home Office has insisted that plans to move over to the Emergency Services Network will not be impacted by Brexit or by the extensive pressures on Whitehall resources highlighted by the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) Sir Amyas Morse.

In a speech last week to the Institute for Government (IfG), Sir Amyas suggested that the government must get much better at “prioritising its activities and projects.”

He said, “We often see, as we have seen with HS2 and Universal Credit, costs rising and timetables being extended. The civil service needs to stop doing things that are not mission critical.

“That means working out which initiatives use lots of resources but are only really 'nice to have', and deprioritising those activities. At present, the government’s portfolio of major projects is enormous.

“It includes central government’s biggest and riskiest projects, and in September 2015 it had an estimated whole-life value of £405bn. This portfolio could profoundly transform our national infrastructure and public services.  Indeed, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests between 70% and 80% of their projects are transformation projects with a large digital element.

“And civil servants are being asked to deliver this at a time when Westminster departments have ever smaller workforces. As of December 2015, civil service headcount was down nearly one-fifth since 2010.”

Discussing when and how to prioritise, Sir Amyas said, “If we are over-committed, we need to lighten the load – and that means stopping doing things. This can be done by not adding projects, or by cancelling existing ones.

He went on, “It is not for me to say what the government's priorities should be, but let me give an example to illustrate the web of high dependencies.

For something like the project to provide real time information at HMRC, if that had been deprioritised that would have had a knock on effect for Universal Credit, PAYE and many of the activities of DWP and HMRC. So to delay that project would jeopardise many other major projects at other departments. That would make it an unattractive choice.

“Let’s suppose that the government saw the potential replacement of the emergency services' airwave network as a relatively free standing project and able to wait for a few years. This would an example of something that could be delayed.”

Sir Amyas would not comment further on whether he thought that ESN should be delayed or not.

However, the Home Office has laid down a marker on ESN by insisting that the existing timetable remains in place with the emergency services focused on an end of 2019 switchover target.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “The new Emergency Services Network will, following transition, save the emergency services around £1m every day. The benefits are not just financial, but also include improvements in public safety and operational gains. For example, mobile data services will help the emergency services work more efficiently through greater use of video and digital technologies.

“The programme to deliver the new network by late 2017, starting in the North West, remains on track and is meeting its milestones. All of the emergency services are scheduled to move over to ESN by the end of 2019.”

Related articles:

Auditor general queries Whitehall digital project prioritisation

Fourth major government projects report published

Public sector suffers lack of digital vision, says survey

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