Home Office’s top civil servants chiefs to discuss ESN with MPs tomorrow
Permanent secretary Mark Sedwill and ESN SRO Stephen Web will face PAC questions
Progress on the high profile Emergency Services Network (ESN) project that will provide communications for the emergency services through the commercial 4G mobile data network will come under the spotlight tomorrow when two of the Home Office’s most senior executives responsible for the project face questions from MPs.
The Home Office’s permanent secretary Mark Sedwill and the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme’s senior responsible owner (SRO) Stephen Webb will give evidence on the project to the Public Accounts Committee from 2.30pm.
The examination is likely to be searching, following the PAC’s recent report “Upgrading emergency service communications” which described ESN as “an ambitious programme……using technology that is still being developed, to a challenging timetable set by the department.”
In its report conclusions and recommendations, the PAC warned that it seems unlikely that the ambitious December 2019 target date for delivering ESN will be met and warned that any further compression of the timetable “will increase the risk to successful delivery of this critical programme.”
The project is behind schedule – which the Home Office has admitted – with the National Audit Office recently estimating that the programme was between five and ten months behind target. Representatives of 105 police, fire and ambulance services in the UK say they are less than 50% confident that the Emergency Services Network will be delivered on time.
The Home Office has indicated that the earliest that emergency services organisations – starting in the North-West – will transition onto ESN will be mid-2018.
Responding to the PAC’s report, a Home Office spokesperson said: "The new Emergency Services Network will give the dedicated professionals who work so hard protecting the public and saving lives the most advanced communications system of its kind.
“Police, fire and rescue and ambulance crews will be able to do their work more effectively with ESN and the new system will deliver significant savings for the taxpayer.
“The timescales are ambitious because we want to get the most from technology that will help save lives, but we are clear that no risks will be taken with public safety and the existing Airwave system will continue until transition on to ESN is completed.”