Six month communication gap for emergency services

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has warned that the emergency services face a ‘potentially catastrophic’ six-month period without a crucial communications system.

The government approved the purchase of the £1.2 billion emergency services network (ESN) when Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary, planning to replace the current Airwave communications system used by police, fire and ambulance services.

The committee warned in January that it was unlikely the December 2019 target date for delivering ESN would be met and that the Home Office needed to reassess its timescales.

Vodafone, a key supplier to Airwave, will stop providing an important piece of infrastructure that Airwave requires to function from March 2020, leaving the possibility that emergency services may not be able to communicate with each other after that date until transition to ESN is complete in September 2020.

The committee argues that the government has not budgeted for delays, nor put in place detailed contingency plans to manage them appropriately. The department's contingency measure to manage the transition to the new system was to extend Airwave month by month until the new system was in place.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: "The potential consequences of a six-month gap in emergency service communications are unthinkable. The government needs to tackle this now or the result will be quite simply a tragedy in waiting. Addressing this and other serious concerns about ESN raised by our committee today and in January are significant challenges for the new management at the Home Office."

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