Critical infrastructure for UK emergency services: “After eight years and almost £2 billion, it is extremely worrying that the Home Office does not now know when the Emergency Services Network will be ready or what it will cost.
(Gareth Davies, head of the National Audit Office, 8 March, 2023)
Unlike reporting cost overruns on ‘ferries’, and unlike reporting carefully selected extracts from Audit Scotland reports, the corporate media and the BBC seem to shy away from reporting the work of the National Audit Office (NAO). Perhaps this is because the NAO’s work is not concerned with the Scottish Government: it holds Westminster to account.
As a consequence, voters in Scotland are starved of insights into Westminster’s procurement activities even when these are associated with reserved matters and therefore supported by taxpayers in Scotland. At the very least, this deprives many voters in Scotland of valuable perspective. ‘Starved’ and ‘deprived’ – unless of course they read TuS!
Home Office procurement
The latest example worthy of amplification concerns the Home Office’s procurement of a new communication network – the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – to replace its existing Airwave network. All 108 police, fire and ambulance services across England, Scotland and Wales use Airwave, the critical network for communicating between the field and control rooms. According to a new NAO report: ‘The Home Office intends ESN to fully replace Airwave, cost less and provide users with access to modern mobile data.’ It first contracted with suppliers for delivery of the ESN in 2015, as part of its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).
Source: National Audit Office (8 March 2023) Progress with delivering the Emergency Services Network. Report on Value for Money
The NAO notes that the forecast amount spent on ESN up to March 2023 is £2.0bn. In June 2021 the Home Office estimated that the total expected lifetime spend on the ESMCP will be £11 billion, including the cost of running ESN and Airwave until ESN replaces it. We learn that the Home Office is updating its forecast ‘which will increase’ but by an ‘uncertain’ amount!
2015: theHome Office contracted with EE Ltd (EE) to provide priority access to its mobile network and increase network coverage and with Motorola Solutions UK Limited (Motorola) for software and systems.
2016: the NAO’s first report on the ESMCP assessed the programme as high risk because of: (i) the commercial approach adopted by the Home Office; (ii) the ambitious technology and timetable; and (iii) uncertainty about users accepting ESN. Specifically, the NAO found that Motorola’s purchase of Airwave in February 2016 created commercial risks given Motorola’s role in ESN.
2019: the NAO, reporting a second time, found that even after a reset in 2018 the programme remained high risk. It reiterated that: ‘the Home Office should carefully manage the risk associated with Motorola’s dual roles’.
2021: the NAO observes: ‘as the Home Office considered that Motorola’s Airwave profits were excessive and disincentivised it from completing its ESN contract, it wrote to the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA). To remove the risk that it would be forced to sell Airwave, in November 2021, Motorola told the Home Office that it may not extend its ESN involvement beyond December 2024. In 2022, the Home Office began to find a replacement and agreed to end Motorola’s contract early.’ (my emphasis)
The NAO goes on: ’By late 2021, when Motorola had said it may not extend its ESN involvement, the Home Office and Motorola had limited confidence in each other’s ability to complete the software within the time available and to work constructively together. The Home Office and Motorola therefore negotiated to terminate Motorola’s ESN contract early, which the Home Office concluded was the quickest and least risky way to exit the contract.’
2022: ‘In December 2022, the Home Office agreed to pay Motorola £45 million which included £27 million to settle outstanding milestones and disputes, with the remainder for both testing and enabling the Home Office to ensure that ESN works with Airwave.’
The Home Office forecasts that, between April 2015 and March 2023, the programme will have spent £2.0 billion on ESN and £2.9 billion running and maintaining Airwave.
Substantial uncertainty remains with this Home Office programme eight years after it commenced, notably over when the new ESN will replace Airwave. According to the NAO: ‘In 2018, following significant delays, the timetable for turning off Airwave was extended from 2020 to 2022. In 2021, the timetable was extended further to 2026. Following recent events, the Home Office now expects the date for turning off Airwave to be later, but it cannot be more specific until it has replaced Motorola.’
So eight years after commencement and after successive re-profiling of the timetable for completion – from 2020 to 2022 then to 2026 – the current position is sometime ‘later’ but ‘cannot be more specific’!
In para 2.28 of its report, the NAO notes: ’Users will not realise the benefits of ESN until it is operational and the Home Office has yet to make progress in deciding how it will work.’!
The NAO notes: ‘In November 2021, when it indicated it could leave the programme, Motorola had been paid for meeting 85%, by value, of its contractual milestones.’ However, according to the NAO, ‘the Home Office has not received the critical systems and software that ESN needs, and will not use any of Motorola’s work when ESN is live.’
And on Motorola’s work, the NAO adds: ‘The Home Office forecasts that it will have paid Motorola £304 million by 31 March 2023. This includes recurring payments for having elements of ESN available for testing and payments for creating ESN software and systems. The Home Office does not expect to use any of the software and systems provided in ESN but considers that it has obtained some value from this work.’
We learn that: ‘EE’s contract was due to be recompeted in 2022 but, following the 2018 reset, was extended to 2024. The Home Office is now seeking to award EE a new contract, without competition, to avoid delaying the programme.’
According to the NAO, this new contract will be the Home Office’s third attempt to procure this technology. The NAO also notes that despite the programme running since 2015:
- the Home Office has yet to test the technology in real-world conditions at any significant scale
- the Home Office has not yet decided how ESN will come together as a network and who will be responsible for the live service
- the Home Office is unclear as to how the different elements of ESN would be made to work together (‘integration’), and did not have the capability it needed to fulfil its role. It started rating technical integration as a ‘red’ risk in February 2022
- it does not yet know how hard it will be to integrate the new software
- the Home Office recognises the programme as high risk but has not been able to reduce many of the significant risks
- the Home Office also needs to ensure that users can upgrade control rooms, but it does not have a full understanding of the work involved
- while it has improved the information reported to the programme board, this is sometimes inconsistent and incomplete.
- the programme’s original objectives from 2015 – saving money and bringing mobile data to users – may no longer be as strong justifications for the programme.
NAO’s concluding remarks
‘The Home Office forecasts that it has spent some £2 billion on ESN since 2015 but is a long way from having a functioning network to replace Airwave. A 2018 reset, introduced to address technology and commercial issues, did not work.’
It emphasises that the Home Office has paid Motorola for software and systems it will not use and Motorola has written-off some ESN investment. The Home Office must find a new supplier, which will not happen before April 2024, to continue the programme. However, although replacing Motorola may have been necessary, it does not guarantee that the programme will succeed.
It urges the Home Office ‘to continue revising timetable and cost estimates, avoiding a repeat of past mistakes such as setting unrealistic time frames; complete other aspects of ESN; and bring everything together into a working service. Because Airwave will eventually need to be replaced, ‘the Home Office must make sure that it has taken the time it needs to fix the problems and not waste money, as we have previously reported, or reset the programme again.’
This NAO report was published today, 8 March. It concerns critical infrastructure for the operation of the UK’s i.e. including Scotland’s, emergency services. Taxes from Scotland will be meeting a share (probably c. 10%) of costs. Notwithstanding this, the NAO’s latest report is likely to be yet another independent, highly critical evaluation of Westminster’s procurement track record that receives no attention from the corporate media and the BBC, and certainly not in Scotland.
But it’s not hard to imagine the ‘scandal’ headlines based on selective quotes from a report like this IF the subject was Scottish Government procurement. But with no Scottish Government angle – no ‘ferries’ – no coverage!
One thought on “Not Scottish Government – not ‘ferries’ – so not covered by the BBC!”
Although BBC Scotland and the unionist media tend to ‘mine’ NAO and other sources for data which, presented out of context, portray Scotland in a bad light, the UK media rarely do the same with regard to matters in England. So the people of England are not alerted to failings in services provision in England as often as we are in Scotland. This is also propagandist in hiding how bad things are in England.
It is the other side of the same coin as ‘Scotland bad’.
The people who live in England are to a fair extent oblivious of the fact that ‘England’ does not exist. it is a hyphenated entity UK/England or Britain/England, which unlike Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland does not have a government and whose diverse cultural identity is portrayed as a Rule Britannia, second World War obsessed myth where the COMMON PEOPLE are Cockney patriots who know their place.
The long radical, dissenting England is expunged from the media narrative.