Parliament Committee Chair Expresses ESN Concerns in Letter to Home Office
Thursday, March 15, 2018 | Comments

The chair of the U.K. Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Meg Hillier outlined her concerns about the country's Emergency Services Network (ESN) program delays in a letter to the U.K. Home Office Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam.

The letter follows a hearing on the ESN by the committee last month. The U.K. Home Office report updating the committee on the ESN timelines and budget was originally expected in January. The review will now be available by the end of July, said Joanna Davinson, chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office, during the hearing. She joined the Home Office three months ago from IBM.

“Since our first evidence session on this subject, in November 2016, the program has gone from being 'slightly delayed' to now being a minimum of 15 months behind schedule,” Hillier said in the letter. “It is clear that from the start, the department was complacent about the risks involved in the program. Given the longstanding concerns, the high-level strategic review of the program and extensive replanning exercise you are carrying out are vital but long overdue.”

ESN is a Long Term Evolution (LTE) commercial-based network set to replace the current nationwide TETRA system called Airwave. The Home Office Emergency Services Mobile Communications Program (ESMCP) oversees the ESN.

Hillier also expressed concern about reports that ESN Program Director Gordon Shipley is stepping down at the end of the month. “I am concerned this adds to the challenges facing the program and would like reassurance from you on how this leadership change will be managed,” the letter said.

Rutnam told the committee in a 13 February letter that the department is considering different delivery models that would roll out capability incrementally and allow users to see the progress made. “This alternative approach will involve a substantial amount of work with suppliers and emergency services and amounts to a reset of the entire approach for delivering the ESN program,” Hillier said.

Finalizing the timetable, confirming program costs and who will pay for which costs, proving the technology works through vigorous testing and ensuring coverage are all crucial for building confidence in the emergency services users who are expected to sign up for the service, the PAC letter said. The letter also noted concerns about ESN's underground transport system and air-to-ground coverage.

Hillier said the comptroller and auditor general will look again at the ESN program following the completion of both the program's high-level review and replanning exercises by end-July. “Be assured that we will continue to watch this closely and will examine progress again on the back of the comptroller and auditor general's report,” she said in the letter.

The full PAC letter is here.

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