Home Office to Present Summer ESN Review
The Home Office’s chief digital, data, and technology officer, Joanna Davinson, has revealed that the government is to release its strategic review of the programme to roll out the Emergency Services Network (ESN) at the end of July.
The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is the new communication system to be used by all 3 emergency services and other public safety users in Britain. It is centred on the latest technology, delivering secure and robust voice communication as well as broadband data services.
A crucial contract to increase mobile phone coverage for the emergency services is facing disaster with construction currently underway at only a single site out of around 300 locations where new masts need to be built.
The Home Office is understood to be considering scrapping a deal with Lendlease, with concerns that fire, police and ambulance crews in some of the UK’s most difficult to reach places will suffer communications difficulties due to delays to the new Emergency Services Network.
The multi-billion-pound programme was meant to fully replace Airwave, the existing radio system, by 2019 with forces intended to migrate to the network in June 2018.
Davinson added, “In that review, we’re working through each of [the programme’s] projects and getting underneath the dependencies and the critical path of each of those projects so we can build our level of confidence in the integrated project plan.
Davinson has admitted that in the past, where the programme has had problems, was where it lacked sufficient detail to comprehend the relationships between its different modules and that the Home Office is; “going through that work now”.
“In addition, we’re looking at alternative approaches to delivery and specifically at how we can get some capability out into the hands of the users early.” Building the confidence users’ have in the programme, affords the government an opportunity to obtain feedback during development, meaning users who simply require data (e.g. some ambulance users) may get some initial benefits from ESN.
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, proposed that the National Audit Office (NAO) carry out further oversight of the whole project as part of its inquiry with the NAO’s comptroller and auditor general, Amyas Morse present, Hillier said: “While it is not within my powers to tell [him] what to do, I think he’s heard our suggestion very firmly…”
While discussing the possibility of incremental delivery Davinson said: “Anytime we can get the users to actually touch and feel the solution gives us the opportunity to get feedback. One of the challenges with our current plan is that we do all the design, development and test for everything before we can go into user trials and transition and so we carry quite a lot of risk through that process that by the time we get into trials there are some things that aren’t quite what the user is expecting. The earlier we can get users to use the components of the system the better.”
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