Rutnam: ESN still the right strategic direction
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:
L-R: Stephen Webb, senior responsible officer, ESN; and Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office's permanent secretary; copyright:

The fifth Public Accounts Committee hearing on ESN saw witnesses from the Home Office discuss the project's reduction in headcount and the upcoming strategic review of the project which is still scheduled for completion in July.

Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office's permanent secretary said during the session that the strategic review of the project is “on track… it’s not there yet but I am reasonably confident that it will be done to that timescale… We have some very significant milestones ahead of us that we are working towards including a major projects review group discussion towards the end of July. Obviously I have set milestones along the way to do our absolute best to make sure that we are ready for that.”

When asked by Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire (Conservative), as to why he is only “reasonably confident” of delivering the “six-to-seven month” review on time, Rutnam responded by saying that “it’s best not to over-promise” and said that he’s “aware of the huge complexity of this programme, the fact that it comprises many interdependent parts. I have seen good progress on a number of [those] but I want to see more progress on some of them.”

When queried about the future direction of the project, given an article published by The Register on 30 May that said that the government was contemplating a complete or partial shutdown of ESN, Rutnam said: “The position is of course as we are in the process of resetting the programme we look at alternative options… It is always an option in a programme to consider not proceeding with it. It is wise to consider that option, it is one of the central scenarios that one needs to test. Is that what we are intending to do, is that what we are aiming to do?

“[The answer is] no for two very simple reasons… We’re very clear that the strategic intent between the Emergency Services Network remains the right strategic intent. We need to move the technology that is underpinning the emergency services’ communications from its essentially rather historic, reliable… effectively 2G environment, to a modern adaptable 4G technology which is capable of providing much greater functionality at much lower cost.”

His response was punctuated by a frosty exchange with Rowley over the article’s accuracy, with Rutnam taking exception to its presentation and emphasis.

Rutnam added that: “There are many levels of governance that this programme needs to go through beyond just those under my control, my own ministers, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and we’re not yet in the thick of those levels of governance.”

Stephen Webb, senior responsible officer for the Emergency Services Network, said that the project is downsizing its headcount, from 340 to 140, with slightly more than 70 people having gone so far, with the bulk of the losses being contractors. The programme's intention is to have made the full reduction by the end of this year. He added that this year the programme is currently costing £25 million a month, with the bulk of this cost being payments to the main suppliers and its headcount making up a very small proportion of the overall cost.

When asked about the incremental delivery of the project, Webb said that there is a very good chance that some data services will be deployed to some extent this calendar year, with early versions of mission-critical voice to follow towards the turn of the year.

This article originally erroneously stated that the target headcount for the project is 240, when it is in fact 140

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