National Audit Office: ESN roll-out “remains inherently high risk”

The National Audit Office (NAO) has released a report “Upgrading emergency service communications: the Emergency Services Network”, which assesses the risks associated with the delivery of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) by the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) and its commercial partners. The Home Office has accepted the report’s key recommendations.

“The need to save money and get out of a difficult commercial relationship has led the government to try and move to an approach that is not yet used nationwide anywhere in the world,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office (pictured right). “The programme remains inherently high risk and while steps have been taken to manage these risks we are concerned that these are under-rated in the Home Office and elsewhere. The programme needs to put in place more independent testing and assurance regimes for its technical solution and urgently improve its approach to engaging with the emergency services.”

International comparison work, commissioned by the NAO, has concluded that the proposed ESN solution is the most advanced in the world, with only one other country – South Korea – seeking to deploy a similar solution. The NAO has said that there are significant technical challenges that the programme needs to overcome including working with EE to increase the coverage and resilience of its 4G network so that it at least matches Airwave and developing handheld and vehicle mounted devices as no devices currently exist that would work on ESN.

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