Delays to new po­lice ra­dio sys­tem ‘will cost salaries of 8,000 PCs’

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Martin Beck­ford HOME AF­FAIRS ED­I­TOR

PO­LICE chiefs fear they will be hit with a £400 mil­lion bill for a dis­as­trous Gov­ern­ment project to re­place their cru­cial ra­dio sys­tems.

Se­cret doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Mail on Sun­day show that se­nior of­fi­cers have been pri­vately warned that fur­ther delays to the over­due scheme could cost them the equiv­a­lent of the an­nual pay and train­ing costs for 8,000 con­sta­bles.

The £4 bil­lion up­grade to emer­gency ser­vices com­mu­ni­ca­tions is al­ready years be­hind sched­ule, and there are grow­ing con­cerns that crit­i­cal el­e­ments of it can­not work.

In­cred­i­bly, the tech­nol­ogy does not even ex­ist to op­er­ate the new gen­er­a­tion of ra­dios in po­lice he­li­copters, while hun­dreds of ex­tra phone masts must be built be­fore the net­work can be used in ru­ral ar­eas. Po­lice lead­ers fear th­ese un­re­solved prob­lems will push the start date for the Emer­gency Ser­vices Net­work (ESN) back again, leav­ing them with a huge bill for keep­ing the ex­ist­ing Air­wave ra­dio sys­tem switched on as they pay for the de­vel­op­ment of its re­place­ment.

Chiefs in the East Mid­lands, West Mid­lands, York­shire and the North West have writ­ten to the Home Of­fice ex­press­ing their con­cerns.

One re­cent let­ter sent by Po­lice and Crime Com­mis­sion­ers in York­shire to Polic­ing Min­is­ter Nick Hurd states: ‘The con­cern is that there will be pres­sure for the ser­vice to agree to start tran­si­tion be­fore ev­ery­thing is ready, in or­der to save money. This may put of­fi­cers and the pub­lic at risk. We seek re­as­sur­ance that any in­creased costs as a re­sult of delays will not fall lo­cally to PCCs.’

The idea be­hind ESN is to give po­lice and fire­fight­ers the abil­ity to share pho­tos and videos of in­ci­dents on new dig­i­tal hand­sets. But the scale of the plan, and the fact it has never been tried any­where in the world, means its in­tro­duc­tion has al­ready been pushed back re­peat­edly.

Ear­lier this year, the Home Of­fice ad­mit­ted the tran­si­tion pe­riod would have to con­tinue un­til Septem­ber 2020, nine months af­ter the ex­pected ‘na­tional shut­down date’ for Air­wave.

But a key part of the Air­wave in­fra­struc­ture is due to stop work­ing six months ear­lier in March 2020, in what MPs on the in­flu­en­tial Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee de­scribed as a ‘po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic blow to the abil­ity of our emer­gency ser­vices to carry out their job and keep cit­i­zens safe’.

A re­stricted doc­u­ment writ­ten for the Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs Coun­cil this sum­mer claims it would cost ‘£403 mil­lion or 7,800 con­sta­bles’ if forces had to pay for an ex­tra year of run­ning Air­wave.

Last night, the na­tional po­lice lead for the project, Deputy Chief Con­sta­ble Richard Mor­ris, said: ‘ The Gov­ern­ment has a con­tin­gency plan in place and has ex­tended all Air­wave con­tracts to De­cem­ber 31, 2019.’

The Home Of­fice said: ‘Emer­gency ser­vices will only tran­si­tion when they are sat­is­fied with the new net­work.’

‘Of­fi­cers and the pub­lic may be put at risk’

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