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