Botched Tyne & Wear emergency services system branded 'another government IT cock-up'

A botched project to overhaul communications systems for police and firefighters now running more than £3billion over budget has been branded ‘another government IT cock-up’.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17 July, 2019, 16:45
Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther

The scheme to upgrade the emergency services’ existing radio-based Airwave system with the new ‘Emergency Services Network’ was supposed to be in its final stages, ahead of a final completion in December.

But repeated delays mean Tyne and Wear’s firefighters are now not expected to begin phasing out the current system until 2021 at the earliest.

“All of this is very frustrating for the service in terms of we were told time and time again that Airwave is coming or has come to the end of its life,” Coun Tom Woodwark told today’s meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority.

Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Authority

“What’s going on? It’s another government IT cock-up.

“Fortunately, in the short term at least, the financial consequences to this organisation have been minimised because the government has taken the strain.

“But it’s still incredibly frustrating that something so important to this service is lagging and lagging and lagging behind schedule and clearly having an effect on how this service works.”

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A National Audit Office (NAO) report on the roll-out, the expected final cost has ballooned by £3.1billion to £9.3billion by 2037.

Of this, £1.4billion is the cost of extending the use of the current Airwave system.

‘Key components’ of both systems are owned by Motorola, leading the NAO to note: “Motorola will benefit from the successful development of ESN, but it also receives large revenues from the continued use of Airwave.”

About 470 organisations, including police forces and fire brigades, are due to use the new communications system once it is completed.

But fire chiefs in Tyne and Wear have tried to reassure the public they won’t be expected to pick up the bill for the delays, with the government promising to cover the added cost.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther said: “I’m grateful a predecessor said we would only take part so long as there was no further cost to our taxpayers and the services was at least as good as what we’ve [currently] got.