Emergency services' radio replacement delays 'could cost millions'

Patient wheeled out of a stretcher from an ambulance Image copyright Getty Images

Delays in introducing a new radio system for emergency services in England, Wales and Scotland may cost taxpayers £475m a year, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee said the new Emergency Services Network system could require more testing beyond its scheduled start date of December 2019.

Contracts for the old network may have to be extended, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, it said.

Ministers said the technology would be the "most advanced of its kind".

'Not yet proven'

Currently the 105 police, fire and ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales communicate using the radio network Airwave - contracts for which expire in two years.

But the Public Accounts Committee said the system due as the replacement, ESN, was "not yet proven" and probably would not be ready on time.

The MPs said the Home Office had not budgeted for such a lengthy delay and that it must put detailed contingency plans in place.

It has also called on ministers to address what it says are "real security concerns" about how well ESN will work on underground systems in London, Glasgow and elsewhere.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: "It is critical for public safety and achieving value for money that the government has a firm grasp of the implications of delays in its timetable and a costed plan to tackle them.

"We will expect it to demonstrate real progress in this area when it reports back to us later this year."

A Home Office spokesman said ESN was the most advanced communications system of its kind and would deliver "significant savings for the taxpayer".

He added: "The timescales are ambitious because we want to get the most from technology that will help save lives, but we are clear that no risks will be taken with public safety and the existing Airwave system will continue until transition on to ESN is completed."

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