Police chiefs 'forced to spend £700,000 on radios which the Government plans to scrap'

Police chiefs in County Durham have been forced to shell out £700,000 for radios which the government plans to scrap anyway.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 5:29 pm
Durham Constabulary HQ, Akley Heads, Durham
Durham Constabulary HQ, Akley Heads, Durham

Rollout of the new ‘Emergency Services Network’ (ESN) was supposed to start in 2019, but repeated delays mean the project is more than £3billion over budget with no end in sight.

And the wait has meant Durham Constabulary has had to bite the bullet and replace equipment still using the ageing ‘Airwave’ system, despite knowing it is due to be phased out.

“For an example of unplanned expenditure, the government and police services are looking at a new communication system – effectively, new radios for the emergency services across the UK,” said Steve White, the Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner (PCVC) for Durham and Darlington.

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“But that’s behind on delivery and as a consequence I’ve had to spend £700,000 on the purchase of handsets for the existing system which we never thought we would have to buy.

“£700,000 is a significant amount of the budget, equivalent to an increase in the budget of three per cent – that gives a flavour for how things are still very tight.”

White, who took over as PCVC from the late Ron Hogg, was speaking at a meeting of the Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Panel.

In 2019, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said it did not expect ESN to begin its rollout to the 470 organisations slated to use it, including police forces and fire brigades, until 2021 at the earliest.

According to a National Audit Office (NAO) report on the project, the predicted final cost has ballooned by £3.1billion, to £9.3 billion by 2037, with £1.4 billion spent on extending the use of the current Airwave system.

The bill for the force comes as the PCVC prepares to set the council tax ‘precept’ which will be added to household bills for 2020/21.

But with just months until the end of the current financial year, White is still unable to finalise spending plans due to government delays.

He added: “Because of the general election we don’t know what the central government grant will be or if there will be any caps on a precept rise, which has made it somewhat difficult to consult.

“Some PCVCs have started the consultation process, but I’ve taken the view that for it to be meaningful it should have hard facts and figures attached, rather than a guess.”