Background to the report

In 2015, the Home Office contracted with suppliers to provide a new communication network (Emergency Services Network, ESN) to replace its existing Airwave network. All 108 police, fire and ambulance services (users) across England, Scotland and Wales use this critical network to communicate between the field and control rooms. As part of its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP, or the programme), the Home Office intended ESN to fully replace Airwave, cost less and provide users with access to modern mobile data.

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For users to start using the new network and then turn off Airwave, various elements need to work together. In 2015, the Home Office contracted with EE Ltd to provide priority access to its mobile network and increase network coverage. It also contracted with Motorola Solutions UK Limited for software and systems including critical features not normally found on a mobile network, such as a first-of-a-kind ‘push-to-talk’ functionality. The Home Office has contracted different suppliers for other parts of the programme such as upgrading users’ systems and ensuring that ESN covers remote areas.

Scope of the report

In 2016, our first report on ESMCP assessed the programme as high risk because of: the commercial approach; the ambitious technology and timetable; and uncertainty about users accepting ESN. It found that Motorola’s purchase of Airwave in February 2016 created commercial risks given Motorola’s role in ESN. It also found that the Home Office was trying to adopt an approach not used at a national scale in other countries which carried significant implementation risk.

When we reported a second time, in 2019, we found that after a reset in 2018 the programme remained high risk. We reiterated that the Home Office should carefully manage the risk associated with Motorola’s dual roles.

Our previous reports evaluated the Home Office’s progress with ESN. This provides context for our current report, which describes the Home Office’s progress since our 2019 report and our view of the programme’s risks and issues. We do not evaluate performance to date, or seek to apportion responsibility for any challenges experienced by the programme. Because of the uncertainty facing the programme, we do not assess the value for money of continuing the programme or provide an exhaustive list of risks.


The Home Office forecasts that it has spent some £2 billion on ESN since 2015 but is a long way from having a functioning network to replace Airwave. A 2018 reset, introduced to address technology and commercial issues, did not work. Recognising this, in 2021 the Home Office wrote to the CMA expressing concerns over Airwave’s excessive profits and Motorola’s incentives to complete ESN.

Subsequently, Motorola indicated that it may leave ESN and, in December 2022, the Home Office and Motorola agreed to end Motorola’s ESN involvement early. This addressed recognised issues but means that the Home Office has paid Motorola for software and systems it will not use and Motorola has written-off some ESN investment. The Home Office must find a new supplier, which will not happen before April 2024, to continue the programme. However, although replacing Motorola may have been necessary, it does not guarantee that the programme will succeed.

With the aim of putting the programme onto a stable footing, the Home Office has taken some tough decisions. These affect the programme’s risks and uncertainties, but the Home Office cannot yet be certain of the impact of its actions. It now has more confidence in the programme leadership, which has improved the programme’s relationship with users that is critical to ESN being accepted. However, ongoing uncertainty risks putting this new-found confidence at risk.

To avoid doing so, the Home Office needs to make clear to users the value of ESN, particularly as Airwave meets their expectations and many have their own data solutions. It also needs to continue revising timetable and cost estimates, avoiding a repeat of past mistakes such as setting unrealistic time frames; complete other aspects of ESN; and bring everything together into a working service. Because Airwave will eventually need to be replaced, the Home Office must make sure that it has taken the time it needs to fix the problems and not waste money, as we have previously reported, or reset the programme again.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (8 Mar 2023)

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