1. The Commissioner introduced his report. The Airwave system was now hard to maintain and costly; the report sets out progress with the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), which would replace Airwave.
2. The Commissioner explained that if there were further delays in implementing the programme nationally, he wanted to ensure Kent was not paying the additional costs.
3. Members thanked the Commissioner for his excellent report which clearly set out a number of problems and tried to reassure members. There were concerns about the current capacity for answering 999 and 101 calls and a service which was currently under stress. The Member asked what process was in place to ensure that the transfer is successful and service is maintained for the people of Kent. The Commissioner’s Chief of Staff explained that both he and the Chief Finance Officer were members of the steering group. The primary change was the implementation of a new Integrated Command and Control System to support the transition from Airwave to modern 4G technology. This had been procured and the transition would take place during 2018, well ahead of schedule for the South East to go-live with ESN. From a public perspective, the intention was that there would be a seamless, continuation of service throughout the transition.
4. Regarding the interface with partners, the Chief of Staff explained that ESN was extending to all emergency services and in addition many Home Office departments would also be using ESN. Its multi-functionality would improve communications between partners. The Chairman asked whether other groups, such as Community Wardens, who currently had access to police communications, would be included in the new network. The Commissioner said that he would respond to this point outside the meeting.
5. Members were concerned that if there were delays Kent Police would have to pay additional costs, how much contingency was there in the budget to cover any further delays? The Commissioner explained that if the programme kept to plan there was a contingency but the big risk was if the programme didn’t happen and Kent Police were left with the bill to continue the airwave contract.
6. Members were pleased to see the synergy and cooperation between Essex and Kent Police Forces, the Commissioner was content that the costs were under control locally, considering that this was a national programme Kent Police could not be entirely in control at all times. Kent Police had budgeted for every known eventuality; the current mobile handsets had a good period of longevity so there was confidence that, if there was a delay in implementation, there wouldn’t be additional costs.
7. The savings from the ESN had not been accounted for yet as Officers wanted to ensure that these would be available, the risk was around additional costs through direct cost or top slicing of the government grant.
8. The South East would not be the first to implement the ESN, the transition would have been tested in other areas. Members were assured that there would be no midnight turn off. There would be a gradual move to ESN having been tried and tested with backup available. The continuity of the 999 service was paramount.
RESOLVED that Members note the Commissioner’s Emergency Services Network Update.