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Officers may not receive new ESN handsets in time for Airwave shutdown, says CC

He warns replacement network is 'not to be toyed with'

Officers are unlikely to receive new Emergency Service Network handsets before the current aging system is switched off, a chief constable believes.

Forces will soon be able to give a test product a trial run whilst a “pick and mix” approach on the ground means they can choose which one they want to purchase even before the Airwave replacement is up and running.

The Home Office expects they will be available from early 2019 with the final version of the kit ready for Autumn 2020, but Chief Constable Mike Barton says it does not look promising.

When asked at a Public Accounts Committee yesterday in Parliament whether he was confident the programme will be delivered by 2022, the Information Lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council replied: “My sense from the National Police Chiefs’ Council last week is it is probably one of the most pressing concerns facing chief constables - this is not to be toyed with.”

Asked if his force was experimenting with the system or waiting until later, he added: “I don’t even know what the pick and mix is.

“None of us know what we’re talking about because it hasn’t actually been designed.

“If you show me a couple of handsets and whether or not some officers have to carry one or two, I’ll tell you what officers would say - they would say ‘I’m not carrying two handsets’.”

CC Barton also stressed the importance of forces being on the same system with cross-border police pursuits a continual challenge.

Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez concurred with CC Barton and added the south western region is “last in the queue” to be incorporated onto ESN.

Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy said her area may benefit from the system as it is a relatively small and flat area, but more mountainous areas such as Wales and Cumbria have concerns.

She added: “There is deep anxiety for chief constables and PCCs across that region about what all the implications might be.”

CC Barton said his force was initially holding off buying new equipment  but believes the time has come to invest.

When asked about the shelf life of the current equipment he said: “I’m not confident we’re going to get anything to replace it.”

It is believed the dedicated 4G network will transform emergency services’ mobile working, especially in remote areas and at times of network congestion, with sim cards giving them priority over commercial users.

The new system was meant to begin operating in 2017 and rolled out to all forces by the end of 2019. 

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