Home Office blamed for radio project delay

£1.5bn scheme for the emergency services is behind schedule

By Melanie Tringham

A £1.5bn project to create a radio infrastructure for the emergency services has been delayed because of industry fears over escalating costs for developing the service.

Contracts for the year long project definition stage of the Public Safety Radio Communications Project will be awarded next month – three months later than expected. The project is intended to give the police and emergency services a new digital radio system.

The study will determine the full cost of the new system, its popularity and the practicalities of installing it nationwide. It is believed the delay has been caused by the Home Office’s failure to clarify how much it will contribute. The study will cost around £10m.

Despite the £1.5bn rewards for whoever wins the eventual contract, the project definition stage entails considerable risk as only one bidder will win.

The Home Office has promised financial assistance, but the exact amount is still subject to negotiation.

Jeff Parris, programme director of Quadrant, the BT-led bid, said the Home Office had `agreed to partly fund the study – the question is: what does “partly fund” mean?’.

The other bid is led by Racal which has had problems with project development.

Delays to the award of the Bowman project, the £2bn military radio system finally awarded to a joint consortium in March, led to Racal running up costs of tens of millions of pounds, and contributed to a profits warning last November and repeated last week.

`Any new contract involves an element of risk,’ said Racal.

Despite the three-month delay, the contract is still expected to be placed at the end of next year, with the first use of the service taking place in Lancashire.