Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service 'at mercy of Ministers' over botched radio upgrade

Fire chiefs are ‘at the mercy’ of Ministers over a botched Government IT upgrade, a committee has heard.

By James Harrison
Monday, 8th March 2021, 5:57 pm
Updated Monday, 8th March 2021, 6:00 pm

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Tyne & Wear firefighters in action.
Tyne & Wear firefighters in action.

Bosses at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) are facing a bill of up to £200,000 to replace ageing communication equipment.

But the new radios could be consigned to the scrapheap in just a few years if a serially delayed national project to upgrade networks hits its latest completion target of 2023.

“The on-going saga of the communications system [is an] absolute mess,” said Tom Woodwark, a Liberal Democrat member of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority.

“The swapover to the new system is a significant risk to the authority – through no fault of our own.”

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Cllr Woodward was speaking at a meeting of the authority’s Governance Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

The fire authority is made up of representatives of the five Tyne and Wear councils and oversees the work of the brigade.

Work on the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) to replace the current Airwave system started in 2015 and was originally slated for completion by 2017.

The project is supposed to improve communication between the UK’s emergency services, especially in the event of a major incident, such as a terrorist attack.

Following the scheme’s most recent ‘reset’ by the Home Office the switch to the new technology is scheduled for 2023.

Last month, the fire authority heard that in the meantime it faces a bill worth between £100,000 – 200,000 to keep their current communication equipment running.

And even once the project does conclude, chiefs face further costs as the new system is expected to be ‘more expensive to procure and will also require replacement more regularly’.

Lynsey McVay, assistant chief fire officer at TWFRS, said: “We’ve written to the Home Office to raise our concerns, but it’s something we haven’t got any control over.

“It’s been going on since 2015 and it will continue because there needs to be a replacement for Airwave.

“Nationally there is work that needs to be done, but unfortunately we’re at the mercy of the Home Office and national government on this.”

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