back to article UK Home Office sheds 70 staff on delayed 4G upgrade to Emergency Services Network

The Home Office's massive project to replace the UK's radio infrastructure with a 4G network has shed 70 staffers and plans to expunge another 130, officials have said. In a tense evidence session in front of Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office Philip Rutnam and the civil …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Three hundred and fourty?! What on earth were they all doing?

    1. K Silver badge

      Cashing in... With feet up, waiting for the Central Bureaucracy to determine they were not necessary. Now they'll be offered roles on another project!

    2. TheVogon Silver badge

      Amazing the they can just suddenly get by on 1/3 the team. Seeing as EE provide the actual network what did they all do anyway?!

      1. hoola

        All the doers

        There must come a point when Management have to reduce their own numbers, All too often it is the people doing the technical or productive work that are chopped leaving the desk jockeys with their feet up. There appears to be this belief (that is self-perpetuating) that the answer to any project that has failed to deliver is more management.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cynic that I am

      If my experience, in another government radio project (not UK), is anything to go by 100 or so will be productive carrying out engineering activities, running stakeholder workshops, applying technical knowledge, preparing specifications and generally using their experience and know-how.

      50 will be past engineers 'elevated' to Project Managers status spending all their time attending meetings addressing the demands of the 50 odd administers, Primavera P9 process clerks and accountants who demand multiple, voluminous reports, graphs and charts to report to and 'inform' the Exec.

      50 will be Commercial Managers applying their knowledge of the last job (negotiating the procurement of paper clips) to make sure that maximum confusion applies across the Project Team and that seemingly obvious technical needs can be discounted as "commercially too expensive" or not "sound commercial" practice.

      The remainder will be running around causing interruption to the rest of the team and finding devious ways to clobber the project progress by inventing loads of H&S requirements, Safe Work Method Statements, Site Reporting Requirements, Project Risk Management processes, Implementation Control Requirements, V & V requirements and ......... .

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What were they all doing? Getting their noses as deep into the trough and sucking as hard as they could of course. The writing was on the wall for esn 2+ years ago but nobody responsible had the courage to kill it.

  2. JustSomeBloke

    The wrong solution from the beginning.

    Disappointingly, a host of voices within government recognised the difficulties faced by the ESN project at its inception. They were not listened to and now their concerns have come to pass.

    Stephen Webb has no doubt tried his best to correct the course but the approach was wrong from the start.

    Many technical staff remain unconvinced that ESN will ever deliver what the emergency services need. Let’s hope that they aren’t weeding out the wrong people in this efficiency drive.

    1. AegisPrime

      Re: The wrong solution from the beginning.

      Sadly in my experience it tends to be the realists that get 'weeded' out in situations like this whilst the sycophants cling onto their jobs until the bitter end.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: The wrong solution from the beginning.

        True as the realists will be seen as "blockers".

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: The wrong solution from the beginning.

      Many technical staff say such things without ever having had to pay for the alternatives.

      If you want a broadband mobile radio network with similar qualities to that of, say, 4G then you are going to be paying 4G like money to develop it. That's £billions on the modem development (research, experiments, and then you have to persuade someone to make the chips and base station kit), untold £billions getting bespoke handsets done (design of their hardware, manufacturing set up, never mind standing up an OS and software stack and applications), rolling out the network and then maintaining it all. Training. Remanufacture. Keeping the knowledge alive.

      The telecoms industry has spent a huge amount on cellular mobile and an attempt to do that again just for ESN is nonsensical.

    3. gnarlymarley
      WTF?

      Re: The wrong solution from the beginning.

      Many technical staff remain unconvinced that ESN will ever deliver what the emergency services need.

      Hmmm, interesting comment. From what I have seen backup communication is good to have. 4G does go down in a power outage, but the emergency communications folks have special batteries and generators at their towers. Does this change really mean that in a real mass emergency the folks that really need it are shutdown just like the rest of us?

  3. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    Animal Farm - Banker and Finance.

    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing.

    It's no different from the private sector.

    They don't know what they're doing when it comes to technology. Let me guess. The 140 retained, are in charge of procurement and cost control, and the ones let go, technology and delivery. Is this the same chap that signed of on £36k of meditation. We know the cause, when is solution being finessed. #iminchargeyourecrapwhyimincharge

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Animal Farm - Banker and Finance.

      It's no different from the private sector.

      Actually it is. If a private organisation dicks about with its critical IT projects enough it goes bust. And I know not merely because we all know that as a generalisation, but also because I've just joined a company that is drinking in the corporate equivalent of the Last Chance Saloon, precisely because it fucked up a big complex IT integration. The net cost of that fuck up was between £500-£1,000 per customer, and since our gross turnover is only about £1k per customer and net profit margin around 5%, that's "existential".

      The idle, incompetent fuckers at the top of the civil service face no such risks.

  4. steviebuk Silver badge

    Will that include...

    ...all the over paid consultants or will they be kept and the people that actually do the work be canned?

    I'll also say it again, how is this going to work when The Royal Success in Brighton hasn't got any pissing EE 4G signal when you're in the hospital. Pretty much everywhere in that place has no signal. Its a nightmare layout of a hospital and phone signals in the place is shit. If they can't get that right, how are they going to sort this.

    1. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Will that include...

      I blame my keyboard for all my errors. Despite reading that over a few times before hitting submit I still missed Success.

      That should of been Royal Sussex County Hospital.

      1. Sam Haine
        Go

        Re: Will that include...

        It's got a new nickname now!

  5. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
    WTF?

    Wasn't one of the goals here to allow emergancy services to communicate with each other when handling more severe situations? Terrorism, things like the Moor's fire, etc? So are the one's that will be operating with the 4G ESN going to have to keep the 3G around in the same vehicle, for example, which isn't exactly the best idea as I can attest to from supporting the people who did this type of mobile work. Run the batteries flat even faster.

    I'll not even go into my experiences pop-up project lead and project manager, projects small to enterprise, one of the largest enterprises on the planet. I know this shit can get done, on-time and under/at budget.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I know this shit can get done, on-time and under/at budget.

      I'd agree it can be. But I challenge you to do that for a high profile UK government project, because I don't believe that it is possible in that environment, no matter what your personal experience and talents.

      A wisdom I've picked up over my career is that senior individuals who don't fir the culture of an organisation are eventually spat out, in some shape of form, regardless of their performance or the need for their skills. And in the UK public sector, coming in hoping to change things, to make things work, to take decisions, to be accountable and hold accountable....well, you're fighting the entrenched culture of the entire Establishment. The only way you could win and deliver change would be with a licence to sack and/or kill that you deployed liberally and extravagantly. A fine example of a successful change strategy would be to start off every single morning by having three hand picked Whitehall mandarins tied to the track at Charing Cross, to be decapitated by the arrival of the 08:35 from Tunbridge Wells. That's the sort of effort you'd need to spark performance change in the civil service.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        A fine example of a successful change strategy would be to start off every single morning by having three hand picked Whitehall mandarins tied to the track at Charing Cross, to be decapitated by the arrival of the 08:35 from Tunbridge Wells. That's the sort of effort you'd need to spark performance change in the civil service.

        Wouldn't work.

        Having worked in the civil service temporarily as a junior manager, i'd say the biggest thing that could be done would be to provide both carrots and sticks to the junior management, and provide training in the use of both.

        I really struggled in the civil service, as you don't have a stick. It's impossible to do anything to an incompetent or just outright lazy staffer. You also don't have much in the way of carrots, as you can't hand out bonuses or pay rises for good performance. The only tools I could really use was work assignments, which I used mercilessly on people who didn't work as part of the team.

        So, find some decently socipathic HR staff who outright enjoy firing dead wood staff, provide ability to give bonuses for good performance and being fired for wasting huge amounts of cash and then see what happens. That would provide the tools for effective change, but it'd take a decade or so to fix.

  6. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    Well, there has always been layoffs when things go bad. In the old times one called them "scapegoats", now it's "redundancies", but the goals remain the same: First to show management is doing something, and second there is the hope one of those scapegoats will take the curse with him and away from you.

    In the present case their priority is to convince the stakeholders that they are still on top of things and that the situation will improve shortly. (If it doesn't improve, they will say they lack staff and hire some new people, to fire later on.)

  7. J J Carter Silver badge
    Boffin

    Let's look at the facts

    The obvious solution, and one that was discussed 5 years ago when I was at the HO, was to use the public 4G network with -

    1) Emergency Services had handsets that signalled to the base stations to give priority/exclusive use - this is part of the 4G spec.

    2) Public money was used to build masts in areas that weren't commercially viable but were needed to give coverage for emergency services

    3) Public money was used to build masts in very high demand areas such as football stadiums.

    The last 2 meant tax-payers would benefit from the £M spent.

    I recall this option was rejected due to 'securidee' concerns in favour of splurging £B on a dedicated 4G network.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's look at the facts

      That is pretty much the basis of the contract that was awarded. There is no dedicated network; it piggy backs on one of the exiting ones.

      There are a few other details that don't sound complicated but are proving problematic - examples include push to talk / group call service (only recently finalised in the standards), and coverage in underground / deep indoor scenarios (needs new infrastructure and/or portable repeaters)

      1. HmmmYes Silver badge

        Re: Let's look at the facts

        The issue with push to talk is its not really implement.

        The 4g technology is there but the 4g coverage isnt present in a lot of the country.

        The only solution to this is to have commission some sort of mobile 4g base station with the option of satellite link. The likes of vodafone/ee manage this - settig up temporary mobile masts at festivals.

        There just seems a total lacking of willingness to grasp what the issue and solutions are.

  8. ukgnome Silver badge

    Switching from radio to EE 4G

    Let's hope an Ambulance doesn't need to contact anyone anywhere

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      "...Let's hope an Ambulance doesn't need to contact anyone anywhere..."

      I have to play a bit of devil's advocate here I feel.

      I had a business mobile contract with O2 and watched as their customer service went from truly exceptional to truly awful (right when they moved it to Azzuri). Their signal went from patchy to non existent.

      When the time came to move, I did a lot of looking around and reading reviews. Weirdly, EE were getting an absolute panning for consumer contracts whilst simultaneously winning awards for their business contracts.

      So, 3 1/2 years ago now, I made the jump. And they've been fantastic - on the few occasions I've needed to call to speak to them, they answer in seconds from UK based call centres and have always answered my queries well.

      My signal rarely drops out - there are dead spots, of course, but not anything like there were with O2 (or even further back, with Vodafone on my works mobile).

      I'm not dumb - I know there will inevitably be large areas of no or poor signal but so far I've been lucky enough to rarely find them.

      1. ffRewind

        No offence but I'd feel a lot more hopeful if your experience was as a first responder to emergencies deep within concrete jungles, tunnels, or on remote patches of countryside or barely populated coastal areas - and instead of ringing up call centres at your convenience you were trying to download or upload vital up to the moment data relating to the current situation. Please don't mix up what passes as acceptable for corporate or personal communications with what is required for emergency services, where 'dead spots' mean dead spots.

      2. Steve Gill

        I spend a lot of time out in the wilder parts of the country - where if you can get any signal at all it'll usually be on O2 and you'll get a far better signal if you're on an old fashioned 2G/3G phone than a fancy 4G one.

        EE is great in city centre coffee shop zones but seems to fade out just moving to the quieter suburbs and semi-rural areas.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In rural parts of Scotland EE are currently putting a lot of effort into 4G expansion, especially using their 800Mhz layer I know personally of one village only a few miles outside Inverness that has been a Voda/O2 2G area for as long as I can remember, with EE effectively non-existent. Coverage has recently started to appear, 4G800 first but other frequencies I'm sure will follow.

          Filling in all the gaps will take time, but there's certainly improvements happening where they need to.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Weirdly, EE were getting an absolute panning for consumer contracts whilst simultaneously winning awards for their business contracts.

        I'm not sure that's weird - most large customer service businesses have completely separate business units delivering B2B and residential service (with the smallest SMEs usually lumped in with residential). And if your cost base, operational planning, even CRM systems are totally different, its normal to have different performance. On top of which, business customers are much more valuable than residential customers, so you'd aim to offer business better, more expensive service.

        The business I work for has exactly such a divide - different board directors, different CRM, different billing engines, different buildings, separate marketing & sales.

  9. Dominion

    Reviewing the review

    If the review of the project is 7 months late what chance has the actual project got? It looks they need to initiate a review of the review.....

  10. adam payne Silver badge

    Throughout the session, MPs expressed concerns about the project's future, which is now over budget and behind time.

    Late and over budget that never happens surely?

    Rutnam declined to guarantee delivery of the review next month. "I'm reasonably confident it will be done in that time scale,"

    It's a good job your confident, I not sure I am.

    Of course as we are in the process of resetting the programme

    So you've gone down one route and finally figured out it can't be done or would cost a lot more than you thought. How much money was spent going down that route?

    Rutnam refused to be drawn on most of the points, declining to give a final date for completion

    Looks like someone doesn't know when the project will be completed.

    1. EnviableOne Bronze badge

      Looks like someone doesn't know whenIF the project will be completed.

      FTFY

  11. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    "Incremental delivery"

    == no plan, never finished, bonuses all round whatever.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All of this reminds me of [insert name of failed Gov IT project].

    Reminds me of FiReControl. I worked on the bid for an outsourcer. We techies kept getting pushed to make the bid cheaper and cheaper, including down to unsustainable levels of staff to ever possibly deliver. It was an open secret that whoever won the bid would up the price and increase the delivery time as soon as the contract was awarded.

    The eventual winners (thankfully not us that time) made a right hash of it and it was canceled years later. https://www.nao.org.uk/report/the-failure-of-the-firecontrol-project/

  13. alwallgbr
    WTF?

    An expensive SIM swap !

    So if the Ambo Service can "put in an ESN SIM card and have far better data quality" with an existing MDT why is so much money being spent on a SIM swap? :)

  14. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    the leaders have decided that the team, which currently numbers 340, could be smaller

    0 leaders will be removed.

  15. Lotaresco Silver badge

    Airwave

    It seems typical that just as we got to the point that the emergency services had knocked the bugs out of Airwave that the decision is taken to pull the rug from under the system. Yes it had problems, most of which were due to piss-poor user training. There were people issued with Airwave terminals who didn't even know what the orange button was for, for example. There was also budgetary/contract stupidity that meant the original plan to have a 3g SIM in every handheld terminal so that users could make phone calls as well as receive/transmit via the network was stillborn.

    AFAICT there was no awareness among the people negotiating the 4g contract about how Airwave was used. The need for presence, status and position to be transmitted to a control room seemed to be overlooked. As one MP said, 4g sounds great until you're alone in a dark alley facing up to a couple of thugs with knives.

    1. alwallgbr
      Flame

      Re: Airwave

      Makes me wistful for the Home Office Directorate of Telecommunications. They pushed manufacturers on specifications but also based them on realism!

  16. alwallgbr
    Mushroom

    Mobile to Mobile range

    When the local 4G stops working in a remote area, what is the range of these 4G handsets back to back?

    Would this explain why Ofcom have retained substantial frequency allocations between 410 and 470Mhz for Emergency Service use?

    UHF handhelds anyone?

  17. Londonbus

    So if this is fun and games for ESN, what's happening regarding coverage on London Underground?

    At the moment, Airwave runs on top of LU's TETRA service (delivered under the Connect PFI which will end next year).

    Where is TfL on delivering a replacement?

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