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CMA calls inquiry group into Airwave investigation

26/10/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called in an independent inquiry group to investigate the Airwave mobile radio network for emergency services.

Police woman with phone

This follows the launch of its own investigation in July, focused on the dual role of Motorola Solutions as the company providing the network and a key supplier in the roll out of its replacement, the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

CMA said that, after considering the evidence gathered and reviewing the responses to this consultation, the inquiry group will now investigate the sector and decide if there are problems, and if so, put in place appropriate solutions.

It will be chaired by lawyer Martin Coleman with Humphrey Battcock, Colleen Keck and Jeremy Newman as the other members.

The CMA is concerned that the market for the supply of the mobile radio network for emergency services in Great Britain might not be working well, resulting in a more expensive service for customers and the taxpayer.

Causes for concern

It said the reasons for its concern include insufficient information (particularly in relation to the projects and associated costs needed to maintain and refresh the current network) being provided to the Home Office in negotiations on the pricing of the Airwave network.

This is placing the department in a weak bargaining position and unable to secure value for money.

In addition, Motorola’s dual role in Airwave and the ESN gives it an incentive to delay or shape the roll out of the latter to its advantage.

The ESN programme has run years late, with the roll out of the network now scheduled for completion in December 2024 against an initial deadline of 2019. It has been criticised by the National Audit Office and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, with projections that the costs will outweigh the savings until 2029.

Question of cashing in

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “As the sole provider of critical mobile radio network services used by our emergency services, we’re concerned that Motorola could be cashing in on its position, leaving taxpayers to cover the cost.

“We’re now referring this market for a full investigation so that we can thoroughly examine these concerns and, if necessary, take action to address any problems.”

Motorola gained its dual role by purchasing the Airwave network in February 2016, two months after it had entered into a contract with the Government to provide software for ESN. The merger was cleared by the CMA, in part because of the general expectation that the Airwave network would be shut down by 2019.

Motorola response

In response, a spokesperson for Motorola Solutions said: "We strongly believe that a market investigation is not warranted. 

"We have provided financial transparency throughout this project, including audited, statutory financial statements, detailed reviews of capex and spend, and financial plans for the Airwave network.

"The Airwave service delivers exceptional value for money for the UK taxpayer. Motorola Solutions has provided price reductions even while making significant investments to maintain the network, which is relied upon by the UK emergency services every day and continues to function at the highest levels. 

"We reject the assertion that we have an incentive to delay the implementation of the ESN. In fact, we continue to deliver on our commitments and invest heavily in the ESN programme and its launch remains our key priority for the benefit of public safety professionals and citizens across the country. 

"This is a contractual matter between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions and this investigation threatens the principles of long term government contracting in the UK. 

"We look forward to working with the CMA independent group to demonstrate that Motorola Solutions continues to provide exceptional value for the UK emergency services."

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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