Police, fire and other emergency services have missed an opportunity to share a common communication system. This is the conclusion of the National Audit Office in its report: Public Private Partnerships: Airwave. The three emergency services currently have radio systems which do not allow full interoperability between them. The original plan was to develop a unified system for both fire and police, but the fire service decided that systems would be procured regionally.Airwave gives a clear digital voice service and offers the possibility of data transmissions and remote access to police computers. The other emergency services have communication systems of lower quality and which lack the capacity for sharing information. The NAO report expresses concern that the benefits of a single procurement for all emergency services were not realized, with a considerable loss to the taxpayer.
Airwave is expected to bring substantial benefits including officers spending more time on patrol. It is estimated that overall efficiency savings could be the equivalent of up to an extra 1,200 police officers.
The Police Information Technology Organisation signed the Airwave PFI contract with mmO2, formerly the mobile communications business of British Telecom, in 2000. Police services across the UK will be equipped with Airwave by 2004/05. The service will cost 1.5 billion pounds over the 19-year contract.