Plans to build a new police radio network in the UK have hit further problems after the European Commission (EC) said today that the contract to build the network had been awarded unfairly.
The EC has referred the UK government to the European Court of Justice over the awarding of the £2.5bn contract to replace the Police Radio Network to a BT-led consortium.
Today's move is the latest event to dog the Home Office's AirWave project. It had previously been criticised for asking UK police forces to pay £2.5bn for mobile network technology branded as costly, slow and likely to be obsolete by the time it is installed.
When the contract was put out to tender, the Home Office specified that all tenders must comply with the TETRA European technical standard for mobile radio services.
However, the EC said the process was in breach of its directives, and that public authorities were not allowed to reject tenders on the ground that they were not based on a specified technical standard.
In a statement issued earlier today, the EC said this practice could give rise to discrimination against firms which may offer "genuinely equivalent solutions, even if [they are] not based on the specified standard".
"The Commission believes that public authorities have a duty to carry out their evaluation on the basis of information provided by interested firms, to determine whether solutions offered are genuinely equivalent. Firms cannot be rejected before this evaluation has taken place, and those proposing an equivalent solution cannot be rejected simply because they have not based their proposal on the specified standard," the statement said.
The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) said it was disappointed by the decision and that the point at issue is also the subject of legislative issues which the EC has just published.
Commenting on this specific case, the OGC said: "The issue is whether specifying a requirement for a system based on the open European standard was discriminatory against a system based on a proprietary specification which does not meet the standard and which was not considered to offer equivalent functionality."
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