As much as £300m may have been wasted on the Airwave radio system, according to a new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The report, published today, said the £1.5bn national emergency services network was "more sophisticated and expensive" than necessary, and cited misgivings by police authorities over whether the new system would work better than the less complicated current systems.
The Home Office's view was that the police would have preferred a simpler system with "less risk and less functionality" if funding the system from its own budgets.
But despite police reservations, the government pressed ahead with Airwave at a cost of £1.5bn over 19 years. Industry sources estimate that rolling annual costs could bring the final cost up to £2.9bn.
A spokeswoman from Airwave O2, however, said the network was built after extensive consultation with police forces.
"It is a system designed to meet the current and future needs of the police. When we designed the service we consulted widely to ascertain the needs of today and tomorrow. As far as we are aware the functionality has been largely welcomed by the forces using Airwave," the spokeswoman said.
She added that the contract met stringent Home Office value for money targets and pointed out that a National Audit Office report into Airwave had said the system should allow officers to spend more time on the beat.
The PAC report casts serious doubts over advantages of the Airwave system.
"It is not certain that one of the key benefits expected from the new system - the ability of police officers to communicate with each other when operating outside their home force area - has been rigorously evaluated," it said.
Home Office minister John Denham said Airwave would allow officers in all forces to "communicate freely, clearly and securely with each other across boundaries." He disagreed that allowing each force to roll out its own communication system would bring any benefits.
"Regional procurement would undoubtedly have led to variable quality and it is not proven this would have resulted in a saving of £300m," said Denham.
The report highlights concerns over the danger to health posed by handsets and masts. But it said the Home Office's initial results indicated that the rate of absorption by the human body of the radio frequencies used by Airwave was well within international limits.
Denham said the Home Office was "monitoring the introduction of Airwave where any anticipated health and safety issues are identified, and appropriate action will be taken immediately."
The spokeswoman for Airwave O2 added that handsets met health and safety guidelines that "were already set at a precautionary level".
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