The high price of the new police and emergency services mobile communications network is threatening to derail a project designed to improve antiquated police communications.
The system, slated for rollout next year, will replace a 40 year old police radio network which suffers from blackouts and can be eavesdropped by criminals.
However, the financing of the deal - estimated to be worth £1.5 billion - has yet to be settled. Police authorities have written to Home Secretary Jack Straw asking for more money for the project.
They say the new network, proposed by BT, will double or triple the proportion of police budgets spent on communications, leading to cuts in the number of police officers.
Chris Fox, chief constable of Northamptonshire Police, summarised law enforcers' plea to the Home Office: "We said we want it but can't afford it. Can you help?"
The Home Office has deferred a final reply, waiting for the end of negotiations between the police and BT. Fox said the Home Office had told police forces to fund the network from existing budgets, but added cash could also come from other government funds for investment.
"It depends which philosophy holds sway," he said.
The deal is fragile because it needs the backing of all 43 forces in England and Wales.
The police have sought to tighten specifications and so control the price. As a result, BT has yet to formally submit a final offer. A decision is not expected until September, rather than July as BT executives had hoped.
The new network has higher security than the current system and has facilities for group networking. A contract, if signed, will last 15 years with rollouts running from 2000 to 2004. BT declined to comment.
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