Emergency alerts system set to cost £25 million over three years, government finally reveals

26 May 2023

The UK’s emergency alerts system is expected to cost up to £25.3 million in its first three years, the government has confirmed, after previously declining to give any figure.

Last month, in the run-up to and following the nationwide test of the system on Sunday 23 April, we saw lots of false and misleading claims circulating on social media, including that it would track your location, would breach GDPR and was subcontracted to the company founded by Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law.

We also saw unevidenced claims circulating on social media about the likely cost. Many claimed the test alone would cost £22 million, with this figure being shared hundreds of times on Twitter and Facebook. (The Daily Mail previously reported that the whole system would cost £22 million, without specifying a source, which may be where those claims originated from.) Others claimed £5.7 million was being spent on the test itself and that the system would then cost £10,000 a day to maintain. 

When we attempted to fact check these claims, the Cabinet Office declined to give any figure for the cost of the system, even though transparently setting out how much was spent would have provided clarity and helped set straight any false or misleading claims.

Now however the government has disclosed some details in response to a question in Parliament, revealing that the £22 million figure which some claimed was the cost of the test alone is close to the total amount expected to be spent on the entire system in its first three years. 

However, we still don’t know how much the test alone cost—the written question did not ask this and a figure for that has still not been released. We’ve asked the Cabinet Office again about this and will update this fact check if we hear back. 

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

What are the expected costs of the emergency alerts system?

In answer to a written question, the Conservative peer and Cabinet Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said on 25 May: “The total cost to date of developing the technical architecture and systems which underpin the emergency alert programme, in addition to the first three years of operational delivery, will be a maximum of £25.3 million.

“The contracts which are publicly available on contracts finder include:

  1. The Government Digital Service have a contract with Fujitsu for £1.6 million per year for a three year period, a potential total of £5 million assuming that the contract runs to completion;
  2. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (as was) issued contracts totalling £18.6 million to mobile network operators, as well as further spending on security testing and legal work.

“The remaining costs were spent on security testing and legal fees. The specific figures are commercially sensitive and can therefore not be released to the public.”

The contract with Fujitsu for between £1.6 million and £5 million runs until 9 October 2025. Details of this deal are published on Contracts Finder, a searchable database of contracts worth over £12,000 with the government and its agencies.

We’ve asked the Cabinet Office why it was unable to give details last month of how much the emergency alerts system was expected to cost, and will update this fact check if we hear back.

Homepage image courtesy of Marjan Grabowski.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.