Emergency services software deal under scrutiny by competition watchdog

The Competition and Markets Authority said NEC must provide undertakings that competition for its software is maintained after it bought rival SSS.

Simon Neville
Friday 29 April 2022 10:06
(PA)
(PA)

A major supplier of software to emergency services must provide undertakings that ambulance trusts, police forces and fire and rescue services will not be ripped off following a recent merger, the competition watchdog has said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is worried the takeover of Capita’s SSS by rival NEC Software Solutions could lessen competition in the small field of supplying vital software to the sector.

It said NEC and SSS are two of a small number of suppliers that provide essential software solutions, including integrated communication and control services used by control room personnel in day-to-day duties.

The CMA’s role is to ensure this deal does not undermine competition in this market, so police, fire and ambulance services across the UK have a choice of supplier and can secure the most reliable and innovative services available.

David Stewart, CMA

The systems are used for receiving and making urgent phone calls to communicate with emergency response staff and for planning shifts for police forces.

The CMA said it found that the market is relatively concentrated, with NEC and SSS generally being two of only three suppliers with a large established customer base.

Officials warned the impact of the merger on these services “gives rise to competition concerns”.

David Stewart, executive director for mergers and markets at the CMA, said: “We all rely on our emergency services, and they rely in turn on essential services such as those provided by these two companies.

“The CMA’s role is to ensure this deal does not undermine competition in this market, so police, fire and ambulance services across the UK have a choice of supplier and can secure the most reliable and innovative services available.

“Ultimately the software NEC and SSS provide is paid for by the taxpayer and we can’t risk higher prices or a lower standard of service.

“It is now up to NEC to provide us with undertakings to address our concerns.”

NEC must write to the CMA by May 9 with an offer to provide reassurances otherwise the watchdog could launch a more in-depth investigation.

To address these concerns, the CMA has given NEC until May 9 2022 to offer an undertaking that might be accepted.

If no undertaking is offered that addresses the CMA’s concerns, then the deal will be referred to a more in-depth investigation.

NEC first announced the deal with Capita in October last year.

The company said it is “considering its position in light of the CMA’s decision.

“In the meantime, both NECSWS and the Secure Solutions and Services business will continue to trade independently to meet their respective customers’ needs.”

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