NORTH Devon MP Nick Harvey and Devon County Council leader Brian Greenslade have met Defence Minister Baroness Taylor to press the case for retaining the RAF Search & Rescue helicopter flight at Chivenor. The Government is moving forward with plans to co

NORTH Devon MP Nick Harvey and Devon County Council leader Brian Greenslade have met Defence Minister Baroness Taylor to press the case for retaining the RAF Search & Rescue helicopter flight at Chivenor.The Government is moving forward with plans to "contractorise" the entire Search and Rescue service, which is currently provided by a mix of RAF, Royal Navy and HM Coastguard aircraft. This has given rise to speculation that new private sector operators may use different helicopters and reduce the number of bases from the existing 12 - to possibly as few as eight.Nick Harvey said: "I am sceptical about the whole privatisation plan. Military personnel tell me that the Search and Rescue work is superb preparation for the sort of tasks they now perform in war zones. "There is a danger of losing an important area of experience for military pilots. There is also a risk of losing one of the best public relations features of military work. I am just not convinced that private companies - with one eye on their shareholders' profits - will provide as good a public service."Brian Greenslade, a Barnstaple councilor, said: "We must ensure that Chivenor gets fair consideration in any future reorganisation. Geographically it is the best placed base to provide Search and Rescue cover to the whole of the South. We wouldn't want it to lose out on account of special pleading elsewhere. Removing 22 Squadron would leave a massive gap in North Devon and further afield - as witnessed by their work at Boscastle and in the Gloucestershire floods."Baroness Taylor made it clear that the Government was pressing ahead with its plans, and private sector "expressions of interest" were now being considered. The awarding of contracts was still some way off and no practical changes were at all imminent.Nick Harvey has committed to asking more Parliamentary Questions about the comparative costings of privatising this service as against keeping it within the military:"I am concerned that it will all end up costing more," he said. "The Private Finance Initiative always does and in the process we could see the quality of this vital service diminished. Meanwhile I am also worried about any cuts in the existing SAR service, which might damage its capacity to respond to disasters.