Reprieve for search and rescue helicopters

Joseph Bulmer

The government suspends the privatisation process due to ‘irregularities’

THE search and rescue helicopters of RAF Chivenor will continue to provide 24-hour cover for several years to come after the government today suspended the move to privatise the service.

Parliament was told that “irregularities” had been discovered in the original bidding process which meant that Soteria, the preferred supplier, would not be used.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said that, in mid-December Soteria had informed the government of irregularities regarding the conduct of its bid team, including access by one of the consortium members to commercially sensitive information regarding the project.

Ministry of Defence police are now investigating the issue.

Mr Hammond said the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport would now “consider the potential procurement options to meet future requirements for search and rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom, including options to maintain continuity of search and rescue helcopter cover until new longer term arrangements can be put in place.”

Soteria had planned to use brand new helicopters to provide the service, which would have meant downgrading Chivenor to a 12-hour daytime only station.

Armed Forces Minister and North Devon MP Nick Harvey said it could be four or five years until a permanent solution came into place. He said the Sea King helicopter fleet was not on its last legs and there was no questioo of lives being put at risk by the delay.