A Dorset MP has said he is "bitterly disappointed" by today's announcement over the privatisation of the UK's search and rescue helicopter service, as it will mean the closure of a search and rescue base at Portland.
Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, who has conducted a campaign to keep the helicopter flying, said that the decision was "utterly flawed".
We know from the number of call outs and the number of lives saved that this helicopter pays for itself many, many times over. Last year alone, 25 casualties were flown directly to the trauma centre at Dorchester hospital. They would not have survived without the Portland helicopter. If we use the Department for Transport’s own figures of £1.6m per fatality, these life saving missions have saved the public purse something in the region of £40m. When you consider that the Portland helicopter costs approximately £5m a year to run, this is truly a false economy."
– Richard Drax MP, South Dorset
The MP said he intended to fight on to save the Portland helicopter and that he had to hope the Government would see sense.
The need for this helicopter has been proved many times over. When I read the Department for Transport’s press release this morning, I despaired. They are still focusing on a ‘faster, state of the art’ search and rescue fleet and ignoring the obvious need to base helicopters close to where the action is. Let me remind them. Twenty five per cent of all call outs in the country are centred upon Portland. Suggesting that simply because they are faster, these new helicopters can somehow reach two simultaneous events in different places is nonsensical."
The transport secretary has welcomed the awarding of a £1.6bn contract to private firm Bristow to provide the UK with a search and rescue helicopter service.
The plan will see a search and rescue helicopter service based at Manston Airport in Kent from 2015.
Our SAR helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea. With 24 years of experience providing SAR helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first-class service with state-of-the-art helicopters."
Under a new private contract awarded to provide helicopter search andrescue services in the south and elsewhere, 10 helicopters will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick Airport.
New bases will also be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.
All the bases will be operational 24 hours a day. The contract will be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the same way as the existing contract that operates the Coastguard helicopter bases on the south coast and on the Western and Shetland Isles.
A company from Texas has been awarded a £1.6bn contract to run the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. This will include re-instating a rescue helicopter at Manston Airport and maintaining the service at Lee-on-Solent.
Helicopter rescues have been mainly carried out by the RAF and Royal Navy for more than half a century. Bristow, a provider of helicopter services to the offshore energy industry, will run the service from 2015.
They say lives will be lost if it's scrapped but today campaigners fighting to save the coastguard helicopter at Portland in Dorset were dealt a bitter blow.
Half the 18 coastguard co-ordination centres around the country - including Portland and Lee-on-the-Solent - are to close and are being replaced by a new national centre near Fareham. The re-orgnisation will also see the Dorset search and rescue helicopter axed in the next five years.
Hopes were raised after the Transport Select Committee called for public consultation about the plans. But, as Kerry Swain reports, the new Shipping Minister Stephen Hammond appeared to have made his mind up.
We also hear from Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset.