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Government reject inquiry into offshore helicopter safety

The wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down in the North Sea. Credit: PA

The Government has rejected calls for a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety after a series of crashes.

It follows the death of four people, including one man from County Durham, oil worker Duncan Munroe who had been returning to Shetland from a platform in the North Sea.

The House of Commons Transport Committee recommended a "full and independent" inquiry earlier this year after four people died in a Super Puma crash near Sumburgh airport in Shetland in August 2013.

It was the fifth helicopter accident involving the transfer of oil and gas industry personnel in the North Sea since 2009.

The Government has now responded to the report and said it "does not support" the call for a public inquiry:

It is true that competition for contracts, particularly where contracts are offered at short notice or awarded at a lower price, may impact on the ability of the operator to recruit and train for a new commitment but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

The committee's report stated that helicopter operators do not support the accusation that commercial pressure from their customers affects the safety of their operations and hotly dispute the suggestion made by Balpa (the British Airline Pilots Association).

– The Government

Louise Ellman, Chair of the committee, said she is deeply disappointed that ministers have rejected their recommendation to hold an independent inquiry to investigate offshore helicopter safety:

This is a regrettable decision for the loved ones and relatives of people killed in offshore helicopter accidents. It sends the wrong signal to people who continue to work in the offshore industry.

– Louise Ellman

The Transport Committee said it had been told by some in the industry that offshore workers who raise concerns about helicopter safety have been told they should leave the oil and gas industry and that there was a "macho bullying culture".

But Malcolm Webb, Chief Executive of Oil & Gas UK believes the report of a single, three word quote isn't sufficient to support the claim:

The fact that the quote was made is hugely regrettable but it is in no way reflective of the industry position regarding safety.

– Malcolm Webb

Mr Webb added that he did not support the calls for a public inquiry describing it as a "distraction" for the work of implementing the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendations, which include:

  • Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions to improve the chances of rescue and survival,
  • Providing passengers with better emergency breathing systems,
  • Modifications to helicopters and survival equipment and
  • Changes to the way pilots are trained.

Mick Cash, general secretary of offshore union RMT says they "will continue to fight for a public inquiry and will continue to support the families of those who have lost loved-ones in our industry".

Man dies after falling off ladder in Newcastle

A man has died after falling off a ladder at Nexus Rail headquarters in Gosforth.

Metro services between Regent Centre and South Gosforth have been stopped because the incident, at around 2pm, happened close to the tracks.

The man has not yet been named.

Northumbria Police say inquiries are on-going and the Office of Rail Regulation has been told.

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Business leaders welcome high-speed rail "good start"

The North East Chamber of Commerce *(NECC) *has welcomed the Chancellor George Osborne's call for a new high-speed rail network between Manchester and Leeds, even though there was no suggestion of extending it to the North East.

The organisation, which represents businesses, said the plan was a "good start" but warned that the government should ensure it amounted to more than a just words.

“The Chancellor’s speech is good news and provides an indication that effort is being put into connecting the North of England. High speed rail will increase capacity and speed up our vital rail links and as such we welcome its development.

“The prospect of a high-speed east-west link across the North is a good start, but the North of the country does not stop at Leeds. This announcement must be part of a larger effort to create a full high speed northern rail network.

“The Chancellor’s ambition for a Northern ‘HS3’ is positive and this project could play a large part in strengthening and balancing growth across the whole of the country

“Of course we want to see a firm commitment from to include the North East in future plans for high speed rail, but for now the Government must ensure that the Chancellor’s words amount to more than just a political speech. They must form the basis of a regional strategy that has been missing in recent years.”

– Ross Smith, Director of Policy

Think-tank dismisses high-speed rail "vanity project"

The Institute of Economic Affairs *(IEA) *has dismissed George Osborne's idea of a new high-speed rail network for the North, calling it a "costly vanity project".

“The relatively short distances between northern cities mean high-speed rail is an expensive and inefficient way of linking them. Because northern conurbations are spread out geographically and include numerous different towns, high-speed trains between the largest city centres would make little difference to door-to-door journey times for a high proportion of travellers.

“The Chancellor should focus on smaller-scale schemes that deliver high returns for the taxpayer or, better still, that can be financed privately, rather than concocting a headline-grabbing vanity project to attract votes.

“Not content with wasting tens of billions on the loss-making HS2 scheme, George Osborne is now threatening to compound the error by forcing taxpayers to fund HS3.”

– Dr Richard Wellings, Deputy Editorial Director
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Economic growth is fastest in North, says Chancellor

Chancellor George Osborne has said the fastest growing economic activity right now is in the North-East.

Giving a keynote speech in Manchester, he said people were also joining the jobs market there at the fastest rate.

Despite being a Londoner, the MP, who represents Tatton in Cheshire, spoke of his love for the North.

Being a Londoner I am proud to represent a northern constituency.

I feel the buzz and the energy every time I’m here. And I see it too in the Treasury data."

– George Osborne.

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Create 'northern powerhouse,' says Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne gives his keynote speech in Manchester. Credit: Pool

A new high-speed rail connection and better roads could create an economic "powerhouse" in the north of England to rival the success of London, George Osborne said today.

The Chancellor is proposing the new transport link between Manchester and Leeds to connect a collection of northern cities, which if combined could 'take on the world.'

He said he was prepared to back it up with money in the sum of '£6 to 7billion.'

He said: "It's a vision of how you create better road and rail links across the Pennines.

"We are about to commit, later this year, many billions of pounds to investing in our economy to try to bring together a vision of how the north of England can have this northern powerhouse."

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Osborne: Appoint Northern mayors 'to rival Boris'

George Osborne has said there is a 'strong case' for more elected mayors to drive growth and development in northern cities and rival London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Speaking on BBC radio 4's Today programme the Chancellor said: "I think there is a strong case for elected mayors in places like Greater Manchester to make sure they have the same powers, the same clout, as the mayor of London does in our capital.

"I think it helps to have a single individual who is, of course, democratically accountable, but also bringing together powers over planning, housing and transport."

He added he wanted to bring together cities like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Hull with new transport links.

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Osborne: A closely linked North could 'take on world'

George Osborne will say a collection of northern cities linked closer together by new transport infrastructure could "take on the world" as he bids to end London's "unhealthy" economic dominance.

The Chancellor will say in a keynote speech in Manchester today:

We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and towns here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west - to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city.

As well as fixing the roads, that means considering a new high speed rail link.

Today I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds.

– Chancellor George Osborne
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