MP probes RAF chopper bid

QUESTIONS have been raised over the privatisation of search and rescue helicopters based at RAF Boulmer, amid allegations of misconduct connected to a major contract to run the service.

Sir Alan Beith MP quizzed Defence Minister Peter Luff on the future of flights from the station, which have been reviewed as part of a nationwide bid to create a single privately-operated fleet of aircraft to carry out the role on behalf of the RAF and HM Coastguard.

Soteria was announced as the winning bidder last year, but the move has now been halted after revelations that a Ministry of Defence official passed sensitive information.

If impropriety is found, it could mean the entire contract tendering process having to be re-started.

Minister in the House of Commons, saying: “What is the nature of the inquiries taking place into the procurement of the search and rescue helicopter contract? Do they involve the police or potential disciplinary action? When will we know whether the contract has been completely invalidated by what has been discovered?”

The Minister responded, “The investigation into the issue notified by the preferred bidder is ongoing. Until the issue has been properly considered it is not possible to progress to procurement.

“I hope that it will be possible to make a further statement to the House on the way forward. No decision has yet been taken on this matter and, in view of the issues involved, there is nothing more I can say at this stage to the House.”

Speaking afterwards, Sir Alan said: “It is disappointing that the Minister could not give me an update of the future of search and rescue and in particular about the future the service based at RAF Boulmer.

“We need to know where we stand as new helicopters are desperately needed. However if the privatisation contracts are going to be re-negotiated, that gives us another chance to push for the retention of 24 hour search and rescue cover at RAF Boulmer.”