A SEARCH and rescue base at RAF Boulmer is to close as plans for the future of the service are unveiled.
Justin Greening, Minister for Transport, announced today that operations from the base, near Longhoughton, will cease from 2015 as plans to have search and rescue facilities run by civilians are put in place.
But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has challenged the transport secretary over the decision, describing it as ‘premature’.
Sir Alan was speaking after Ms Greening announced that a new contract for the provision of Search and Rescue services is to be advertised.
The yellow Sea King helicopters which currently provide the service are a familiar sight around the North East, providing search and rescue services for vast sections of the North Sea as well as the north east and the Lake District, but they are at the end of their working life and new helicopters are needed.
Sir Alan said: “Although the majority of RAF Boulmer’s work is not affected, it is search and rescue that the public knows best and have every reason to appreciate, and it will be a sad day when that service moves elsewhere.
“After the previous Government’s disastrous experience of trying to civilianise the service, there remain serious questions about whether a new contractor will be ready to take over and provide full cover for our area by 2015 and I will be pursuing these questions in Parliament.”
He added that he has serious concerns about the proposals.
Sir Alan Beith MP has spoken to junior defence minister Peter Luff about the statement issued today.
Search and rescue is currently provided by the RAF, Royal Navy and HM Coastguard. The service is the responsibility of the Department of the Transport but due to the involvement of the service from HM Forces personnel, the Ministry of Defence has also been involved in making arrangements for a replacement service.
Sir Alan added: “Any new contractor will have to provide search and rescue to every part of the UK, but our communities and fishing industry are used to having that service provided from a local base and will have serious concerns about relying on helicopters from Prestwick, Lossiemouth or Leconfield.
“At this stage it seems premature to talk about withdrawing from RAF Boulmer when we have no idea about who a future contractor will be or whether they would prefer to keep RAF Boulmer as one of the locations for their operations.”
The new contract will propose that the area currently covered by RAF Boulmer’s Search and Rescue service will be looked after by services from Prestwick just south of Glasgow, RAF Lossiemouth in the north of Scotland and RAF Leconfield near Hull.
In February 2011, negotiations on a contract to provide Search and Rescue were halted when the preferred Bidder in the SAR-H competition, Soteria, voluntarily came forward to inform the government of irregularities regarding the conduct of their bid team which had only then recently come to light. The irregularities included access by one of the consortium members, CHC Helicopter, to commercially sensitive information regarding the joint MOD/DfT project team’s evaluations of industry bids and evidence that a former member of that project team had assisted the consortium in its bid preparation, contrary to explicit assurances given to the project team. The Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence agreed to re-examine procurement options to meet future requirements for search and rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom, including options to maintain continuity of search and rescue helicopter cover until new longer term arrangements could be put in place.