Plans to replace the ageing Sea Kings have been suspended

Plans to replace the ageing Sea Kings have been suspended

Plans for the part-privatisation of Britain’s search and rescue helicopters have been shelved by the Government.

The £7bn scheme to replace the ageing Sea King helicopters that support mountain rescue teams across the country has been suspended, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced today.

The replacement programme was due to start in 2012, and would have seen the familiar yellow Sea Kings of the RAF and the red and grey craft of the Royal Navy replaced by faster Sikorsky SAR-H S92A helicopters with a greater operational range. The scheme would have been run by the Soteria Consortium which includes Royal Bank of Scotland, French company Thales, Canadian Helicopter Corporation and Sikorsky. It would have used craft similar to ones used by the Coastguard in Scotland.

The suspension of the helicopter contract was by far the biggest cut in a list of projects that includes the proposed Stonehenge Visitor Centre and the Department of Health’s Active Challenge Routes with Walk England.

A total of 217 projects that had been given the go-ahead by the previous Government were resubmitted to Mr Alexander for approval. A total of 24 of them have been either cancelled or suspended, saving, the Treasury says, £10.8bn.

Danny Alexander: 'spending black hole'. Photo: Dave Radcliffe CC-BY-ND-2.0

Danny Alexander: 'spending black hole'. Photo: Dave Radcliffe CC-BY-ND-2.0

Danny Alexander said: “We are determined to tackle the unprecedented budget deficit and bad financial management we have seen over the past decade, but are equally determined to do this in a way that is fair and responsible.

“As a result of the poor decisions made by the previous Government, I have taken the decision to cancel certain projects that do not represent good value for money, and suspend others pending full consideration in the spending review.

“We have also found another spending black hole in the previous Government’s plans; projects had been approved with no money in place to pay for them. I am determined to deal with this problem head-on and ensure we never see this kind of irresponsible financial planning in Government again.”

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government said it would review the search and rescue helicopter case as a matter of urgency.

Under the proposals for the helicopters, military search and rescue helicopter crews were to be reduced from 240 to 66, with civilian staff ‘trained to the same high standards’, according to the Ministry of Defence. The scheme would also have seen the closure of HMS Gannet and the relocation of the rescue helicopters to Glasgow Airport.

Although the RAF and RN Sea Kings and their crews are primarily a military provision, about 90 per cent of their work is carried out supporting civilian operations such as the country’s mountain rescue teams.

Walk England denied the £2m cuts to the Active Challenge Routes would lead to the abandonment of the project. A statement said: “The press reports today are incorrect. The Department of Health is still supporting the Walk4Like Miles project – formerly Active Challenge Routes.

“However, some of the funding that was to be allocated for promotion has been cut for 2011/12.  This is in part due to the fact that Walk England has worked hard to deliver better value for money on this project by working in partnership with Change4Life and maximising the opportunities for promotion through that project.”

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