I'm sure that the amazing Andrew at Far North (Wick) will be delighted to offer the Scottish police heli some fuel on its way up to attend any major incident at the real top end of Scotland - a break-in at Muckle Flugga lighthouse, perhaps?
MEMBERS of a Yorkshire police authority are seeking legal advice over how to challenge Government plans which would force them to give up the right to run their own crime-fighting helicopter.
South Yorkshire Police Authority last year voted to reject Westminster plans for a National Police Air Service (NPAS), saying the arrangements would increase response times and lead to a worse service.
Under the scheme, the current dedicated South Yorkshire Police helicopter would be decommissioned, and aircraft serving Wakefield, North Lincolnshire and Derbyshire would cover the county.
Members of the authority said they would opt-out and keep their own service, but last month Policing Minister Nick Herbert said he intended to make an order forcing the idea through.
Now the authority, which meets next Friday, is set to reconsider its options, and will be told that lawyers have been consulted on the possibility of challenging Mr Herbert’s announcement.
In a report to the meeting, the authority’s chief executive Bill Wilkinson says: “The background to the proposed order is the proposal to create a national police air service which will offer potential savings to the police service rising to £15m per year, as well as a more consistent service across England and Wales.
“South Yorkshire Police Authority considered in detail the business case provided last year and whilst not against the principle of a national police air service, decided to retain the current air provision in South Yorkshire.
“At the same time a number of key concerns and questions were identified and clarification of these has been sought.
He added: “Legal advice has also been sought surrounding the authority’s options to challenge the Minister’s proposal to mandate South Yorkshire to participate in NPAS.”
After the September meeting – at which South Yorkshire Police Authority decided not to take part in the service – chairman Charles Perryman said members “had not been reassured” by NPAS representations and concerns over response times.
Mr Perryman added: “One of the things that influenced very strongly the authority was the response time that would result if the dedicated helicopter was not available.
“We would have to rely on helicopters based at Wakefield, Humberside Airport or Ripley, in Derbyshire and that would result in significant delay.
“Getting to a scene quickly is particularly important because when we are talking in terms of vehicle pursuits or criminals running away from crime scenes prompt attendance is significant.”
Mr Perryman said the authority had received a petition opposing the move to the NPAS arrangement which: “demonstrated the value members of the public place on the current service”.
NPAS said its scheme involved 22 air support bases at “strategic locations that provide the operational capability to deliver an enhanced service”.
In a document prepared for police authorities NPAS officers say: “NPAS will provide an air service to 97 per cent of the population of England and Wales in 20 minutes.
“It will deliver a more cost-effective service balancing the need to save money against the need to ensure the police service has a quickly deployable asset that can he used to tackle crime and protect the public.
“It is anticipated NPAS will save up to £15m a year from the current cost of air support when all forces join.”
West Yorkshire Police is thought to favour NPAS while Humberside and North Yorkshire Police are still considering their position.
Will police commissioners meekly submit to the sort of explicit and implicit controls Whitehall imposed on police authorities? The other week police minister Nick Herbert decreed that police forces had too many helicopters and would in future have to procure them under a Home Office mandate that could lead, for example, to regional flying squads, as it were.
What if Prescott or Tory Collins – an all but declared candidate for the Kent commissioner job – say they want their own helicopters, with the strong backing of their chief officers?
Yet this is what the Home Office ordained. Its officials are astounded that home secretary Theresa May and Nick Herbert have faced so little pushback from their political colleagues, inside or outside cabinet, despite the example of the NHS reforms and what can happen when ministers are allowed to plough their own furrows.
What if commissioners insist on more spending in order to deliver more value and can muster local political will? Ignoring the police authorities was easy, but telling Prescott he can't do this or that, when he will have been elected fair and square (and the turnout could be decent), poses large political risks – especially since Prescott's patch includes the constituency of David Davies, the Tory stickler for constitutional propriety.
Rush, rush, for your information fly for fun, the balloons are up, cutlery on its way and cake organised. Seating plan by the end of Feb and guest list finalised mid March. Phew. You can be sure they will be ready for 1st April though......unless of course the village hall is not available...
The runaway train has not yet entered the station.
The driver has his hand on the tiller but I guess you may all find that nothing is going to happen as fast as you might want. The various dates have already been set for units to drop into or out of place and I expect that will be the form of things. The only really visible changes in the next year will be details such as the bases - Colerne and Dunsfold falling from favour - and the final removal from service of the ill-fated Cambridge airframe in a months time.
You can make your bids soon for that fine insulated million pound cow shed in Dyfed-Powys but there will be other, similar but better located, options available here and there.
Clearly nothing is set in the straight jacket of the October 2010 plans but it looks as if that outline plan will be visited for a period of retrenching before a relaunch to (slightly) bigger and better things that may ensure that the number of jobs lost will be minimised.
A question if I may, and yes I know this is a one-post account, but I have my reasons, which do not include being a police pilot or observer in the South East, because I am not. The information below is all classified IIRC, so if anyone knows better then please let me know. I personally am hoping that I'm misinformed.
If the NPIA get their way and manage to shoehorn the South East region into NPAS in October this year, the counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire will effectively be serviced by one aircraft. To my knowledge, the Met do not currently have the ability to assist with cover, either in terms of capacity, due to the level of tasking in London, or aircraft, as they have insufficient observers to crew two aircraft, except for planned events. Essex at best may be able to cover the northern parts of Kent, and Dorset the western parts of Hampshire, but effectively one aircraft for four counties.
In addition, NPAS's original proposal/decision that coverage would be 20 hours at all bases seems to have been quietly changed to 20 hour coverage across the bases. That means that early doors, and late knockings, cover across the region will drop from four to two aircraft. Potentially, and assuming they're at base location and not already busy elsewhere in a vast region, the nearest aircraft to Brighton could be at Benson or Southend!
So to the question...
Bearing in mind the above, why is the move of an MD902 to Redhill even being considered, let alone being put forward as the preferred option by the NPIA? This is only going to erode service to the police, from the National POLICE Air Service, even further.
Why? Well for one, it's fitted for HEMS, so that role (quite rightly) will take precedence over police tasking if there's is a conflict. That and the airframe is getting on a bit, it's got to be due for renewal before long, and like MD902s everywhere it spends a lot of time in servicing, planned and unplanned. Also, I thought it was NPAS's intention to have a single make fleet, or has that quietly changed too?
Sadly, I know the answer to my own question as to why this is happening. It's for the same reason that they're trying to move the date for the South East's inclusion in NPAS forward...money. If they move this year, and take the money, and paramedics, from SECAMBS (South East Coast Ambulance Service), then the savings in year one are going to look better. Pats on backs and lack of egg on face all round I'm sure. Surely this is short term gain/PR for long term loss? Or is it because they're worried that removal of a little utilised night HEMS capability could leave them open to legal action and/or bad press if they remove it?
I believe that some, probably many, of the air ambulance trusts have the funds for 24 hour, or extended, ops and are seeking CAA approval to do so. When SECAMB pull out, which they undoubtedly will at some point, for this reason or due to financial constraints, this will leave an aircraft fitted for HEMS fulfilling a police role. This will mean a need to recruit observers to replace paramedics, and as it would make sense to replace it with an EC135 at that point, would mean retraining pilots and crews.
We know it's going to happen, but for the love of [insert deity of your choice] please have some common sense when making decisions. Actually, can we have some decision please.
Here's a plan...keep the 902 at Shoreham and fly it as a night only HEMS, using the money from SECAMBS to fund it. Move a 135 to Redhill and have the police air service as just that, a police service.
Vera, you may have some bits right, either by assumption or knowledge, but there could be merit in some "filling-in".
Whilst the proposal may be to put the South East region together, this actually includes the remaining aircraft in East Anglia, namely the current Essex & Suffolk machines, as well as Benson and (for the moment) Henlow. Essex have been policing the whole of Kent from the air since early 2008, as I understand it, with backup from Suffolk or Cambridge when the Essex aircraft is unavailable. The new, even-more-borderless proposal is that whichever aircraft is closest should attend, so you may find the current Sussex or Hants machine attending Southern or Western Kent.
I also understand that the Southend option would appear to be off the cards for the moment, so Kent would continue to be serviced from the current Essex base, or I believe there's also a base at Rochester.
I'm a little unsure where you got the impression that NPAS was planning to become a one-type fleet, as it's not been in anything I've seen. The original plan, as I understood it, was to have a couple of 135 spares & one 902, to cover the country. The co-ordination of that will be fun, whatever happens, & those without either type will have to haul in assistance from elsewhere, I imagine!!
Notwithstanding the politics of it all, here's my take on those options
- Shoreham - never been a logical location being on the border of the county it serves with only sea beyond, but really the only Sussex airfield anywhere near the centre of the region it currently serves. The weather impact of the South Downs has always made me wonder too.
- Redhill - too far north? Would it's then closeness to London may be creating a future requirement for taking one Met machine out after the Olympics are behind us.?
- Dunsfold - geographically, this looks to be the best location to serve Hampshire and Kent from. Why has it been sidelined?
BUT... How similar is the Sussex situation to Wiltshire? In Wiltshire they have a dilemma because the Police have a contract to serve the Wiltshire Ambulance until some date in 2014 or 2015 with big financial penalties if they don't. Does this scenario arise in Sussex too?
On the airframe hours comment, the Sussex machine is a mere babe with the CAA website showing it with 6656 hours at Dec09 when it was 10 years old. At the same date the world #1 high time aircraft in West Yorkshire had flown 11487 hours in one year less.
And dare I ask why the Sussex Police Explorer needs to do EMS work today when there are Explorers at Marden (Kent) and at Dunsfold (for Surrey and Sussex) dedicated to that task?
Vera city. I really dont know where you get your facts from. We operate a 902 here and I have kept stats for the past two years. Our down time accounts for about 4% of the time. We constantly hit 96% to 99% monthly avaliability. Maybe you are taking weather into account as well!!!
It would be interesting to see the results of a freedom of information request asking about serviceability and down time due to maintenance for 902s and 135s. The East Anglia consortium operates both types and they are both maintained by the ECPM so that may be a good place to start and with quite a level playing field.
P.S. Rather than looking at this monthly a more reliable statistic would be over the financial year as a whole.