Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

National police air unit ordered

Policing minister Nick Herbert can use powers to make police forces work together on a national helicopter service

Police forces must work together to bring in a national air service that will save £15 million a year, the Policing Minister is due to say.

Nick Herbert will say powers to order forces to collaborate with each other will be used for the first time to replace each force's helicopter with the national unit. Under the plans, the number of police helicopters and air bases will be slashed by a third across England and Wales.

But Mr Herbert will say the National Police Air Service (NPAS) will provide forces with access to helicopters 24 hours a day, 365 days year, rather than a force's helicopter being out of use for weeks for repairs.

"Chief officers of all forces in England and Wales have given their support to the proposal, as have the overwhelming majority of police authorities in principle. But to get the full benefits, the commitment of the whole of the police service in England and Wales is needed," Mr Herbert will say.

"In exceptional cases of last resort, I am prepared to mandate arrangements where a small minority of authorities or forces creates a barrier to more efficient and effective policing. I am therefore announcing today that I intend to make an order requiring the police service to collaborate in the provision of air support."

It is the first time the mandation powers, brought in under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, will be used.

There were 30 police air bases serving 32 aircraft, costing the 43 forces about £70 million a year, when the review of air support started in 2009. Under the plans this will be cut to 22 bases serving 24 aircraft - shaving £15 million off the air support budget.

Rather than each force having its own helicopter patrolling its region, the new national service will be responsible for the whole of England and Wales and be operated from one central command centre. There will also be a clear "user requirement", meaning cost-intensive flights will be approved only if they are necessary.

The ground-breaking proposals were put forward in October 2010 by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has been working with the National Policing Improvement Agency.

But not all forces have shown support, with Meredydd Hughes, the former chief constable of the South Yorkshire force, claiming the densely populated city of Sheffield would suffer. South Yorkshire Police Authority said the move would mean its nearest helicopters would be based in Derbyshire, Humberside and West Yorkshire.