Yorkshire police fly into a rage over government ‘air force’ move

Police helicopter in action
Police helicopter in action
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POLICE in South Yorkshire have rejected government proposals to bring in a national air service which they say will save £15 million a year.

The county’s former chief constable Meredydd Hughes claimed Sheffield would get a poorer service under the deal.

Policing Minister Nick Herbert will today announce powers to order forces to collaborate with each other to replace each force’s own 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,” Mr Herbert will say.

Aircraft serving South Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cambridge and Dyfed-Powys are among those which will be withdrawn or moved to other bases outside the force area.

Hampshire Police Chief Constable Alex Marshall, who has spearheaded the proposals and will head the new unit, said the moves will improve police helicopter coverage from 19 to 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Mr Marshall said: “Over recent months many forces have been working across borders in line with the new air service to great success.”

South Yorkshire Police Authority, which wants to retain the current air support arrangements, said the move would mean its nearest helicopters would be based in Derbyshire, Humberside and West Yorkshire.

Charles Perryman, the authority’s chairman, said: “We want a police helicopter to be based in South Yorkshire to maintain an effective and resilient air support for the county.

“We don’t disagree with the NPAS proposals, in principle, but we require reassurances from Government that the national scheme will not reduce services to the county.

“Despite repeated requests for additional information from the national police air support team, nothing has been received.”

He went on: “The helicopter strengthens the force’s ability to reduce crime, protect vulnerable people and reduce vehicle accidents and the value of this cannot be underestimated.”

The government’s proposals are 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” laid out, meaning cost-intensive flights will be approved only if they are necessary.

The proposals were put forward in October 2010 by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), which has been working with the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

As well as the proposed 22 aircraft - of which the Metropolitan Police will have three - there will be three spare helicopters on standby.

The oldest helicopters of the current fleet will be sold off along with some bases, which have large overhead costs. Acpo has said some jobs will be lost as a result of the overhaul, but a number of officers would be redeployed.