There was a time when if you had said that a Conservative dominated coalition government has quietly gone ahead and privatised the Air Sea Rescue Service then people would have thought that you were pulling an April fool gag. The sad fact is that this is no April fool!
From 2017 the whole air sea rescue service will be run by the Bristow Group who have won a 10-year contract to run the service starting from 2015. This deal is worth £1.6 billion pounds and ends seventy years of search and rescue being provided from the RAF and Royal Navy. As part of the deal, Bristow will replace RAF and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters with modern Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland 189s.
Some twenty two helicopters will operate from ten locations around the UK. Ten S-92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports. Ten AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee-on-the-Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports. All bases will be operational 24 hours a day and half of the new fleet will be built in Yeovil, Somerset. In Wales, the search and rescue service have operated out of RAF Valley on Ynys Mon.
The service is much valued by the public and has saved many hundreds of lives, plucking those in need from the Mountains and the seas around Wales and elsewhere around the UK. The Westminster Government does not have good record when it comes to privatising those services which would be better left in public hands as the recent (and ongoing) shambles over the East Coast railway franchise shows. It makes one question, the Lib Dem’s talk of curbing the baser instincts of their Conservative coalition partners. This is step into the wild unknown and in my opinion a privatisation too far.