£6bn UK SAR privatisation deal on hold – police investigate

£6bn UK SAR privatisation deal on hold – police investigate

28-Jan-2011 Source: HeliHub.com

Two different news sources in the UK have tonight gone public with their investigations into the suspended British SAR privatisation deal.  In Spring 2010, the UK Government announced that the Soteria consortium were the preferred bidders, and it was assumed that this just meant that the contractual aspects had to be sorted and some months down the line everything would be signed and sealed. Soteria were bidding with the Sikorsky S92, and consisted of the following team:-

* operator CHC, who already operate four S92s and three AW139s for SAR work in the UK
* Royal Bank of Scotland, the finance behind the deal
* Thales, the French firm bringing of avionics and other systems integration know-how

The whole project has been seen as controversial across the UK as it means the wholesale privatisation of UK SAR, which up to now has been split between two military operators – Royal Air Force and Royal Navy – and a civilian operator contracted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.  The proposal would have seen a reduction in SAR bases, and many members of the British public were hasty to complain about increased safety risk.  Whether or not this was a valid comment is not known, but the bids put in obviously had to meet certain response time standards set by the Government.

Then suddenly in December 2010, possibly just hours before the announcement was due to be made, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced that “a possible issue had emerged” with the Soteria bid and no announcement would be made for a while.

Channel 4 TV and the Financial Times have tonight run with the news that the UK SAR privatisation deal has been halted and the military police are investigating possible “improper conduct”.  This centres around two aspects:-

– Royal Bank of Scotland have quit the Soteria consortium
– information being passed from a military officer to CHC, another of the Soteria consortium members

This puts the whole process into disarray.  It seems likely that the whole process will start over again, possibly in another form altogether.

Ironically the short-term winner will be CHC who will have their Maritime and Coastguard Agency contract extended, as the introduction date of the national deal will now be put back by some years.

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