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Suffolk/Norfolk: Calls for county to get better value from shared police helicopter

PUBLISHED: 08:00 07 April 2014

Police helicopter

Police helicopter

Archant

Cash-strapped Suffolk Constabulary is to demand a better deal for its share of the police helicopter after paying nearly twice as much as Norfolk.

According to figures from both police forces, their combined outlay for air support last year was more than £1.1million.

However, the National Police Air Service (NPAS) allocated Suffolk nearly three times the number of hours compared to Norfolk.

The allocation was based on historic usage rather than what the counties may have actually wanted.

According to figures supplied by both forces;

– They have paid a combined total of £1.16m since April 1 last year.

– Suffolk contributed the lion’s share, paying £800,000 to NPAS.

– Despite being the smaller force Suffolk was budgeted for 600 hours of air support compared to Norfolk’s 220 hours.

– By March 9 this year Suffolk had only used 336 hours – just over half its allocation.

– However, Suffolk did transfer a portion of its hours to Norfolk clawing back £39,000

– This means Suffolk’s annual contribution was £761,000 compared to Norfolk’s £399,000.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said: “I am very concerned that Suffolk is not getting value for money with regard to this helicopter service.

“I appreciate that the Constabulary’s charges have been linked to historic use but I think they need to seriously consider the appropriateness of this contract, which was agreed by the Police Authority some years ago.

“I will be tasking the Chief Constable to negotiate a better deal with NPAS for the taxpayers in Suffolk and will ensure that any future contract is better suited to our specific needs.

“Suffolk Police is experiencing huge financial challenges and my job is to make sure that every penny is spent effectively. I can reassure the people of Suffolk that I will be monitoring the review of this contract extremely closely.”

The difference in air support contributions has emerged at a time when a controversial cost-cutting proposal to combine the forces’ 999 control centres is being considered.

Last year Norfolk Constabulary’s revenue budget was £148.6 million compared to £112.2m for Suffolk.

The forces now need to bridge a combined funding gap of £36.7million by March 2018.

Suffolk must find £16.4m, while Norfolk’s shortfall is £20.3m.

Setting up a centralised control room in Norfolk, would save an estimated £1.844m per year.

Petitions against the proposal indicate Suffolk residents are overwhelmingly opposed to it and the EADT is leading a campaign to keep Suffolk’s emergency police control room within the county.

Richard Jones, a spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “When the National Police Air Service was established all forces were asked to contribute towards the costs of managing the service.

“Flight hours were allocated to each force based on historic use of their helicopter with their provider at the time and Suffolk was consequently allocated 600 hours.

“In the light of experience gained over the last two years this amount has proven to be more than required and Suffolk has been in contact with NPAS to request a reduction is hours.

“This is now subject to national review in the forthcoming year.”

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