Chopper threat after cop cash crisis

SUFFOLK police's helicopter's future is set to come under major scrutiny as the force grapples with a major budget crisis, it emerged today.

SUFFOLK police's helicopter's future is set to come under major scrutiny as the force grapples with a major budget crisis, it emerged today.

Suffolk Constabulary is due to replace the aircraft in 2010 but a series of funding pressures over the next three years may mean the force has to share air support with other counties.

This is one option being discussed by police bosses as they struggle to meet major funding commitments following a poor government grant.

A report to Suffolk Police Authority said the cost of replacing the helicopter would only be partially met by the Home Office, with £4million having to be found locally.

It said alternative strategies, including collaboration with other counties, are being investigated to see how the cost could be met.

The force is also facing a £2m bill to replace crime recording software in the next three years and major costs associated with the future of Ipswich police station, described in the report as being in a “very poor condition”.

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Joanna Spicer, Suffolk County councillor for public protection and police authority member, said: “I was on the police authority when we bought the original helicopter and it was a very difficult decision to make because of the cost involved.

“I was initially doubtful but I am convinced that having air support has been useful. However, before we replace it we will need to look at the options, not only whether we need it but whether it's just as effective if we share it with others.”

The police authority is being asked to set aside £8.6m in reserves over the next three years to help meet the costs of updating facilities.

But this amount could be swallowed up by changes to policing in Ipswich alone, forcing the authority to consider other ways of generating income, including increasing council tax.

The report said major funding issues could have a “significant” financial impact on the force over the next three years.

N See page 9 for the latest news on a potential move for Ipswich police station.

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