Police to keep chopper flying

POLICE chiefs have decided to keep faith with the force helicopter despite fears it is set to go more than £100,000 over budget due to spiralling fuel and maintenance costs.

POLICE chiefs have decided to keep faith with the force helicopter despite fears it is set to go more than £100,000 over budget due to spiralling fuel and maintenance costs.

Measures being put in place to keep it flying include pulling 50 fleet cars off the road, trialling video conferencing and even getting staff to get on buses for meetings.

It comes in response to concerns outlined to the Suffolk Police Authority board yesterday about the runaway costs of patrol car fuel and helicopter costs - which are £450,000 above the police's yearly budget.

But the meeting was told the alarming costs will not be allowed to have a detrimental impact on frontline policing, with efficiency measures coming in to subsidise them.

Gulshan Kayembe, chair of Suffolk Police Authority, said no jobs the helicopter was used for would be pulled and that finances would come secondary to protecting the public.

She said: “We could not have predicted a year ago what has happened to fuel prices and it is something we are going to have to live with.”

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She added the authority was in a good position because it currently had an anticipated £65,000 underspend on their overall policing budget, as a result of cost-cutting in some areas.

Helicopter fuel prices have doubled in a year but are yet to come down in price in line with road vehicle fuel. The estimated overspend of the helicopter currently stands at £110,000 for the year.

Jacqui Cheer, Suffolk's Assistant Chief Constable, outlined how one efficiency measure - taking 50 of its fleet of cars off the road - could help save more than £150,000 a year.

She said: “With the worries of increasing fuel and the national Policing Pledge about more walking and cycling we got a team of operational officers together and set them a challenge.

“We said to them if we took 100 (vehicles) out what would be the consequences?

“They think we could possibly move out 40-50 vehicles without having an impact on operational policing or responding to emergencies.

“We are looking at vehicles used to come to meetings at headquarters and we would rather they get to them on buses. These are convenience vehicles.

“We have a huge fleet (in excess of 450 vehicles) and about half of them are marked police vehicles.”