Four bases to keep flying

The Government has announced that Coastguard bases at Portland, Lee-on-Solent, Lewis and Shetland are to retain their helicopter search and rescue facility.

Sea King helicopters provided by the Ministry of Defense are due to be withdrawn in 2016.

A planned £6 billion privatisation, which would have replaced the aircraft with US-built Sikorskys, was stopped in February after the preferred bidder, Soteria, admitted it had access to commercially-sensitive information. Since then, the future of the helicopter service has been in doubt.

However, Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary, has revealed that a competition will be run to provide an interim service for a period of five years, with contracts comparable to current arrangements.

MoD support will continue until a long-term solution is settled. The Government will publicise its intentions later this year.

Meanwhile, it is widely anticipated that an announcement on the future of the Coastguard service itself will be made this week, a little ahead of schedule. The Government is expected to lessen the extent of the cutbacks originally proposed.