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Ombudsman seals fate of Portland coastguard helicopter
COASTGUARD helicopter campaigners have been dealt a blow after the parliamentary ombudsman was unable to find fault with the government’s decision-making process to scrap it.
Back in the summer South Dorset MP Richard Drax submitted evidence to the parliamentary ombudsman and asked them to look at the decision-making process that could see the Portland helicopter axed in 2017 under current plans.
Mr Drax said at the time that although the ombudsman ombudsman could not change the decision about the helicopter, he did have the power to ‘criticise the procedure’.
However the ombudsman and the National Audit Office said that proper procedure had been followed in the decision-making process.
In a letter to Mr Drax from Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: “I recognise the decision to close the Portland base is disappointing for you and your constituents.7 “I referred your letter to the National Audit Office (NAO). They have raised your concerns with the Agency. On the basis of the evidence the Agency provided of the processes followed to reach the decisions on the search and rescue bases to be going forward, the NAO have concluded that there is no evidence to warrant a further investigation on their part.
“The Mari-time and Coastguard Agency followed a proper and clear process in reaching its decisions.”
Under the new government contract, 22 modern helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the country and all bases will be operational 24 hours a day. But the Portland base is due to be axed.
The Government has said that the new helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the national search and rescue region within one hour of take-off – adding that those response times are faster than is currently possible.
Mr Drax said: “I am severely disappointed that both the parliamentary ombudsman and the NAO, have been unable to find fault with the Government’s decision-making process.
“I am, of course, grateful to both organisations, and to Mrs Hodge, for responding to my request to look at procedure and, in particular, the former Secretary of State’s claim that there was no need for consultation because she was ‘improving the service’, something I and many other campaigners fundamentally disagree with.”
He added: “I have always believed, and still do, that helicopters based at Lee-on-Solent and Culdrose will simply not be able to respond quick enough which, ultimately, could lead to unnecessary deaths, a tragedy when the Government has been warned so many times on the consequences of removing our SAR helicopter in 2017.”
However, Mr Drax said that the 100,000 signature-strong petition to retain the service would be presented to Number Ten in the New Year. He added: “I sincerely hope, even at this late stage, that ministers will take it into account and reconsider a flawed decision.”
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