On 8 February I informed the House that, owing to irregularities in the bidding process, the government had concluded that it was not appropriate to proceed with the previously planned joint MOD/DfT PFI procurement for future search and rescue capability.
The investigation into the circumstances that led to the cancellation of that procurement is ongoing. Work is also underway to identify the optimum procurement options for the long term provision of search and rescue helicopter capability for the UK. However, as the existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency search and rescue helicopter contract that provides service at Portland, Lee on Solent, Shetland and the Isle of Lewis is set to expire, I wish to inform the House of my plans to ensure that search and rescue helicopter services from these locations continue uninterrupted until new long term arrangements are in place.
To ensure the continuity of services from these locations, the Department for Transport will shortly run a competition to procure an interim service for a period of up to 5 years. This contract will be similar to the arrangements that are currently in place for these bases and are working well. The contract will be open to all interested bidders able to offer a service that fully meets our requirements and ensures the safety of the public and seafarers.
These arrangements will ensure that search and rescue helicopter services are maintained while the range of options in relation to the long term future provision of such services are being fully considered. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will continue to provide coverage from their search and rescue bases as at present, while I consider the options for the long term provision of search and rescue helicopter capability.
I will inform the House later in the year of the government’s intentions for the longer term. The procurement strategy we adopt for the longer term will seek to ensure that the Ministry of Defence is able to complete its previously announced intention to withdraw its Sea Kings from service in 2016.