Concerns for Gloucestershire police helicopter after £15m cuts
FEARS that Gloucestershire's police helicopter may struggle to cope with a new larger area as part of £15 million of cuts have been aired.
Local police helicopter services are being scrapped and instead there will be 25 helicopters in 23 bases which will serve England and Wales.
It means the helicopter which serves Gloucestershire and Avon and Somerset from its Filton base will now cover incidents across the South West region if required.
Rupi Dhanda, Labour's candidate in the upcoming police commissioner elections on November 15, said: "You can't improve services if you are cutting a budget by 10 or 15 per cent but the key is trying to maintain the existing provision.
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"There are some concerns about how it may affect the current service but we first need to know how much we are using the helicopter.
"The police are saying that they can still function properly."
Gloucestershire police chiefs say that the county will be largely unaffected by the £15 million cuts.
The shake-up sees the formation of a new National Police Air Service, from which England and Wales will share the 25 helicopters, with some only operating part-time.
The scheme is being rolled out nationwide in phases, starting this month.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Gloucestershire police said: "The national helicopter service is anticipated to come to the South West region in July 2013.
"It will be a national, borderless service making use of the nearest aircraft meaning that the police service's response will, in many cases, be enhanced over the current provision.
"It would be impossible to comment any further until the service comes into effect in the county."
The nationwide changes will mean 98 per cent of areas will be reachable within 20 minutes.
It is estimated that the national service will cut the cost of running air support from about £63 million to £48 million a year.
Seven bases across the country are being closed down to pay for the cuts.
The helicopters deal with tracking criminals, monitoring major incidents and locating missing people.
Brian Greenslade, of the Association of Police Authorities, said: "From catching criminals to ensuring the safety of crowds, helicopters and other means of air support are essential tools in the fight against crime, but they are costly and in some areas used infrequently. This programme should ensure that forces retain the right capability to call on air support to protect the public whilst sharing its considerable costs."
Supt Richard Watson, from the National Police Air Service, said that while there are fewer aircraft, the number of flying hours remained the same.
""We have made changes to the bases so they're more strategic, covering a greater area. The principle is the nearest aircraft attends. It's borderless tasking."
Policing minister Damian Green said: "Crime or the need to search doesn't stop at county boundaries."