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Harmonisation Project

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

10. What progress his Department has made on the joint search and rescue harmonisation project; and if he will make a statement. (45705)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the cancellation of the previous procurement process on 8 February. The Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence are now considering the potential procurement options to meet the future requirements for search and rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom. We will make a further announcement once a way forward has been agreed.

I know that the Minister is aware of the great concern in the search and rescue service, particularly at Wattisham in my constituency. Does he agree that a private finance initiative route might not necessarily be the most cost-effective way forward in reforming such services?

I am delighted to pay tribute to the strong and close interest that my hon. Friend has taken in this issue, not least because of his close constituency interest. I can confirm that we are beginning again with a blank sheet of paper. We have learned the lessons from the previous process, which has been so unfortunately terminated, and will look again at what is the correct procurement route. That will include a thorough review of whether PFI is right for this particular procurement.

What is the mechanism for making the decision? Would it not make more sense if the Department for Transport acted as the purchaser and the MOD put forward a bid to continue the involvement of the RAF and the Navy in the provision of the service?

I understand the interesting point that my right hon. Friend makes. The present intention is that current procurement arrangements should be stuck to, and I have every confidence that the defence, equipment and support organisation at Abbey Wood can do an excellent job of it this time.