Suffolk police helicopter facing funding axe

THE public sector spending squeeze could spell the end for Suffolk's police helicopter following proposals for a national service that will save the government �15m a year.

Police chiefs have announced plans for a National Police Air Service which would slash the number of police helicopters and air bases by a third across England and Wales, including Suffolk Constabulary's air operations unit.

Suffolk would be subject to a 'joined-up' air service with neighbours Norfolk as part of the move to reduce the country's 30 police air bases to 20, and its 33 aircraft to 23.

The cuts, it is claimed, will provide a more effective and 'joined-up' air service, while simultaneously driving down costs from the current �66m a year.

Rather than each force having its own helicopter patrolling its region, the new national service will be responsible for the whole of England and Wales and be operated from one central command centre.

There will also be a clear 'user requirement' laid out, meaning cost-intensive flights will be approved only if they are necessary.

Suffolk and Norfolk would reduce its task force to one aircraft, combine and relocate to a new base at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds.

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The ground-breaking proposals were put forward by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which has been working with the National Policing Improvement Agency.

ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde said: 'This project is all about enhancing the service we already have for less money.'

A joint three-month trial involving five police forces across the East of England was earlier this month described as a success after air operations involving their helicopters were combined.