Plans to transfer search-and-rescue helicopter jobs from HMS Gannet in Prestwick to a private company at Glasgow Airport have been suspended as the coalition government announced huge cost-cutting measures.
Earlier in the year the Ministry of Defence said posts would be moved out of HMS Gannet when Soteria, a private consortium, was chosen as preferred bidder to run the service.
Soteria, which is made up of Thales UK, the Royal Bank of Scotland and helicopter operator CHC, was set to launch the new search-and-rescue service by 2012. But the future of the lifeline service hangs in the balance as the Conservative/LibDem coalition suspended it for the foreseeable future, pending a review "as a matter of urgency".
Scottish MP Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced the suspension of the programme as part of a package of cutbacks totalling £8.5bn from suspended projects and £2bn from 12 projects cancelled outright.
He told MPs that the previous Labour government had gone on a "pre-election spending spree in the full knowledge that the government had long since run out of money".
Shadow Chief Secretary Liam Byrne accused the minister of a U-turn on public spending, and said: "In five minutes this afternoon you have reversed three years of Liberal Democratic policy of which you were the principal author. What a moment of abject humiliation."
A spokesman for the consortium said: "This decision was not unexpected and we are still working with the customer towards a contract award." An MoD spokeswoman later confirmed that Soteria remains the preferred bidder for the contract, and said "the review will be carried out within a matter of weeks, not months."
Search and rescue
The Search and Rescue Service runs 24 hours a day across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland, with 38 helicopters flying out of 12 bases including three Sea King Mk 5 helicopters.
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The service is currently provided by the RAF and Royal Navy, plus civilian helicopters through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). A comprehensive search-and-rescue service is provided for those in trouble on land, water or in the air and for those reported missing.
The new service was due to replace the ageing Sea Kings with modern Sikorskys, but would reduce the size of the fleet, possibly to as few as 24 helicopters.
The deal has been criticised in Prestwick, as it is feared the effects on HMS Gannet, which principally handles search-and-rescue operations, will be considerable.