Government scraps helicopter tender

8 February 2011
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8 February 2011 | Adam Leach

The Department forTransport (DfT) has cancelled the procurement of new search and rescue helicopters after it emerged that a bidder had access to sensitive information.

The tender process was halted last December when preferred bidder Soteria informed the government that it might have gained an unfair advantage over its competitors. It has now emerged that a member of the Soteria consortium accessed information on the bid assessment criteria. 

In a statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond MP said: “The irregularities included access by one of the consortium members, CHC Helicopter, to commercially sensitive information regarding the joint MoD/DfT project team's evaluations of industry bids and evidence that a former member of that project team had assisted the consortium in its bid preparation, contrary to explicit assurances given to the project team.”

The DfT has responded by scrapping the current bid process whilst they make changes to ensure fairness. Explaining the decision to change the bid process, Hammond said: “The government has sufficient information to enable it to conclude that the irregularities that have been identified were such that that it would not be appropriate to proceed with either the preferred bid or with the current procurement process.”
In a statement released today Soteria said it is “disappointed to learn that the UK government has announced the cancellation of the SAR-H programme.” It added: “Soteria is evaluating the government's decision and if given the opportunity is confident that it is capable of delivering the SAR-H programme and stands ready to work with the UK government.”

The DfT will announce changes to the procurement process after a period of consultation.

The search and rescue PFI contract is valued at around £6 billion. The consortium comprises helicopter service supplier CHC, manufacturer Sikorsky, training provider Thales UK and  RBS, a PFI equity investor.

The PFI deal will replace Sea King helicopters being used by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm to perform search and rescue off the British coast.

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