West Yorkshire Police removes 'millstone around its neck' as mayor Tracy Brabin says it will no longer be lead force for National Police Air Service
Yorkshire's biggest police force will no longer be the lead for the national police air service in a move a senior former officer described as removing a "millstone around its neck".
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin has given 12 months formal notice to cease the role that West Yorkshire plays as the lead local policing body for the National Police Air Service (NPAS).
NPAS, which runs a fleet of 19 helicopters from a network of 15 bases across England and Wales, is operated from West Yorkshire Police's base in Wakefield.
And after her election last month the helicopters themselves and the contracts that keep them flying are owned by the mayor after she took over the functions of West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner.
According to NPAS's website it provides all police forces in England and Wales with air support 24/7, 365 days a year, assisting officers with a "variety of tasks".
But minutes from a recent meeting of its National Strategic Board said the levels of availability for its fleet were "suboptimal" and described a "financial challenge" for the police forces that fund NPAS.
And Labour mayor Ms Brabin said a decade after being set up the "conflicting pressures of diminishing resources, new technology and the ever-changing requirements of policing in England and Wales have become too great to dismiss".
Her decision follows a personal meeting last week with the Minister of State for Policing and Crime Kit Malthouse, where the service’s future was discussed.
Responding to the news Owen West, a Retired Chief Superintendent at West Yorkshire Police, said: "NPAS has been a millstone around the force’s neck for years".
He wrote on Twitter: "Easy and accessible drone technology is making a standing national fleet less viable year on year. Being national lead adds very little value to WY taxpayers."
In a statement, Mr Brabin said: “At times, leadership of NPAS has been a herculean effort by all involved and I pay tribute to all the staff who do a great job day-in-day out in providing this specialist key service for policing and our communities.
“Since the outset, when NPAS was first established under a West Yorkshire lead force model on behalf of policing in England and Wales, it has always been anticipated that there would be a change in the way that the service is delivered, and over the last few years there has been much work and time spent on reviewing the governance and leadership of police aviation.
“Progress has been slow due to a number of reasons, and I believe now is the right time to take stock of the situation and look towards a different way of operating the service.
“Although NPAS is a unique national collaboration with a strong brand and has evolved over many years during difficult times in delivering a truly 24/7 borderless service, the conflicting pressures of diminishing resources, new technology and the ever-changing requirements of policing in England & Wales nearly 10 years on have become too great to dismiss."
She added that there was "an emerging consensus among Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for a new delivery model to be established and this is a view that I also share".
But the former MP said: “If this is to be achieved, however, the Home Office must also play a key role in helping to jointly secure a sustainable solution for the future of police air support in tandem with any proposed governance changes.
“While we arrive at a position where we can hand over to a new delivery model and structure, West Yorkshire Police will continue to deliver NPAS to the same high standards in supporting policing and helping to keep our communities safe throughout England & Wales.”
In response NPAS Chief Operating Officer, Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Scott Bisset, said: “NPAS delivers a unique and important policing service that is highly valued across England and Wales.
"We are proud of what we have achieved under the leadership of West Yorkshire and will continue to provide a safe operational air support service which meets the needs of police forces, whilst supporting the smooth transition to a new leading body during the next 12 months.”