Unused £36,000 drone branded 'poor use of public money'

22 October 2019, 20:59

West Sussex County Council's Louise Goldsmith in February 2018 with the new drone
West Sussex County Council's Louise Goldsmith in February 2018 with the new drone. Picture: PA

By Sylvia DeLuca

West Sussex County Council is reviewing the future of a drone that cost £36,000, but has never been used since it was purchased a year and a half ago.

The revelation comes after Labour councillor Michael Jones submitted a written complaint to the council.

In a letter Mr Jones said he "cannot bear to think of such a potentially useful piece of equipment pointlessly sitting on the shelf gathering dust".

He argued that "it could be doing some genuine good for our residents" and claimed that it has been "an extremely poor use of public money given the other competing priorities facing the county council".

Mr Jones also told the PA news agency: "I was genuinely staggered when I was told that it had never been used, particularly as it had been bought with such fanfare.

"I think it's certainly an insult to taxpayers."

Calling the drone a "publicity stunt", Mr Jones said that he would rather have the drone donated to an organisation such as Sussex Search and Rescue, that could make use of it, if the council is unable to use it itself.

West Sussex County Council became one of the first local authorities in the UK to buy a drone.

The then council leader Louise Goldsmith hailed the many "exciting opportunities" for its use, including by firefighters.

But despite shelling out £20,850 for the drone, and paying for 15 people to be trained to use it, the UAV has yet to be flown in an official capacity.

In addition to the purchase costs, the council confirmed that it has spent £12,353 on training 15 staff - one of whom has since retired - and £2,753 on insurance.

A council spokesman said: "We acknowledge there has been a delay in using the drone.

"We have faced a number of difficulties, mainly around licensing, and as a result we are reviewing its future use."

The £36,000 drone has not flown operationally a single time since it was purchased more than a year and a half ago
The £36,000 drone has not flown operationally a single time since it was purchased more than a year and a half ago. Picture: PA

When announcing the drone in 2018, Ms Goldsmith said: "I'm really excited we have bought this new equipment to expand on the really fantastic work our fire and rescue service does.

"I know by investing in these pieces of equipment they will help save lives.

"There are also some really exciting opportunities for us to use the drone across the council, and we are one of the first local authorities to have invested in one.

"I look forward to seeing it in action."

In his letter to the council, Mr Jones said if the council is "for any reason" unable to agree to his request for the drone to be donated to an organisation, the council should state "precisely" what it anticipates using the drone for.

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