In a report published today, Thursday 15 November 2012, the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee says it is very worried about the decision to close two of Scotland’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres and says Government must do more to explain the rationale for the decision and how it will ensure that the same high standard of service is maintained, with fewer resources.
The Committee is "deeply concerned" that despite an extensive Government consultation, those on the front line felt they had been excluded from the process. It says there has been no satisfactory explanation for the decision to close Clyde and Forth MRCCs, which will leave the central belt of Scotland, where the population is most densely concentrated, without a Coastguard station.
The Committee is particularly concerned at the loss of local knowledge resulting from the closures, saying it seems that for a time at least that there will be a major gap in local knowledge among coastguards in the remaining four MRCCs. It says the Government has “clearly failed” so far to make a convincing case for, or carry public opinion on, the proposed changes to HM Coastguard, and must do more to provide reassurance to seafarers who may need to contact the coastguard in an emergency.
Both the Minister and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have assured the Committee that robust and extensive testing was being done before the closure of Clyde Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre to ensure that the stations taking over its area of responsibility would do so seamlessly and continue to provide the level of search and rescue cover which the public has a right to expect. The Committee understands the Government's argument that the changes are intended to allow HM Coastguard to do more, better, with less, and says it "hopes that this is indeed the case".
The Committee says Government must keep it updated on the impact of the proposed changes, and provide reassurance after 31 December 2012 that the Scottish coastline is still being served to the same high standard as before.
Committee members with parts of their constituencies most directly affected by the changes commented on the report:
Lindsay Roy MP said:
"The report emphasises strongly that local knowledge has often been paramount in ensuring successful search and rescue operations. This was stressed by the local coastguard professionals but it would appear that their advice has gone unheeded. Along with many people in the Fife and Tay estuaries in particular, I remain concerned about the premature closure of Fife Ness station. The estuaries have become increasingly busy over recent years, with growth in commercial shipping and leisure activities, both offshore and along the coastlines.
The coastguard team at Fife Ness , who have now lost their jobs, deserve our heartfelt gratitude for doing such an excellent job over many years, dealing effectively with a whole range of incidents The new arrangements must be as robust as the government claims. I hope that we will never be in a position when a tragedy will strike, partly because of lack of local knowledge, as they try to do ‘more, better with less’!"
Iain McKenzie MP said:
"The government’s decision to close two of Scotland’s Maritime Rescue co-ordination Centres is wrong and deeply concerning. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has taken evidence from a number of coastguard experts and the Save our Coastguard campaigners who agree that the decision to centralise and close Coastguard stations will have major safety implications for the west coast of Scotland and will impact on services throughout Scotland. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee is backing the peoples call to reverse this decision. The committee will also request regular progress updates on the changes taking place surrounding the Coastguard and will hold the Government accountable for any safety breaches caused by their decision."
Alan Reid MP said:
"I am very concerned about the loss of local knowledge when the Clyde coastguard station is closed. It will take time for Belfast and Stornoway to build up a detailed knowledge of Clyde’s area. The commitments given to the Committee by the Minister and the MCA Chief Executive that robust and extensive testing will be carried out before Clyde closes are vitally important. The Government must report back to the Committee on how the MCA are implementing the transfer of Clyde’s responsibilities to Belfast and Stornoway."