Much has been made and said about the ‘Modernisation’ of HM Coastguard (HMCG) but the reality is that it’s neither an improvement nor acceptable when the CEO of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) admits that response times to rescues are likely to be delayed up to 10 minutes.
It is in truth, purely a cost saving exercise dressed up with a sprinkling of technology upgrading. There is also the introduction of a new concept of ‘Coastguard domain awareness’ which is based on theory and has no proven operational competency.
If the current plan for HMCG was sound, safe and being implemented in a common sense way, then the Transport Select Committee (TSC) would not have taken the unusual step of re-opening the Inquiry into the changes affecting HMCG. Also, the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales would not be so concerned
One of the KEY arguments for the current plan, which is being hastily executed, is the need for efficiency and a cost saving benefit of a smaller network of HMCG rescue coordination centres.
If we ignore the practical implications of fewer staff covering larger areas and increasing workloads & incidents, we should try to look at the wider picture and the significant impact that these changes will make on the maritime economy.
The MCA say that HMCG costs the UK taxpayer about £35 million per year, there are about 30 million taxpayers… so that equates to around £1.16 per taxpayer.
The MCA say that the current savings IF* all the changes go according to forecast £4.6 million…. so that’s 15.3p per taxpayer. (*The introduction of a Maritime Operations Centre MOC is reliant on new technology being reconfigured and systems. Govt. IT implementation has a poor track record of both delivery & budget).
HMCG COSTS £35 million = £1.16/taxpayer/year CLOSURES Est. SAVING £4.6 million = 15 pence/taxpayer/year
In the most recent report to determine value, the following facts were claimed:
UK MARITIME INDUSTRY
Directly creates 227,000 jobs, contributes £13.1 billion to UK GDP and generates £3.1 billion for the UK Exchequer
The industry also supports considerable activity in other sectors…….in total, including indirect and induced effects, it supported: 531,000 jobs, contributed £26.5 billion to UK GDP & generated £7.8 billion for the UK Exchequer
We live on an Island, our Maritime Environment is critical to every aspect of our future, 95% of goods travel by the sea, all our current & future energy is influenced by the sea.
By failing to take into account the Maritime Financial Domain and the challenges it faces, our Government is failing to protect the whole country by focussing on poor value high risk cost savings in cutting 50% of HM Coastguard Maritime Rescue centres.
HMCG is a vital 999 service for our Maritime Environment; it provides services similar to Police/Fire/Ambulance. Common sense alone would dictate that we invest & strengthen HMCG to meet increased risks from climate change related weather events and increased reliance on wind/sea generated energy.
The importance of our Maritime Industry has been underlined by the forming of the UK Maritime Industries Alliance:
The maritime industry report has identified areas of growth for the whole industry which are a good premise of fiscal policies to help the UK economy.
Indeed potential for growth & economic recovery has also been identified by EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, for this area:
Ms Damanaki said, “the marine and maritime economic sectors already employ well over five million people and account for a gross value added of €500 billion.” ….. “According to a recent study, these figures are expected to grow to €600 billion and seven million employed people in 2020.”
ANY reduction or weakening of our Coastguard service can only be seen as a counter productive move which will undermine our opportunities for economic recovery. What message do the HMCG closures send to our Maritime Industry?
Therefore it is my opinion that the current ‘modernisation’ plan for HM Coastguard is the biggest threat to UK Maritime Safety since WWII.
HM Coastguard was formally 190 years old on 15th January 2012; it has been the world’s premier Coastguard service. It is my firm opinion that we should develop and build on the existing system we have without closing any MRCCs by measured introduction of new systems & technology utilising existing experienced staff.
The Future Coastguard system must be fit for purpose; it must be as safe if not safer than the existing structure.
To embrace UK & Global Maritime domain awareness, it must be fully aware of the current value of the UK Maritime Industry and the potential for growth it has.
The current closure plan for HMCG is morally, practically, operationally wrong and I think you can add FINANCIALLY wrong too.