The UK Government have announced the closure of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Forth
UPDATE: 28.09.12 – The fight is lost – Forth Coastguard closes today.
Scottish Affairs Committee questions Minister and Coastguard Chief on proposed reforms to the Coastguard in Scotland
On 18.09.12 The Scottish Affairs Committee questioned the recently appointed UK Shipping Minister; Stephen Hammond MP and the CEO of the Maritime ^ Coastguard Agency (MCA); Sir Alan Massey in Westminster over Government plans to close Coastguard rescue coordination centres at Forth and Clyde.
With an on-going Transport Select Committee inquiry currently in progress it was evident MP’s questioning would inevitably seek to clarify points of particular concern whilst remaining mindful of the TSC inquiry. There would be no point, after all in attempting the impossible task of covering all points which are already being looked at.
The members of the Committee and the Chairman were diligent in their questioning and despite obvious attempts on times to skirt the question, both Mr Hammond and Sir Alan Massey were brought back to clarify or quantify their responses.
Having been recently appointed, Mr Hammond was clearly always going to be out of his depth and this was immediately evident when he read out a statement which had been pre-prepared. Anyone listening could be forgiven for thinking that the statement came from the pen of the previous incumbent of the Shipping portfolio; Mike Penning MP because the well worn words cut no ice with anyone. And so it went on.
Sir Alan Massey once again appeared like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The jury is still out as to whether or not he is actually comfortable with this appalling plan which undoubtedly will increase the risk to life. He is a intelligent man but clearly, earlier appearances in front of Westminster MP’s has done little to make him appear as if he is actually convinced that the plan is the safe way to proceed. Several times he had to resort to responding to the Committee that he would “get back to them” with an answer to a question and on several occasions Mr Hammond had to step in to bail him out when floundering. If this was not such a serious issue then it would have appeared somewhat comical.
The upshot is that the MCA and DfT are set to continue to ignore the opinion of industry experts and will continue to trot out lame lines in order to justify their actions. The Committee should be congratulated for the way they negotiated their way through troubled waters. It is my opinion at least that they did stand up for their communities in a dignified and professional manner….it’s just a pity that nobody at the DfT or MCA can do the same.
After 21 months, the plan to close Coastguard stations remains flawed and the DfT and MCA are incapable of facing this fact. Their actions are shameful and we can only hope that the TSC inquiry will once again find them wanting and finally that the authors of this appalling plan will be sacked for gross negligence.
View the full session here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11431
Keith Brown in bid to halt Clyde and Forth Coastguard closures
Scotland’s transport minister has made a “last ditch plea” to save Clyde and Forth coastguard stations from closure.
Keith Brown said the closures and planned loss of an emergency towing vessel put Scotland at the centre of a “potentially dangerous experiment”.
He has outlined the case for retaining services in evidence submitted to the Commons Select Committee on Transport.
Mr Brown also wants to meet with the new UK transport and shipping ministers following last week’s reshuffle.
The UK government is closing eight coastguard stations as part of a modernisation plan.
Other centres set to close include Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Thames, Swansea, Brixham and Portland.
The Clyde and Forth stations are due to close by the end of the year.
Centres in Belfast and Stornoway will, according to the UK government, take on the Clyde station’s operations, without affecting safety.
Responsibilities for the Forth operations will transfer to Aberdeen and Shetland.
Mr Brown said he had submitted further evidence at the request of the Commons Select Committee for Transport, following their previous inquiry into coastguard modernisation.
The plans will boost the level of support we give to volunteer coastguard rescue offices in their local communities, enhancing frontline rescue services”
UK Department for Transport
He said the Scottish government had “consistently opposed the closures” and had “lobbied the UK government to reverse the decisions”.
The minister said that following last week’s UK cabinet reshuffle, he was also seeking “an urgent meeting with the new UK shipping minister and new UK transport secretary”.
“I’m keen for talks to take place as soon as possible with the new shipping minister to see if a new minister will mean a change of mind over the fate of essential maritime services,” he said.
“Since the original report last year the UK government has watered down coastguard closures, but Scotland is still very much in the firing line.
“This is too important an issue to gamble with. The UK government’s proposed coastguard closures effectively mean cover falling from seven stations to three in just over a decade, leading to a loss of critical local knowledge and expertise.”
Mr Brown said Clyde Coastguard was “the busiest rescue and co-ordination centre in Scotland, and among the busiest in the UK”.
“We are not convinced by reassurances that adequate cover can be provided by resources from Belfast and Stornoway,” he said.
“At present Scotland will be the first area to lose stations and stations will be shut before the system has been robustly tested.
“We should not be the guinea pig for such a potentially dangerous experiment.”
A spokesman for the UK department for transport said: “Our reforms to modernise the Coastguard follow two periods of extensive public consultation and will deliver a more resilient fully-networked national system that is fit for the 21st century.
“The plans will boost the level of support we give to volunteer coastguard rescue offices in their local communities, enhancing frontline rescue services.
“These changes are continuing in line with the timetable and blueprint we published last November.”
Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee report gives coastguard campaigners hope
Posted on by newsroom forargyll.com
The National Coastguard SOS Campaign – fighting all the way against the southern metropolitan plan to reduce radically the number of coastguard stations on UK shores – including Clyde and Forth in Scotland; and Swansea in Wales – has just had a fuel injection.
The Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee issued a report earlier today, making two recommendations to the Welsh Assembly:
- that the Welsh Government carry out a risk assessment that will both identify and seek to mitigate any risks to tourists and others who visit the coast for leisure purposes that might result if the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) proposals go ahead.
- that the Welsh Government continues to challenge the UK Government’s current plans to change the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which will result in Swansea Coastguard Station closing.
The Petitions Committee makes the point that ‘the closure of coastguard stations is not a matter devolved to Wales. However, as the petition does not challenge the decision itself but calls for the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to carry out independent risk assessments, it was deemed admissible.’
Having shown the basis for the committee’s acceptance of the petition, the committee says, on its own account that: ‘The proposed changes to the MCA is a matter for the UK Government but given the potential effects of those changes for people working on and visiting the shores around Wales, an independent risk assessment might go some way to either alleviate some of the fears highlighted in this report or give the Welsh Government further means to challenge the UK Government’s decision on this matter.’
This also underlines the committee’s fundamental acceptance of the argument put forward by the petition.
The Coastguard SOS campaigners feel that the devolved Scottish Government should consider the report from the point of view of Scottish coast users, who will be as vulnerable as those in other areas.
The hope is that the Welsh and Scottish Governments will order independent risk and impact assessments to be carried out in their countries and then apply pressure to central government.
The evidence given to the Petitions Committee by witnesses included concerns that:
- the risk assessments published by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) were unreliable;
- the economies local to the coastguard stations to be closed would suffer, with activity tourists less attracted to coastal areas without the safeguard of an immediate coastguard presence;
- the MCA’s downgrading of the importance of local knowledge is mistaken, with the lead petitioner making the point to the committee:, ‘Coastguards are required under MCA Regulations to undertake an examination on Local Knowledge once every 2 years’.
- there is a risk to maritime security, with the UK Government’s updated National Security Strategy raising the profile of the potential threat to maritime infrastructure.
- this last issue is underlined by the fact that the MCA proposals do not include a Security Impact Assessment.
A serious general issue raised in the report on witness evidence to the committee is confidence in reliable communications.
The proposal to close the number of coastguard stations proposed, leaving large swathes of UK coastline without the traditional local coastguard presence, depends utterly on the assured reliability of first class communications.
Evidence to the committee included worries about ‘a lack of detail in the MCA consultation document regarding the effectiveness of the
communications systems in place that may prevent messages on one rescue operation being transmitted if the aerial is already in use by another station.’
On this matter, the committee says that: ‘It may not be appropriate for the consultation to have gone into such detail, but it remains a concern for the coastguards who will be relying on the system to relay messages in potentially life threatening situations. Because of this, the concerns should be addressed by the MCA at its earliest convenience.’
We feel that issues so central to the success in assured sea safety of the MCA’s proposals absolutely should be detailed in the consultation process.This is not an aspect of the proposed future of maritime safety that can be left to an uninterrogated post-consultation suck-it-and-see.
In our view, the line taken by the petition to return the issue to the domain of concern of the devolved governments is sustainable.
Given that Scotland faces the closure of the coastguard stations protecting the ports at its capital city and its largest city, we would urge the Scottish government to explore the utility of conducting independent risk and impact assessments of the consequences of the loss of the coastguard stations identified to close.
We are bringing this matter to the attention of relevant MSPs in this part of the world who have Clyde coastline in their constituencies, writing to, in alphabetical order, Jackie Baillie MSP, Jamie McGrigor MSP, Mike Mackenzie MSP, Michael Russell MSP.
Note: Here is the report of the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Wales: FINAL Report National Assembly for Wales Petitions Committee
Furious reaction to news that Forth Coastguard station at Fife Ness is to close
Hope turned to consternation and despair on Thursday when the coalition government sounded the death knell for the Forth Coastguard station.
- By Craig Smith
- Published in the Courier : 15.07.11
The Fife Ness base, which covers hundreds of miles of coastline from Montrose to the north of England and employs 14 staff, will shut its doors some time between 2012 and 2015 — despite warnings the closure could put lives at risk.
Previously the government had proposed cutting the number of UK stations from 19 to eight, with the plan in Scotland to have one 24-hour centre in Aberdeen, and a second base open during daylight hours in Shetland or Stornoway.
Updated proposals have now revealed all three will be retained but the fact both the Forth and Clyde stations will still be sacrificed has sparked anger from those fighting to save them.
Ministers argue scaling back in the service is necessary to modernise it and make it more efficient. Even though some stations have been protected, Rod Campbell, SNP MSP for North East Fife, said the revised blueprint represented a “body blow” to the service in Tayside and Fife.
“The ConDem coalition may well have had a rethink, but they have yet to engage their brain,” he said. “The future of thecoastguard is quite literally a matter of life and death. The closure of Fife Ness and Greenock may be a new plan, but it is very far from being a sensible one.”
Under the new plans, Forth, Clyde, Swansea, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham and Thames will close over the next three years. Stations at Falmouth, Milford Haven, Holyhead, Bangor and Humber will all be retained alongside Aberdeen, Shetland and Stornoway, while a station at the Solent will be replaced by a new Maritime Operations Centre in the Portsmouth-Southampton area.
This centre will be backed up by the Dover centre which will also be operational 24-hours, and a small London station will also carry on.
The government launched a consultation on its original proposals in December, which attracted over 1800 responses. Local campaigners believe their concerns over a potential loss of local knowledge and a perceived weakening of operational relationships have not been listened to.
Lindsay Roy, Labour MP for Glenrothes, described the move to close Fife Ness as devastating and reckless.
“The Forth is a very congested estuary with tankers travelling to and from Grangemouth, fishing boats, as well as the huge number of Scots who enjoy the water for leisure,” he said. “As we have seen from previous experience, local knowledge is vital in dealing with emergency incidents and a few minutes delay can cost lives.
“This outrageous decision, which has been taken without due regard for the safety of people in Scotland, just underlines how out of touch this Tory-led government is and how ineffective Michael Moore is at standing up for Scotland.”
Transport secretary Philip Hammond claimed ministers had always been clear that modernisation is required to deliver a “resilient coastguard service fit for the 21st century,” adding a further period of consultation will now run until October 6.
“We have always been open to debate about how that should be achieved,” he said. “This has been a genuine consultation that has seen a high level of engagement and many well-thought out responses, including specific alternative proposals.
“It is clear from the responses that there is huge public and political admiration for the work of our coastguard, a clear consensus that change and modernisation is necessary, but also some specific concerns about the original proposals. Our updated proposals will ensure the safety of seafarers and coastal communities … while also responding to the concerns raised during the consultation process.”
Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead welcomed the retention of some stations, but noted, “I am disappointed to hear plans to close Forth and Clyde stations remain given the importance of our maritime industry and will be closely examining these proposals and responding to the new consultation in due course.”
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) praised the partial climbdown but said it would oppose any plans that would result in safety being compromised.
Its general secretary Mark Serwotka vowed to continue the fight.
“We are committed to ensuring we retain the local knowledge of our coastlines that is essential to saving lives, as we are determined to defend all public services and our communities from the government’s cuts,” he said.