On 20th September last year (on a different blog), I wrote a post called ‘SOS – Save Our Souls – Please’. The post was about the withdrawal of the four tugs that protect this Island of ours. It went on to discuss the closure of the Coastguard Stations at Brixham, Clyde, Forth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea, Thames and Yarmouth. This was my first post on the subject and I was quite naive in my knowledge of the working of the whole organisation. Now, I know some of the people involved with the Coastguard and have been privileged to meet them. What a great bunch of girls and guys they are too ~ passionate about what they do, full of integrity, open & generous, and with lifetimes of local knowledge.
And therein lies the challenge or, the spin of the Government and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency! Mike Penning, the Transport Minister, lives in the landlocked constituency of Hemel Hempstead and is responsible for these decisions.
Under the previous government, The Fire Service was offered a newly built Call Centre Headquarters Building in Fareham, where all the emergency calls would be routed and then they would alert the local Fire Stations for them to go where needed. The Fire Service gave much consideration to the proposal but decided to turn it down, believing a national call centre would be unable to serve the needs of local incidents across the country. Common sense and responsibility won out, but what to do with this nice shiny new building?
I haven’t gone off at a tangent, as the horrible truth is that they are going to make it the headquarters of the Coastguard. Now, I defy anyone to explain the logic of this to me – there is no logic. Nothing could explain why, just ponder on the following statement.
A national call centre for the fire service is unworkable, even though they have shires, towns, villages, roads, signs and postal codes to go by. But a national call centre for the coastguard has the go ahead even though there are no roads, postcodes and signs to go by, just coastlines, rocks and waves. This is a humongous mistake that will end in tears.
The Coastguard_SOS campaign has written to each and every single Member of Parliament to ask them to state whether they are for or against the cuts; in fact they have all been asked several times. The total number of MPs is 650, the number of responses received so far is 196. Pathetic! The facts of who has been responsible and courteous enough to reply can be seen on the page called ‘What your MP thinks’. The table shows who has answered, who has not answered and who has ignored a direct question. Makes for interesting reading! The MPs are elected to represent their constituencies and constituents, so you would imagine that each MP responsible for a coastal area would be passionately against the cuts, especially where one of the closures would be responsible for their area; but no, that is not the case! I was at Portcullis House, the Houses of Parliament in January, with Dennis O’Connor and Graham Warlow, for a meeting with Chair of the Transport Select Committee; Louise Ellman, MP. Whilst waiting, Dr Liam Fox, the MP for North Somerset (where incidents are handled by Swansea Coastguard Station and which is due for closure), was walking past and Graham stopped him to ask some questions. Dr Fox actually said he had no knowledge of the plans to close some Coastguard Stations, especially Swansea and that would affect his constituency. He went on to say that he would look into it. Have a look, he has said YES to the closures! As did quite a few other Conservative MPs who are responsible for coastal areas.
Had the procedures been followed correctly and had the consultations included risk assessments then there may have been an iota of responsibility and accountability with it, but, alas, no. In fact, the Welsh Government wrote and asked for a risk assessment to be done as they are very concerned by what is planned. We are informed that this request has been refused. As well as asking the MPs if they were for or against the planned closures, we have also pointed out to every single one of them that no risk assessments had been done on individual stations and asked if they were prepared to allow it to proceed on that basis. The Maritime and Coastal Agency (MCA) and, Mike Penning, MP, the Minister responsible, have remained silent on this topic. Yet one MP, Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coast), recently claimed that risk assessments had been done on the closure plan which now includes the call centre at Farham.. If they have been done, why have they not been published? We know from a freedom of information request that no money has been spent on independent experts, so why should we believe any risk assessments exist. Of course it would also be only natural for us to question the impartiality and expertise of those involved in carrying out any risk assessments.
These days, there are many ‘celebrities’ and footballers who consider themselves important. Makes me laugh! MPs do it as well, ha! Truth is, the important people, the real heroes, are those who give their time helping others. Those who make a difference, who save lives – Coastguards and the Lifeboat volunteers, they’re right up there on the list of inspirational heroes. And it is down to the MPs and the MCA to make sure these girls and guys are treated with respect and the very best of locations, training and equipment available.
The training, well – pots and kettles come to mind. The Coastguards have had a gagging order put on them since the closures were announced, I doubt many people realise this! It is very frightening and definitely Orwellian! Some of the Coastguards have made ‘waves’ and seem to have been moved from their posts or retired. All done with the stealth and secrecy of a dictatorship. It is criminal that the powers to be have not listened to all the concerns that have been voiced and have refused the request by the Welsh Government to carry out an independent risk assessment. It is criminal that they have sent the first closure order to Forth Coastguard, telling them they will be closing on 28th September 2012 even though the call centre in Fareham is still far from operational. This just increases the risks involved to the ‘end users’ of the service and further discredits the so called ‘modernisation’ plan. Throughout this debacle, the Coastguards have acted with integrity and professionalism, they have my complete respect.
When the eight Coastguard stations are closed and all the local knowledge therein is lost, and when crucial time is wasted going through a central call centre, I do hope the MPs, who either supported the cuts (or ignored the question put to them), and the upper echelons of the MCA, will understand that they will be jointly culpable along with the current transport minister, Mike Penning, MP, and Prime Minister David Cameron. When souls are lost as a result of the closures, we will hold them to account.
Written by Lynne Gray