The UK Government have announced the closure of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Swansea
Coastguard axe policy ‘has been badly handled’
By nino williams
A PARLIAMENTARY report has criticised the handling of the programme of closures of coastguard stations across the UK, including Swansea.
The Transport Select Committee yesterday published its second inquiry report into the closures of coastguard rescue centres, which concluded there had been mixed messages about local knowledge of coastguards, and that the proposed closures had undermined staff morale across the service, creating an “alarming” vacancy rate amongst skilled staff.
It also said confusion remained around the role of a new central national Maritime Operations Centre (MOC).
Chair of Transport Committee, MP Louise Ellman, said: “The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it is a great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010
“Regrettably, the previous shipping minister was ambiguous about the timing of coastguard closures and this has dented staff morale across the service.
“There is a worrying lack of information about what coastguards at the MOC will actually do from day to day or how these new staff will work with local coastguards.
“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) stance in respect of the local knowledge which coastguards in co-ordination centres must have is also confusing and contradictory.
“In a response that the committee described as ‘complacent and lacking in detail’, Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the MCA, suggested that local knowledge is not a requirement. The MCA needs to set out its strategy for staff training and articulate its vision of why coastguards in MRCCs need to gain and retain local knowledge”.
Swansea’s coastguard station in Mumbles, the second busiest in the UK, is one of nine co-ordination centres set to close, and is due to do so by April 2015.
Mike Dubens, publicity officer for Save Swansea Coastguard, said: “The report says what we have been saying, that the whole process has been badly handled.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any logic to the way it has been carried out.
“You can’t blame existing coastguard staff for leaving the service with all the upheaval going on.”
Dennis O’Connor, of the national Coastguard SOS campaign, added: “There is nothing to suggest that the MCA have addressed the significant numbers of staff leaving the service or the apparent lack of interest in any taking up positions at the MOC. Even if they were successful in recruiting new staff, it is likely that this will come at a significant financial cost”.
Coastguard change plans thrown together, says SoS group
A Transport Committee report says the proposed changes have left coastguards confused and disillusioned
Proposals will see some closed entirely and coverage at others reduced.
After criticism by the Commons transport committee, SoS group campaigner and ex-Pembrokeshire coastguard officer Dennis O’Connor said the plans appeared “thrown together”.
Ministers say safety is the priority in a service which will be more effective.
Forth coastguard station in Scotland has already closed and it is planned that others including Swansea, Liverpool, Yarmouth and Brixham will shut over the next few years.
If the plans that the government want to implement are not operational, we can’t accept it because it’s going to risk life basically”
End Quote Dennis O’Connor Campaigner
First Minister Carwyn Jones had said he was dismayed by a decision which would potentially put lives at risk.
The government originally wanted to cut the number of 24-hour coastguard centres from 18 to three but, following an outcry, agreed to look again at the plans.
Stations at Holyhead and Milford Haven, originally earmarked for closure, were granted a reprieve.
The report from MPs said that too many coastguards were drifting out of the service and the loss was “creating a risk that talent and expertise will haemorrhage”.
But the committee’s biggest concern was that the UK government had not yet fully explained how the new system would work.
The report said there was a “worrying lack of information about what coastguards at the MOC [maritime operations centre] will actually do from day to day”.
“Low morale and disillusionment with management were evident in all of the evidence we received from coastguards, and not just from the trades unions,” said the report.
‘Disillusioned and confused‘
“Our main concern is not that the new system is flawed but that the government has not yet explained properly how it will work.
“As a result, coastguards are disillusioned and confused.”
A Pembrokeshire man running a campaign to stop the planned closures said the report showed that the proposals should be delayed.
Dennis O’Connor, of the National Coastguard SoS Campaign, a former coastguard officer in Pembrokeshire, said it appeared the plans had been “thrown together without sufficient thought towards safety, operational capability or to implementation”.
Our reforms to modernise the coastguard will deliver a more resilient and effective rescue system with faster response times”
End Quote Stephen Hammond Transport Minister
He told BBC Radio Wales: “We know we’re doing the right thing in challenging the government.
“What we’re saying is yes, we as campaigners, and indeed coastguard officers themselves, welcome modernisation proposals, however they must be safe and credible proposals.
“If the plans that the government want to implement are not operational, we can’t accept it because it’s going to risk life basically.”
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Our reforms to modernise the coastguard will deliver a more resilient and effective rescue system with faster response times, benefiting all parts of the UK.
“The issues raised in the report have been addressed throughout the two consultations and in our evidence to the select committee.
“We have been frank and open in our responses on these and will continue to be so.
“We also have some concerns that the committee has given too much weight to anecdotal evidence and too little to the evidential testimony of the MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] and the DfT [Department for Transport].”
Campaigners hope cabinet re-shuffle falls their way
CAMPAIGNERS hoping to stop the closure of Mumbles Coastguard station hope the recent cabinet reshuffle will be a step towards a re-think of the plans.
The UK government is planning to close half its coastguard rescue coordination centres, including Swansea, as well as centres in Liverpool, Brixham, Clyde, Portland, Thames, Forth and Yarmouth.
But the National Coastguard SOS Campaign Group said the cuts would lead to a loss of local knowledge and consequently pose a real threat to lives.
The parliamentary Transport Select Committee is holding an inquiry examining the effect closures will have on coastal areas, and the Coastgaurd SOS Campaign group has now submitted its final formal response to this, stating that despite two public consultation exercises, the closures remain dangerously flawed.
Dennis O’Connor, of the SOS group, said: “The planned closure of coastguard rescue coordination centres is not based upon operational reasoning.
“We are very concerned that insufficient consideration has been given to the affect that the loss of stations will have on coastal communities and on the safety of those who use the coast for recreational and commercial purposes.”
The Government plans to centralise incident coordination responsibilities and distribute the workload to quieter stations.
But campaigners have insisted it will increase the risks.
Dennis O’Connor added: “The planned centralisation of incident coordination has been rejected by coastguard officers and campaigners because essential local knowledge will be lost. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) are pinning everything on the trials of, as yet, unproven technology to ‘capture’ local knowledge, but with the first of the stations due to close in a matter of weeks it is highly likely that key knowledge will be lost”.
The group also voiced hope that the cabinet reshuffle would lead to a more open dialogue.
Former Transport Secretary Justine Greening MP was replaced by Patrick McLoughlin MP, while shipping minister Mike Penning, who has been a central figure in plans to close coastguard stations was replaced by Stephen Hammond MP.
Dennis O’Connor said: “The recent reshuffle has brought fresh hope that the new ministers will adopt more of an open dialogue approach and will urgently reconsider the closure programme. We have written to both Mr McLoughlin and Mr Hammond requesting a meeting at their earliest convenience in order that we may be able to assess the affect that the change in ministers will have on the closure plans.”
Mike Dubens, publicity officer for the Save Swansea Coastguard said: “The government has asked for response and that is encouraging because it means they are willing to look again at concerns. Unfortunately, Carwyn Jones appears to have backtracked on undergoing a risk assessment of the closure, which would have been another string in our bow. But hopefully, the new faces following the reshuffle will mean there is a fresh approach to reconsidering the closures”
BBC news: 22 November 2011
Campaigners claim the Swansea station’s closure will risk lives
The UK government has confirmed the closure of Swansea coastguard station.
Transport Minister Mike Penning said the station at Mumbles, which employs 28, would close by March 2015.
Stations at Holyhead and Milford Haven, originally earmarked for closure, have been granted a reprieve.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said he was “dismayed” by a decision which would potentially put lives at risk, while campaigners said they would seek advice about a judicial review.
They said the closure will put lives at risk off the Swansea and Gower coastlines and in the Bristol Channel.
“We are extremely disappointed and we intend, if at all possible continuing with the campaign,” said Tony Colbourn, chairman of the “Save Swansea Coastguard” campaign which collected 110,000 signatures.
“It has been suggested that we might apply for a judicial review, and in fact we’ve put in hand already legal advice as to whether we can pursue that avenue or not.
“Time is on our side but we are extremely concerned on the safety aspect – this campaign was entirely based on the question of safety.”
Mr Penning told MPs one reason Swansea was closing was because the Department for Transport already employs large numbers at the DVLA in the city.
But Mr Colbourn rejected this. He said: “That’s a ridiculous argument. “It is clear the UK government has paid no regard to the safety of the many thousands of people who visit and use our coastline for business and pleasure”
“We are talking about safety. The station in Swansea was never intended to to be an exercise to employ people in the public sector.”
First Minister Carwyn Jones added he was dismayed the UK government has ignored a major campaign against the proposed changes which “will put pressure on emergency services and potentially put lives at risk”.
“One of the UK government’s rationale for closing the Swansea coastguard station – Wales’ busiest and the third busiest in the UK – is that the Department of Transport already employ large numbers of people in the city at the DVLA. This is unacceptable,” said Mr Jones.
“DVLA staff are a completely separate issue and have no influence on safeguarding our coastline.
“It is clear the UK government has paid no regard to the safety of the many thousands of people who visit and use our coastline for business and pleasure.”
Swansea East MP Sian James said: “This has clearly been an exercise that puts a need to balance the books before maritime safety
“Compelling arguments by campaigners on operational necessities have been ignored. “I hope and pray that the price to paid for this decision is not a future tragedy”.
Wales Office Minister David Jones acknowledged the disappointment for Swansea but welcomed the reprieves for the stations at Holyhead and Milford Haven.
“I am pleased to see Milford Haven and Holyhead stations are to become part of a new nationally networked coastguard system,” he said.
“This is part of proposals to re-structure the UK’s existing coastline services.
“I understand the disappointment concerning the future of Swansea coastguard station, however, overall Wales retains two out of three of its coastguard stations, up from one under the previous administration’s plans.”
In August, about 200 people, including sailors, fishermen, surfers and beachgoers, took part in a “floating protest” against the government’s plans, near the Swansea station in Mumbles.
Under the plans, the coastguard centres at Forth, Clyde, Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Thames, Swansea, Brixham and Portland will close progressively by 31 March, 2015.
Mr Penning told MPs: “I understand, of course, that the closure of some existing co-ordination centres and the loss of some coastguard jobs will come as a disappointment to those directly affected.
“However, the decisions I have announced today will deliver the modernised, nationally networked, fully resilient coastguard service we require for the future while reducing costs.”