We can exclusively reveal on Coastguard SOS that Parliament and the public are being misled. This campaign to save the Coastguard Stations has been driven by people with experience, who care deeply that flaws in the Government’s argument will cost lives.
Central to our campaign is the firmly held belief of current and former serving coastguard officers that local knowledge is critical to respond rapidly to cries for help. This is backed up by coastguard volunteers, serving RNLI crew and others, who live their lives by and on the sea around our coast.
The Transport Secretary has acknowledged the importance of local knowledge. Mike Penning has made the following statements in the House of Commons;
- (Clyde) is already paired with Belfast. That happens today and has been the case for many years.
- Belfast regularly covers the resilience for Clyde and has the local knowledge that is necessary.
- (Walton-on-the-Naze) will close but the station that covers it on a regular basis will stay open (and) local knowledge will still be there …
- The point of keeping one centre in a pair …. is to retain the local knowledge.
The problem is that most stations are not currently paired and so the Minister, Mike Penning, has misled Parliament when answering questions from Gemma Doyle (West Dumbartonshire), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & North Essex), Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde), Katy Clark (North Ayrshire & Arran), Mark Durkan (Foyle) and Jim Shannon (Strangford). All these MPs would have thought, from Penning’s replies in the Commons (on 22nd November 2011), that pairing was routine, included all coastguard stations and had been in operation for years. This is simply not true and the people at these stations would readily tell you so if they were not being ‘threatened’ to keep their mouths shut.
The question is, did the Minister deliberately lie to Parliament, or have the senior management of the Coastguard Service lied to the Minister?
If pairing had been a routine and regular occurrence for all stations, why do the notes of the CSM’s Maritime Meeting (on 25th January 2012) state;
First step is to get all coastguard operators practised and confident with the current concept of operations for pairing at all locations. This should focus on … specific activities such as routine monitoring of channel 16 or routine telephone calls to relieve load on paired MRCC.
It then goes on to say that once this is “achievable at all locations” work on the radio equipment replacement (RER) system can be considered.
At the meeting an official was given the task to “identify and develop standard formats for national procedures beginning with pairing operations”.
On the same day Parliament was misled, the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) blueprint, upon which Mike Penning based his answers, was published. On page seven it makes the remarkable statement “Currently we depend entirely on the local knowledge of our volunteers for detailed information concerning the coastline and coastal water activities where they live.” Here perhaps lies the truth; that the Minister and the senior coastguard management simply don’t recognise the local knowledge held by personnel in the local stations that are to close and assume the volunteers will provide it. The volunteers may well have detailed knowledge of each cove and cliff, but they are not the ones who are answering calls on channel 16 or through 999. This is when local knowledge is critical to quickly identify where a distressed caller is, when they can’t give a street name or a city landmark.
Let us remember all these calls will in future be taken at a national command centre, even more remote and removed than one of the pairs of local centres that will remain open. This command centre is currently a white elephant. It was originally commissioned and constructed as the national command centre for the fire service. Thankfully, before it could be put into operation, it was recognised that you cannot effectively co-ordinate an emergency service from a national location. Now, one could possibly think that fire service resources can be directed from anywhere, so long as you have an infrastructure of roads, buildings with numbers and even post codes. If it wasn’t found to be possible for the fire service, imagine how someone receiving the call at the national command centre in Fareham, Hampshire, would deal with a caller caught in a storm, saying “Help please, I’m off the Norfolk coast and we hired a boat from a little place called Ren…” The radio goes dead at this point.
The national command centre will co-ordinate the UK Search and Rescue region, covering some 1.25 million square nautical miles of sea and over 10.5 thousand nautical miles of coastline.
For more information, please contact: Dennis O’Connor - 07818 038200 - email@example.com
As of 09.30 hours this morning, we’ve had three responses. Just three! So who cares?
Iain McKenzie MP, Inverclyde
I should also point out for inclusion that I have written to the Prime Minister following my question to him last month at PMQ asking for his thoughts on reversing this decision, I await a response.
Mike McKenzie MSP
I fully support this campaign and have spoken twice in the Scottish Parliament on this issue.
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary
The decision to close nearly half of the UK‘s coastguard stations has nothing to do with improving safety along Britain’s coastline but is a direct consequence of the government cutting the transport budget too far and too fast. The proposals risk leaving our coastal communities without vital local knowledge that can make all the difference in an emergency as stations are forced to cover areas over which they have no previous experience, contrary to the claims of Ministers.
Thank you for caring, and being honest & transparent ~ there are good people out there.