Holyhead Coastguard pressure over Liverpool 'staff crisis'

Coastguard helicopter. Pic: MCA
Image caption The union says the staffing crisis is stretching coastguard resources

Lives will be put at risk because of the pressure on Holyhead Coastguard to cover for another station which is short-staffed, a union has claimed.

The Public and Commercial Services union says a "staff crisis" in Liverpool means Holyhead will sometimes cover from mid Wales to Scotland.

The UK government is closing eight coastguard stations, including Liverpool, by 2015.

It says changes are necessary to create a 21st Century service.

But the PCS union argues that resources are stretched as talented and experienced staff are becoming disillusioned with the job, and leaving the service.

Keith Roberts, PCS branch secretary at Holyhead Coastguard, warned that lives could be put at risk.

He said that staff levels in Liverpool would be reduced to eight by the summer. It should be 23.

It means Holyhead Coastguard - which has been "paired" with Liverpool under the changes - will be called on to cover an area from Cardigan Bay to the south west coast of Scotland.

"There will be eight watchkeepers [in Liverpool] available, which is the normal minimum to cover a 24 hours period during the summer months," he said.

"So there will be long periods when Holyhead Coastguard will be responsible to cover the UK Irish Sea coast from the the middle of Cardigan Bay to the Mull of Galloway on the southwest Scottish coast plus waters around the Isle of Man."

He said Holyhead too was short staffed, with 18 watchkeepers, when there should be 23.

The union said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency needed to put urgent measures in place to address the "staffing crisis," including honouring its promises on upgrading jobs to improve pay.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We and others have warned time and again that these closures would put lives at risk. The government must act immediately to address this dangerous decline."

High demand

Eight UK coastguard centres will be closed, with a loss of 159 jobs, under changes which the UK government has said are necessary.

The Swansea, Liverpool, Clyde, Portland, Yarmouth, Brixham and Thames coastguard stations will close.

Forth coastguard station in Scotland has already closed as a consequence of the plans.

The UK government has said the current system comprised "dispersed centres with no network of national integration" and therefore had "very limited resilience in the event of high demand or technical problems".

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said where coastguard stations were experiencing reduced staffing levels, it was bringing in existing "pairing" arrangements and other support measures as necessary to maintain operations.

"One of the key outcomes from the modernisation of HM Coastguard will be more rewarding coastguard jobs, with additional responsibilities and the appropriate pay to match; the Government remains fully committed to achieving this," it added in a statement.

"These are new roles that attract a different rate of pay, and staff will need to apply for these."

A report last December by a committee of MPs said that coastguards have been left "confused and disillusioned" by the changes to their service.

The Transport Committee said that too many coastguards were "drifting out" with "a risk that talent and expertise will haemorrhage".

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