UK Politics

Coastguard change plans thrown together, says SoS group

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Media captionA Transport Committee report says the proposed changes have left coastguards confused and disillusioned

MPs say the UK government has not fully explained how a new coastguard system will work after several centres, including one at Swansea, are closed.

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.

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".

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]."

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