MEP joins the battle to save coastguard stationFEBRUARY 2011: Nick Griffin MEP Euro News
RESPONDING to requests for help from coastguards across his North West constituency, Nick Griffin has written to the Ministry of Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) raising his concerns over the possible closure of Liverpool's Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
A recent MCA consultation document has revealed the intention to close 10 of the current 18 coastguard stations throughout the UK including .
The station at Crosby in Liverpool covers a vast area which includes the whole northwest of England, the Isle of Man, parts of Scotland and Wales.
This is not the first time Liverpool coastguard has been earmarked for closure.
In 1999, the station was under threat, but a campaign by staff at the MRCC halted the planned closure although the MCA did close three other coastguard stations in other parts of Britain.
A Transport Select Committeee report on "The Work of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency" published on 18th July 2004, clearly states in para 64 that "it is unacceptable to contemplate further closures when there has been no full assessement of the closures already made."
Nick Griffin has written to Mr Mike Penning MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport) and Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey (Chief Executive, Maritime and Coastguard Agency), outlining his concerns with regard to the changes proposed and pointing out that cost-cutting alone should not be the pre-eminent driver of change and that over-zealous efficiency measures must never over-ride emergency response effectiveness.
In his letter he said:
"I have read your Consultation Document on Modernising the Coastguard, which of course potentially affects many of my constituents in North West England. In general I welcome the broad outlines of these changes proposed to equip H.M. Coastguard to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
There are, however, a number of issues which in my view raise concern, and merit, therefore, further consideration.
Firstly, cost savings to the long-suffering British taxpayer achieved through increases in efficiency are always most welcome. However in a vital service such as this it is essential that cost savings are not seen as a pre-eminent driver of change.
As you rightly observe, the number of incidents with which this Service is expected to have to deal is likely to increase, as is the potential seriousness of these incidents as vessels get bigger and our waters grow more congested with shipping and offshore installations such as wind farms in, potentially, worsening weather conditions.
I need not, I am sure, point out that if excessively zealous cost-cutting leads to just one additional major pollution incident in our coastal waters, the consequent clean-up costs will exceed many times over any savings achieved, to say nothing of less easily quantifiable environmental damage.
To this end, I believe that all possible steps should be taken to avoid losing the services of any more experienced Coastguard Officers than is absolutely necessary, and would ask you to endeavour seriously to confine redundancies to administrative staff only.
Secondly, in any centralisation of emergency coverage to fewer and further away Operations Centres, as proposed, it is essential that local knowledge is not lost. I am familiar with the consequences of this adversely affecting my constituents in another Emergency Service.
When the Ambulance Service was reorganised on broadly similar lines to those you propose, 999 calls for Cumbria were transferred to a call centre outside of the county. The result was a marked and potentially life-threatening decline in service. This was in many cases due to the new call centre staff being unfamiliar with the geography and in some cases the dialect of Cumbria. An ambulance called to attend in Wigton, Cumbria, for example, was sent in error to Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway, many miles away.
H.M Coastguard needs to study and learn from this and similar reorganisations in other emergency services - including the Fire Service "FiReControl" project the new Government has decided to scrap, citing similar concerns to those which have been widely expressed about this reorganisation.
If it is decided to proceed as planned, I would suggest that the new structure makes full use of the local expertise of the increased number of Coastal Safety Officers, who I understand are intended to provide 24/7 cover. Perhaps the local Coastal Safety team member on watch could be included in the handling of 999 and other urgent calls? The Maritime Operations Centre staff receiving such a call could if required telephone the appropriate local Coastal
Safety Officer on call and include him/her and the caller in a phone conference loop so the caller would be able to talk to someone with detailed local knowledge. This would undoubtedly in some cases make a potentially vital difference to the swift and effective resolution of the incident.
I would add that I particularly welcome the additional support you propose to be provided by local professional Coastguard officers to the local volunteer Coastguard Rescue teams.
Thirdly, I feel that if a choice must be made between Liverpool and Belfast as the site of a Maritime Operations Sub-Centre, Liverpool is significantly preferable. Liverpool is a larger port than Belfast, and is once again expanding after a long period of decline, notably as a result of proposals to use it as a significant port of call for cruise liners as well as cargo shipping.
Unlike Belfast, which is geographically isolated from other significant ports, Liverpool is near for example Birkenhead, Fleetwood and Heysham and well placed to offer additional support if needed to Holyhead. Also Northern Ireland has - for good reason I agree - received a disproportionate amount of public expenditure and public sector employment in recent years, and it is surely time to redress the balance in favour of another economically challenged area, Merseyside. I must therefore firmly oppose any proposal to close the existing MRCC at Crosby rather than incorporating it into the new structure."