‘No satisfactory explanation’ for Clyde coastguard cuts, say MPs

The UK government has “clearly failed” to make a convincing case for savage cuts to the country’s coastguard service, according to a new report by MPs.

Members of the House of Commons’ Scottish affairs committee say there has been “no satisfactory explanation” for the decision to close both the Clyde maritime rescue co-ordination centre in Greenock and its counterpart on the Firth of Forth.

The report, published on Thursday, says the coalition government must do more to reassure the public about the impact of the cuts in the UK coastguard service, which - if approved - would see Clyde rescues co-ordinated from Belfast and Stornoway.

The report says the committee is “very worried” about the decision to close both the Clyde and Forth MRCCs, and that its members are “deeply concerned” that despite an “extensive” government consultation, those on the front line felt they had been excluded from the process.

It says there has been no satisfactory explanation for the decision to close Clyde and Forth MRCCs, which will leave the central belt of Scotland, where the population is most densely concentrated, without a Coastguard station.

MPs were “particularly concerned” at the loss of local knowledge resulting from the closures, and have forecast that, at least for a time, there will be a “major gap” in the knowledge of coastguards at the remaining four MRCCs.

Though he is a member of the committee, Alan Reid, the Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute, stopped short of calling on the government to reverse its decision in his own response to the report.

“I am very concerned about the loss of local knowledge when the Clyde coastguard station is closed,” he said.

“It will take time for Belfast and Stornoway to build up a detailed knowledge of Clyde’s area. The commitments given to the committee by the minister and the MCA chief executive that robust and extensive testing will be carried out before Clyde closes are vitally important.

“The Government must report back to the Committee on how the MCA are implementing the transfer of Clyde’s responsibilities to Belfast and Stornoway.”

In contrast Iain McKenzie, the Labour MP for Inverclyde, had no qualms in describing the decision as “wrong and deeply concerning”.

Mr McKenzie said: “The Scottish affairs select committee has taken evidence from a number of coastguard experts and the Save our Coastguard campaigners who agree that the decision to centralise and close coastguard stations will have major safety implications for the west coast of Scotland and will impact on services throughout Scotland.

“The Scottish affairs select committee is backing the peoples call to reverse this decision. The committee will also request regular progress updates on the changes taking place surrounding the coastguard and will hold the government accountable for any safety breaches caused by their decision.”

Lindsay Roy, Labour MP for Glenrothes, added: “The report emphasises strongly that local knowledge has often been paramount in ensuring successful search and rescue operations.

“This was stressed by the local coastguard professionals but it would appear that their advice has gone unheeded. “The new arrangements must be as robust as the government claims. I hope that we will never be in a position when a tragedy will strike, partly because of lack of local knowledge, as they try to do ‘more, better with less’!”