Under-siege coastguards 'at risk of losing talented staff'
Government plans to close coastguard stations covering long stretches of the Westcountry coastline have left staff confused and disillusioned, a report by MPs says today.
The Transport Select Committee contends too many coastguards are drifting out of the service, which is "creating a risk that talent and expertise will haemorrhage".
Ministers last year announced the closure of eight coastguard co-ordination centres around the UK, and the advent of one "super-centre" on the south coast, costing 159 jobs.
The axed centres that will be closed by the end of March 2015 include Brixham in South Devon, Portland in Dorset, and Swansea, which covers North Devon waters.
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Falmouth coastguard station, which will be the only maritime outpost in the South West, will operate 24 hours a day. The MPs' report said the committee's main concern was that the Government had "not yet fully explained" how the new system would work.
The MPs' report was also critical of Shipping Minister Stephen Hammond who appeared before the committee and said that people in the coastguard service were happier than the evidence presented had suggested.
Mr Hammond also said that he had not actually been to any of the coastguard centres.
The report says: "The minister's remark that coastguards were happier than their evidence to us suggested would have had more credibility if he had chosen to visit a coastguard station rather than simply rely on advice from MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) management."
Under Government plans, it is envisaged that there will be one maritime operations "super-centre" in the Solent area in Hampshire, with back-up provided by the Dover station in Kent, and eight other coastguard stations all open round the clock.
The report said there was a "worrying lack of information about what coastguards at the MOC will actually do from day to day".
It added: "Low morale and disillusionment with management were evident in all of the evidence we received from coastguards, and not just from the trade unions.
"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.
"Too many coastguards are drifting out of the service, creating a risk that talent and expertise will haemorrhage."
Louise Ellman MP, the committee's chairman, said: "The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it is a great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010.
"Regrettably, the previous shipping minister (Mike Penning) was ambiguous about the timing of coastguard closures and this has dented staff morale across the service."
There have been concerns that the station closures will lead to coastguards lacking the local knowledge of their area possessed by existing staff.
Mrs Ellman added: "The MCA's stance in respect of the local knowledge which coastguards in co-ordination centres must have is also confusing and contradictory."