By RYAN TAYLOR
FEARS the lifeboat service could be severely hampered by a dramatic hike in costs have been laid to rest after communications regulator Ofcom backtracked over a major rise in VHF licensing fees.
The RNLI raised the concern last week when the regulator’s administered incentivised pricing – AIP – scheme recommended draconian increases in charges for radio use.
As reported in The Shetland Times last week the rescue organisation currently pays around £40,000 every year to use radio equipment vital to help save lives at sea.
Under the new pricing proposal the voluntary organisation said it would have to pay an annual fee of up to £260,000 instead – a rise of 600 per cent and a sum of money which could pay for eight inshore lifeboats.
The news sparked a row between Ofcom and the RNLI over exactly how much would have to be paid, with Ofcom claiming £100,000 a year was a more realistic figure.
Now the regulator has updated its consultation on AIP for maritime and aeronautical sectors. The move will see operating costs dramatically reduced for the RNLI and other charities.
But while the news has been welcomed, lifeboat volunteers maintain VHF fees should not apply to charitable organisations.
A spokesman said: “Ofcom has published an update to its consultation on administered incentive pricing for the maritime and aeronautical sectors.
“The proposals include allowing organisations that have a large number of transmitters around the country (like the RNLI) to pay a single fee per radio channel which covers any number of transmitters across the UK.
“The RNLI may see its charges fall as a result of our proposal to offer a single, lower cost licence for multiple users.”
RNLI head of business operations David Shepherd said the move would help the charity direct its money towards providing the crucial search and rescue service.
“The RNLI welcomes Ofcom’s proposal, which will reduce the charity’s licensing costs, enabling us to direct those funds towards the RNLI’s primary objective of saving lives at sea.
“Ideally, we would still like to see a 100 per cent discount on radio licensing fees, not only for the RNLI – which as a charity is funded entirely by voluntary donations and uses allocated frequencies solely for safety and search and rescue purposes – but for all organisations which contribute to the safety and saving of life at sea. However we appreciate this proposal from Ofcom is a significant improvement on their previous proposal.”
- Meanwhile, the RNLI has used its 150th anniversary to issue an SOS for fresh support.
The charity is appealing for people to organise their own “SOS themed” fundraising day on 30th January 2009 to help raise £1m to train and equip its lifeboat crews.
Volunteers from 45 Scottish communities continue the tradition of volunteering to crew their local lifeboat.
During the first half of this year the Aith lifeboat was launched three times and rescued one person, while Lerwick lifeboat set out six times and rescued 10.
Around Scotland some 368 people were saved during the first six months of the year.
Divisional inspector for the RNLI in Scotland John Caldwell said training was becoming increasingly important.
“The advances in technology and the complex systems on our modern lifeboats have in turn meant even more commitment being demanded from today’s lifeboat crews.
“There are fewer crew members volunteering with professional maritime experience and this means training is more important than ever before.”
For a free RNLI SOS fundraising pack visit www.rnli.org.uk/sos or call 0845 1214999.