Staff at the closure-threatened Shetland coastguard station failed to get answers from a senior manager who travelled up to talk to them today in a meeting described as “highly charged”.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency executive director Richard Parkes was unable to provide the information sought by many of the 20 staff whose jobs are on the line if the station is shut or downgraded to daytime-only operations.
One of the Save Shetland Coastguard campaigners said: “Our man who came to answer questions was able to answer nothing! We don’t know whether it was deliberate or not.” He added: “This is people’s lives we’re talking about and people’s future.”
Watch manager Sandy Wylie was also unimpressed. He told The Shetland Times: “If he thinks he’s coming to a 19th century backwater with a wooden coastguard hut on the top of a hill and a pair of binoculars then he can think again!”
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, who attended the meeting along with local MSP Tavish Scott, agreed there was a lack of information and is to seek a meeting with the MCA chief executive Sir Alan Massey. He is also to ask the chairman of the transport select committee to examine the proposals.
He said: “Coastguard staff made a strong and very compelling case to their own senior management and to myself. I was a little surprised that more direct answers could not be provided. But I understand that these answers will be provided soon.
“The particular issue of concern involved the resilience of communications and what happens in the event of telecoms or broadband failure of the sort that we know only too well in Shetland.”
Meanwhile, the UK shipping minister presiding over the proposed coastguard station closures is being accused of an “amazing U-turn” after having fought a similar threat to fire stations.
The campaigners said Mike Penning was “wildly inconsistent”, having been “fundamentally opposed” to the Labour government’s plan to centralise fire control centres in England five years ago, replacing 46 local centres with nine regional sites.
Mr Penning’s Tory/Lib Dem government has just scrapped the FiReControl Project after eight years at a cost to the taxpayer of £423 million.
Campaigner Mike Smith of the Shetland Coastguard branch of the PCS union said the minister’s concerns about the FiReControl Project included the key issue of lives being put at risk and he had grave concerns about placing more reliance on information technology in place of local centres staffed by people with local knowledge.
But Mr Smith said the coastguard proposals to centralise 19 stations into two marine operations centres and five daytime-only substations were, in essence, the same as the FiReControl Project which meant the minister now had serious questions to answer regarding his conflicting positions.
Under the proposed coastguard cuts either the Shetland or Western Isles station is to shut with the remaining one operating as a sub-station in daytime hours only. Scotland would be left with just one 24-hour station in Aberdeen.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is hosting a consultation on the proposed cuts until 24th March.
Mr Carmichael said he agreed there were parallels between the two bids to cut the services.
A wide range of people and organisations now oppose the “modernising” proposals, including the Scottish government and opposition, the local MP and MSP, some councillors, the fishing industry, the coastal environment group KIMO and thousands of members of the public.
For full story, see tomorrow’s Shetland Times.