We can be reasonably sure that shipping minister Mike Penning will receive a polite ear-bashing from the Highlands and Islands council leaders who will meet him next week over his department’s foolish proposals to close Shetland or Stornoway coastguard station and reduce the other to daylight working hours. That message will be reinforced by local staff when they receive a visitation from Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) chief executive Sir Alan Massey next Friday.
The original proposal was simply to close Shetland, so no proper groundwork had been done by the agency to justify the closure proposal. That explains the embarrassing series of meetings between the knowledgeable and dedicated local staff at the Knab and distinctly unprepared MCA officials thus far. The MCA has not addressed the question of how robust communications links can be guaranteed between Shetland and the mainland if the coastguard station is to be closed. Sir Alan’s comment this week about Google Earth, whether taken out of context or not, is instructive in this regard: without a functioning broadband connection, it is useless.
Similarly, the importance of local knowledge has been treated with contempt when it is actually a vital component of any rescue operation, as Sir Alan must have realised when he was in Stornoway this week.
The financial savings from closing Shetland and Stornoway are out of all proportion to the risk of loss of life from doing so. The stations are public goods which cannot be seen as expendable just to help make the Treasury’s accounts ledgers look better.