Council convener Sandy Cluness has described as “worthwhile” yesterday’s meeting with UK shipping minister Mike Penning over the future of the coastguard service in the isles.
Mr Cluness and other council leaders from Orkney, Highland and the Western Isles met Mr Penning to argue the case for full retention of the coastguard service in Shetland and the Stornoway. The minister was presented with a 33-page dossier outlining the case for 24-hour cover. Council leaders said the meeting had been a “very useful” part of the lobbying exercise.
Mr Penning promised to visit both Shetland and the Western Isles before making any decision about the closure of coastguard stations in either of the island groups.
Mr Cluness said: “The delegation presented the case very strongly, and emphasised to Mr Penning a number of the points outlined in our briefing paper. He expressed a desire to work with us in a constructive and creative way, and I welcome that.
“In addition to the commitment he gave late last year to visit Shetland, Mr Penning also agreed to visit the Western Isles later in the year.
“The delegation appreciated that gesture as I think that only by going out to the two areas will he get a feel for the level of opposition there is to closure and how vital the service is. The meeting was a very worthwhile exercise.”
MCA chief executive Sir Alan Massey is due to visit the threatened Shetland Coastguard station in Lerwick on Friday.
The meeting in London came as union officials challenged the MCA to prove its plans to cut coastguard stations would not put lives at risk.
The PCS union has called on agency bosses to run a live test of its centralised control system before its consultation about closing 10 of the UK’s 19 stations ends on 24th March. The call has been made amid continuing concerns about the possible loss of local knowledge.
A statement from the PCS said 77 MPs had so far signed a parliamentary motion opposing the planned cuts, including four Tories and 10 Lib-Dems.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These cuts could literally be a matter of life and death. We are deeply concerned that closing these stations would leave our coastlines a more dangerous place to be.
“If the MCA and the government are confident in their assertion that the cuts won’t cost lives, they should be prepared to put it to the test. Without that, people will rightly conclude that officials and ministers haven’t successfully made their case and the consultation should be stopped.”
The union’s negotiations officer for the MCA, Jeremy Gautrey, said: “What is clear from talking to coastguards from Shetland down to Falmouth is the level of anger among staff that these proposals have been drawn up with no consultation with operational coastguards or having been trialled in a live situation to test their resilience.”