A call was made today for members of the MCA’s top management to resign in light of the transport committee’s damning report into streamlining proposals for the service.
Treasurer of the Shetland branch of the PCS Union, Bob Skinley, said the plan to close either Lerwick or Stornoway station, leaving Aberdeen the one remaining full time station in Scotland, had been “completely trashed” by the MPs.
His comments came as coastguard workers said they felt “vindicated” by the committee’s findings, which give support to alternative proposals put forward by operational coastguard officers.
Mr Skinley said: “We hope that the MCA management will recognise the severity of the criticism of these proposals and do the honourable thing and withdraw them as soon as possible.
“Likewise, we hope some of those who were intimately involved in the construction of these proposals will now also do the honourable thing and consider their positions which are, quite frankly, untenable.
“This is a damning indictment of the way that MCA management conducts itself.”
Campaigner Alex Dodge criticised the entire consultation exercise as being “back to front”, by starting out with a proposal before any attempts was made to gather opinions on the future of the service.
She said co-operation with existing coastguard staff was the only way to secure a viable future for the MCA service.
“We have corporate values of safety and professionalism, trust and respect, and every one of those values has been disregarded – safety of life at sea, the unprofessional way the MCA have carried out this process, and the lack of respect they’ve shown coastguard staff, which has resulted in them losing our trust.
“What I’d like to see is the current proposals dropped, with whatever comes in its place to be drawn up by operational coastguards.
“The transport committee says this is not time-critical if this is not a cost-saving process. The MCA must take its time producing a professional set of proposals that are properly laid out, that have a risk assessment and have an impact assessment as well. The current proposal is what we would call a line-drawing exercise rather than a technical specification.”
Shetland Islands Council has been another long-standing critic of the plans.
Along with the Western Isles and Highland councils, the SIC has lobbied against the proposals in London and gave evidence to the committee’s hearing in Stornoway.
Political leader Josie Simpson said full coastguard cover, with a retention of the emergency towing vessels (ETVs), was essential.
“This is an affirmation of the council’s stance that lives would be put at risk by the government’s proposals. We need full coastguard coverage locally and emergency tugs are crucial to the protection of our coastline and the saving of lives at sea.
“The minister must now take on board what is an all-party committee’s opinion and reject these unworkable and unsafe plans.”
Isles MSP Tavish Scott also welcomed the committee’s report.
“The UK government should now withdraw these closure proposals. The uncertainty hanging over the heads of hard working staff in the Shetland coastguard station should immediately end.
“Keeping shipping safe around Shetland and UK coastline depends on a full-time, 24-hour manned Lerwick station, and ocean going salvage tugs based in the Northern Isles. That is the standard Shetland needs, expects and deserves to see continue.
“This House of Commons report is also a testament to the sustained and factually based campaign that the local staff, volunteer coastguards and the entire community has both waged and supported.
“The only option for the UK government is now very clear – keep the coastguard stations in their current form and announce that without delay.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish government’s rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead, reiterated the SNP’s calls for coastguard services north of the border to be devolved to protect them from cuts and prevent lives from being put at risk.
“The findings of this damning report support the position taken previously by the Scottish government on these ill-advised proposals.
“The option of devolving coastguard functions should be seriously considered if we are to preserve the current life-saving service that coastal communities have come to depend on, and which are under threat on current plans.
“The coalition government’s proposals simply do not provide reassurance that the ability of the coastguard to respond to emergencies will be maintained. There are serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if the proposals proceed in this reckless form.
“There is broad consensus these proposals are ill-considered, ill-founded and designed to save money – not lives.”
Mr Lochhead also highlighted the ongoing perilous position of the ETVs.
“Following a unilateral decision to withdraw funding from ETVs from September, we still have no idea how this vital service will be provided from then.
“This situation poses absolutely unacceptable risks to both lives and our precious marine environment. A better way forward must be established and quickly.”