To get a measure of the scathing language in the report published this week by the House of Commons transport committee into the government’s coastguard modernisation proposals, one has to look at the comments made about the consultation exercise carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s management: “mishandled”, “opaque”, “arrogant”, “atmosphere of disquiet and suspicion” are the most notable.
By contrast, the constructive contribution of coastguard officers is highlighted in glowing terms by the MPs. Where the bosses have floundered, staff have proved themselves to be exemplary professionals. We know this in Shetland, which is why there has been such remarkably strong support for the campaign to save the Lerwick coastguard station.
Yet, without defending the organisation, we must not forget that the MCA was driven into the consultation by a government desperate to cut public spending, even if the savings were to be a paltry £20 million over four years. Shetland coastguard was to be closed without any consultation under the original proposal, with no proper assessment of the impact of such a decision having been made.
It is clear, as The Shetland Times has reported previously, that the government has already changed its mind about the proposed coastguard station closures. Staff need to hear the fine detail of what the government intends to do as soon as possible.
The government also needs to address the issue of the emergency towing vessels. It has said it is in discussions over alternative funding arrangements for the tugs. The existing contracts run out in September; it is imperative that funding arrangements are in place long before that to maintain this vital service around these islands.