Prime Minister David Cameron is being urged to issue an apology to staff at a Greenock based coastguard station after he gave the false impression that the base would remain open for an extra three years.
The Clyde Coastguard base was scheduled to close at the end of this year after cutbacks by the UK government. However, a letter sent by Mr Cameron to a local constituent stated that the station would remain open until 2015.
In the letter the Prime Minister wrote: “those centres that are planned for closure will remain open until 2015 in order to ensure that the planned transition to the new arrangements will maximise the retention of local knowledge.”
The news was welcomed by campaigners, Coastguard SOS, who promptly issued a statement welcoming the decision to delay closure.
However hopes were dashed when in another statement, the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) contradicted the Prime Minister, saying he was wrong and that the station would close as planned.
The MCA statement read: “The reform of Coastguard stations will go ahead as planned. The PM has written to his constituent to clarify the matter. Under the plans the Coastguard co-ordination centres at Forth, Clyde, Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Thames, Swansea, Brixham and Portland will close progressively by 31 March 2015.
“The Ministry of Defence (MoD) plan to close their base at Clyde [Navy Buildings in Eldon Street] and part of that plan means that the Clyde Coastguard and all its associated equipment must be removed. Staff are already informally aware of the intended closure date of 31 December 2012.”
Angry campaigners have branded the letter and subsequent MCA statement “a shambles”.
In a statement published on the Coastguard SOS website, a member of the campaign team insisted that Mr Cameron’s letter was unambiguous and clearly stated that the station would remain open until 2015.
The statement also claimed that the constituent who received the letter had received no further communication.
It added: “Staff are already informally aware of the intended closure date of 31 December 2012… seriously, what utter disregard and disrespect for the people in the team working there.
“What an awful state of affairs this is. The Prime Minister makes a statement in black and white and the MCA media team states this is incorrect! A very good question would be, Who is running this country?
“From the first announcement, this MCA plan has been riddled with inconsistencies and errors. There has been no transparency, no listening to peoples’ concerns and, certainly, no risk and assessment exercises carried out on each particular station.
“And, even more importantly, this is despite requests from the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Horrendous, you cannot describe rocks and waves to a national call centre, which obviously does not have the local knowledge that is critical to successful rescues.”
SNP MSP Stuart McMillan, who has led the fight to save Clyde Coastguard called the over-ruling of the PM by the MCA “humiliating”.
Calling for Mr Cameron to personally apologise to staff who had been let down again, he added:
“For David Cameron to send out a letter offering hope to everyone at Clyde Coastguard station, only for his statement to be quickly overridden, is a gross insult to Coastguard staff.
“It is rubbing salt into the wounds of staff that are facing the loss of their jobs. David Cameron should come to Clyde Coastguard Station and personally apologise for misleading the dedicated staff there.
“For the Prime Minister to sign a letter giving false hope to people about to lose their jobs thanks to his Government’s cuts suggests he is blithely unaware of what his own Government is doing.
“These are real people’s jobs on the line and they will rightly be furious at what the Prime Minister has done.
“Moving responsibility for the Clyde’s 2,500 miles of coastline to Coastguard sites over 100 miles away is dangerously short-sighted.
“Perhaps if Mr Cameron does the decent thing and comes to apologise in person, he will see first-hand the folly of what his Government is planning.”