Cameron to sell off air-sea rescue capability

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by Hazel Lewry

The MCA (Maritime Coastguard Agency) provides further evidence that Westminster is in effect, bankrupt.  Morally, fiscally and intellectually bankrupt.

There can be no other interpretation of the current proposals that now appear likely to be adopted, whereby the amount of fully operational coastguard stations in UK waters will be reduced to two.

Just two full-time stations are to be expected to cover the entire shoreline of England, Scotland and Wales.  One fully manned station in the Solent, one in Aberdeen.  These will be backed up by six additional part-time outposts, only one of which will be in Scotland which has 60% of UK coastline.

Air sea rescue capability is being sold off.  There is a pause in that £6 billion project at present due to a “contractual issue” with the American/French group that is presently set to operate the privatised search and rescue services.

Citing a “possible issue” which had arisen with the foreign consortium’s bid to take over running the fleet from the RAF, Royal Navy and MCA, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said there would be a statement to the House of Commons, “as soon as we are able to provide further information and to set out our plans for proceeding to secure the provision of search and rescue helicopter capability in the future.”

The date this decision is to be made – quietly hidden in the hubbub surrounding the Royal wedding, the AV referendum and the elections in the ‘devolved nations’: May 5th.

It is of note that the coastguard station on the Thames is being reprieved.

About 60% of the UK coastline is in Scotland, that’s about 4,500 miles, potentially covered by only one fully manned air ambulance station.

Scotland can’t afford this largesse to private industry, initiated by Labour and perpetrated in London by the Tories.  

Our fishermen and women can’t afford it.

Our seafaring visitors can’t afford it.

Our air passengers can’t afford it.

Our offshore workers can’t afford it.

Our ferry passengers can’t afford it.

Our remote communities can’t afford it.

Fobbing emergency services off to the private sector while putting hundreds of highly skilled individuals onto the dole does not make sense.  We lose the skilled individuals and equipment on whom our communities rely for their health, wellbeing, safety and security.

Scrapping our coastguard to put their duties into the hands of another nation’s private industrial complex does not make sense.

Spending what will undoubtedly be more money to fund private contracts and private profits in another nation over the decades to come, does not make sense.

Whitehall might as well scrap the Black Watch and contract the duties to the Indian Army.  There is no difference.  The Coastguard is charged with national security as much as the army.

Transport Minister Mike Penning said: “Much of the computer and radio technology that was cutting edge a few years ago is now outdated, and there is huge potential to improve the service, last reviewed in the mid 1970s, and make it more efficient.”

Basically Mr Penning is informing us that UK PLC is broke and can no longer afford to maintain the integrity of its shoreline or search and rescue capability for its citizens.  25 new jobs created to act as “liaisons” for local knowledge are scant consolation to the hundreds facing unemployment.

This “new equipment” must be paid for in either scenario, public or private, but on the private route additional private profits must be allowed for.

The first part of our ambulance service to be privatized appears to be the air ambulances upon which so very many in the Highlands and Islands rely.

Perhaps Scotland herself should assume operational control of these units under the National Health Service – an auxiliary “air ambulance service” suitable for our own needs, for our own communities.

Repaint them into the blue and white of an air ambulance service, and state quite simply that our people, their safety and security, are worth more than private profits.  We already own the helicopters, the trained crews are stationed here, the job losses will be here.

Call them the “Saltires” and demonstrate clearly that in Scotland today, the people come first.  Demonstrate a national pride in our air-sea rescue and the people who put their lives on the line.  They could do duty for many things, from snow stranded motorists to emergency or routine government work on behalf of Holyrood.  These craft would not be idle as they fulfilled duties ranging from Island relief supply to ferrying people.

This should be a first order of business for our new parliament, as all too soon the potential will be lost forever.

All it takes is the political will, but does London have it?  Obviously not.  Holyrood must.

For Westminster the Cameron privatization drive must be supreme, over even life support services themselves.