Scotland’s Transport Minister Keith Brown has today raised concerns that lives will be put at risk as a result of UK Government cuts to Scotland’s coastguard stations.
Mr Brown also expressed continued dismay that UK Ministers will not reconsider reducing emergency cover.
During talks with the recently appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Stephen Hammond in London this afternoon, Mr Brown repeated concerns about the modernisation programme, and the decision to fast-track the closure of the Clyde coastguard station at Greenock and the closure of Forth MRCC in September.
Mr Brown also spoke on behalf of local Clyde Coastguard and local MSPs Duncan McNeil, Margaret McDougall and Stuart McMillan, reflecting the level of cross-party opposition in Scotland.
The Scottish Government previously submitted further evidence at the request of the Commons Select Committee for Transport, following their previous inquiry into Coastguard Modernisation, Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) removal and changes to the MIRG (Maritime Incident Support Group).
Although the UK Government has revisited some of its initial plans, opting to retain Shetland and Stornoway, Scotland still stands to lose one Emergency Towing Vessel, reducing cover by 50 per cent, and two of its coastguard stations – Clyde and Forth.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Brown said:
“I am dismayed that the UK Government are continuing with these cuts to Scotland’s lifeline coastguard services. The Westminster government have ignored expert and cross-party concerns about reducing this emergency cover. This should be about putting the safety of our communities before cutting costs.
“For those who will be most directly affected by these decisions, there will be something depressingly familiar about the outcome of today’s meeting. We may now be dealing with a new Minister but the attitude remains the same – a refusal to re-consider their approach despite legitimate concerns about the possible impacts they may bring.
“Campaigners are firmly of the view that the decision to press on with these closures could cost lives. We have consistently opposed the closures and have lobbied the UK Government to reverse the decisions. We are also extremely concerned about how the new system will be introduced and would seriously question the lead-in time for training and testing. This is contrary to the previous assurances from the UK Government that no closures would take place until the Maritime Operations Centre was up and running to support the new structure.
“The hard facts of this are that we are losing critical local knowledge and expertise and the UK Government is potentially putting lives on the line. Clyde Coastguard, which will close in a fortnight, is Scotland’s busiest rescue and co-ordination centre. Experts firmly believe that providing cover from Belfast and Stornoway is a major mistake.
“We will continue to make the case for the devolution of coastguard services to Scotland, which would allow us to make better decisions about the structure and support for our seas and coastline. With some 60 per cent of UK seas, it is utter madness that Scotland is now left with just a third of the Rescue Coordination Centres.”