Postponement of coastguard cuts debate

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A HOUSE of Commons debate on the future of the Coastguard service has been put back two weeks.

Under Government proposals, 10 of the UK’s 18 round-the-clock coastguard centres will close in an effort to reduce costs and modernise the service.

Five remaining sites including Humber Coastguard – the Bridlington-based facility which coordinates rescues along Whitby’s coastline – would operate during daylight hours only, with the only 24-hour centre planned for the Aberdeen, Dover and the Southampton/Portsmouth area.

Paul Chapman, a Humber Coastguard watch officer and union representative for the Public and Communication Services Union, said: “A House of Commons debate on coastguard cutbacks which was to have taken place on 10 March has been postponed until 24 March.

“The debate will now be a longer, three-hour debate although, it will be held in the smaller Westminster Hall, rather than on the floor of the Commons.”

The campaign to save frontline services has attracted a groundswell of support, with hundreds of residents signing petition forms to safeguard the future of Humber Coastguard Station.

Mr Chapman added: “Our campaign is now receiving support from foreign shipping and fishing unions whose members work on vessels which often operate in UK waters. So far letters of protest have been sent to the minister, Mike Penning, from our colleagues in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden and Malta.”

Mr Penning, the Minister with responsibility for the Maritime Coastguard Agency, announced this week that there will also be an extension of the deadline date for the submission of written responses to the Coastguard consultation.

The extension will run for six weeks until 5 May.

Public and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “What has become very clear in recent weeks is that the case for closing or cutting back all but two of our coastguard stations has not been made and people rightly fear that the plans would put lives at risk and hit coastal economies very hard.

“Like with the utterly misguided plan to sell off our forests, ministers have been blinded by their ideological commitment to cuts and have completely misjudged the mood of the public and the importance and value of local expertise.

“This partial climbdown will be welcome if the Government uses the time to recognise the anger these proposals have stoked and to listen to what we have been saying.” Currently, all 18 stations need to be fully staffed at all times to deal with emergency calls, as all stations are not linked nationally.

However, the Maritime Coastguard Agency says that under the new plans, workloads could be distributed more evenly from busier areas.