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Coastguards face staff morale crisis
SERIOUS concerns about staffing and morale were raised at a meeting on the future of the coastguard.
The House of Commons debate saw chairman of the Transport Select Committee Louise Ellman grill Transport minister Stephen Hammond about the closures of coastguard stations including Portland.
The Maritime Rescue and Co-ordination Centre on Weymouth habourside is due to close its doors for the final time in September 2014.
Mrs Ellman paid tribute to the staff and volunteers in the coastguard.
She said she was concerned about morale and staffing as changes were made to the service.
Speaking in Westminster Hall she said: “The coastguard reform programme will have been stretched over five years when it finally comes to an end in 2015.
“That is five years of uncertainty and worry for coastguards about their jobs, pay, and terms and conditions.
“My concern is that by the time the new system is operational, many experienced coastguards will have left, weakening an essential emergency service.
Mr Hammond praised the coastguards on their work.
He said he wanted to reassure members of the House that ‘the Government will do nothing to endanger safety and they are not complacent’.
He said that proposals were to modernise the coastguard and would not affect front-line services like the RNLI or the coastguard helicopters to do their jobs.
He said: “I have reiterated this before, but there is no impact on safety or on those services.”
He added: “The impact will be that the co-ordination of the affected services will improve. The services will be more resilient and safety will increase.”
There would be a national database where place names and local knowledge could be stored the minister said.
Pay and conditions would be better, Mr Hammond said, and added that recruitment for the new roles within the coastguard would start in November but that he hoped many experienced coastguards would now opt to stay. Talking about the timeline for change, Mr Hammond said: “Portland will close in September 2014 after the busy summer season, when the new National Maritime Operations Centre will be staffed and operational.”
This would be followed by closures in Brixham, Liverpool, Swansea and Walton-on-the-Naze.
Mr Hammond said he hoped he had been able to reassure members about the changes. He said: “I think that a more cost-effective, safer arrangement for UK coastal co-ordination has been secured.”
Mrs Ellman closed the debate by thanking Mr Hammond for his remarks but added: “His answers bring clarity to some important issues. He began by saying that safety would not be affected but that, indeed, remains the challenge.”
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