THE head of the Maritime Coastguard Authority has insisted proposals to turn Bridlington’s coastguard control centre into a daytime only operation “is not a done deal”.
Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the MCA, was in town on Monday to speak to coastguards based at the Limekiln Lane centre about their views on the proposals – which would lead to the station changing from a 24-hour centre to daytime only – and see around 20 staff lose their jobs.
Sir Alan arrived in Bridlington after a heated public consultation meeting held at the Spa last month in which MCA officials struggled to convince coastguards, rescue teams and members of the public about their plans to move night-time operations to two large Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs) in Aberdeen and on the South Coast.
“Today was a very constructive meeting. Coastguard officers I spoke to were very measured, and they had the opportunity to air their concerns and ask questions, which they did,” said Sir Alan.
“Although staff were rightly worried about jobs, they were much more concerned with the issue of public safety.
“A lot of people are willing to embrace the changes that are necessary, and I am here to reassure them about our plans.
“The consultation is not yet finished and we are taking everything on board.”
All correspondence received will be passed to an independent external body, who will recommend to Government ministers whether changes to the plans should be implemented, if they should be accepted as they are, or if they should be rejected out of hand.
“I fully respect the concerns of the public and staff. Everyone knows the sea and coastline are dangerous places. But I can re-assure them that I would not be doing this – with my own personal maritime experience – if I expected that the plans would jeopardise safety and cost lives.”
Projections show that over 25 years the proposals will save the MCA £210 million, or roughly £7.5m a year. Some savings from the change to daytime only opening at Bridlington, plus the closure of other stations and redundancies, will be used to increase staff pay.
Unions and staff had accused the MCA of valuing cost-cutting over safety and not engaging with them enough when the consultation document was drawn up.
However, according to Sir Alan, the consultation plans in their current form have been mooted for “around three years” – before the new Government outlined its policy of drastic cost-cutting measures.
The loss of vital local knowledge was another big concern for coastguards and the public at the consultation meeting, but Sir Alan believes that an upgrade in technology, plus proper training, will mean that knowledge is retained and safety will improve.
“I am reassured by the amount of public concern that has been shown, it shows we are still a nation that has the sea running through our veins,” said Sir Alan.
“Under the new plans, all of the 154 communication aerials around the country will now be linked together, which will make the system more resilient and along, with upgrading our technology, we will improve safety.
“Local knowledge from volunteers and coastguards will be retained as the station will still be open during the day, and each area at the new MOCs will have sections where staff are trained to deal with certain areas, such as the Humber coast. Staff in the new centres will be thoroughly tested on this knowledge.”
Paul Chapman, a coastguard watch officer in Bridlington and union representative for the PCSU, believes Sir Alan’s visit was constructive.
“It was quite interesting as we had never met Sir Alan before, and we had the opportunity to put our views across to him,” said Mr Chapman.
“He has not convinced us about the plans, but he has given us some assurance that we are being listened to.
“We still want these plans to be thrown out and started again. Management need to visit each station and asking working coastguards to work out a plan with them.”
Petitions against the proposals are still circulating in Bridlington, and can be signed online at www.gopetition.com/petition/42196.html
“I would urge anybody who has a view on these proposals to sign the petition or to lobby their MP to table early day motion 1256,” said Mr Chapman.
“The plans will go before an independent body after consultation, and a parliamentary select committee who will scrutinise the plans. We are encouraged by the amount of support we have had and we need to keep that going.”