BRIDLINGTON MP Greg Knight has answered critics who were angered by a comment which said proposed cuts to the coastguard service mainly affected people who answered the phone with no cutbacks to the front line.
After reading letters in last week’s paper claiming that was not the case, Mr Knight said in a statement received this week he had been reporting the words of the government minister.
The comment, made to the Free Press, annoyed present and former coastguard staff who say the downgrading of Bridlington’s coastguard control centre from a 24-hour station to daytime operation only will mean 20 lost jobs and put lives at risk.
Humber Coastguard Watch Officer and branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union Paul Chapman said: “Coastguards in the operations room do take emergency calls and then take further action themselves,” said Mr Chapman. “That includes coordinating search and rescue operations which could involve lifeboats, helicopters, coastguard teams, even lifeguards anywhere between Berwick upon Tweed and the mouth of the Humber.”
He said he believed Mr Knight had been “misled” by the government minister involved and has challenged him to come and see for himself.
The Free Press last week published letters from former coastguards and other concerned people condemning Mr Knight’s words.
In a statement this week, Mr Knight said the comments he made to the Free Press were a report of the minister’s response.
“Your correspondents, who work or have worked in the coastguard service, say they do not agree with the comments the minister has made and I have noted this.
“Where the service relates to public safety or rescue, we must be sure that lives will not be put at risk by implementing a new system.
“That is why I took the unusual step of speaking to the minister ahead of any final decision being made and I reported ‘his’ response to the Bridlington Free Press.
“They should be aware, however, that the consultation runs until 24th March 2011. After that, all responses received will be reviewed and analysed before the government makes a final decision.”
Mr Knight said there was currently no timetable for the decision, which depended on the volume of response received.
“I support this approach as it is far more important to make the right decision than a quick one.
“The Bridlington Free Press letters page is an excellent platform to air local views and long may this continue.
“However, on this topic, those who have concerns should also ensure that they take part in the official consultation process. It is by doing so that they can affect the final decision, which has yet to be made.
“Anyone with concerns about the proposed changes should go to www.mcga.gov.uk and then visit the ‘consultations’ section.
“If you do not have access to the internet and would like a paper copy of the consultation document, you can call the consultation message service on 02380 839 587.”
Meanwhile, the public and others have responded to a peition against government plans.
Petitions are circulating in Bridlington thanks to members of our Coastguard Search and Rescue volunteer team. People can also support us on an online petition at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42196.html.
Mr Chapman said: “We have a facebook page and if anyone wants a petition to put in their shop or office they can be emailed to them by contacting Paul.Chapman@mcga.gov.uk.”
Copies of the petition are also available to sign or take away from The Free Press office at 3 Prospect Street, Bridlington.
They will be sent to Maritime Coastguard Agency management by the PCS union.
The government’s modernisation plans mean Bridlington will be one of six ‘sub-centres’ on daytime only operation. Two 24-hour national networked centres will stay in Aberdeen and Southampton.
Coastguards point out that during last year, more than 700 incidents took place outside daytime hours and believe reliance on technology instead of people is a waste of valuable local knowledge.
The Government claims much of the computer equipment currently used by the coastguard is outdated and that the whole service is in need of modernisation.