Daylight service only as Humber Coastguard faces downgrading

THE Humber Coastguard service will only be operational during daylight hours under plans announced yesterday by the Government to reduce the number of stations that provide round-the- clock cover from 18 to three.

There will still be 18 stations around the country, as well as a small centre on the Thames in London, but under measures outlined by Shipping Minister Mike Penning only three will remain as 24-hour operational centres – Aberdeen, the Southampton/Portsmouth area and Dover.

There will also be five sub-centres open during daylight hours and "fully integrated into the national network around the coast and operating during daylight hours", Mr Penning said.

The Humber station, at Bridlington, currently open 24 hours a day, will only provide cover from 9am to 7pm under the proposals.

It means night-time rescues off the Yorkshire coast may be coordinated by Coastguard officials hundreds of miles away at the three remaining 24-hour command centres.

Mr Penning said: "The Coastguard has a long and distinguished history. But in common with all public services it cannot stand still.

"Our seas are becoming busier, with larger ships and increasing numbers of offshore renewable energy platforms making key areas of our seas more congested.

"The current organisation of the Coastguard – which dates back some 40 years – is not well placed to respond to these challenges."

But Labour condemnation of the proposals was swift.

Labour's Shadow Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "The scale of these cuts raises real concerns about safety around our coastline, with plans for only three of the surviving stations to operate around the clock.

"There are real fears about the ability of such a reduced service to respond to incidents in good time and the loss of local knowledge can only hinder search and rescue operations.

"The Government must now come clean on the estimates they must have made of the increased length of time to reach maritime incidents as a result of these closures; the impact of the loss of localised knowledge on the effectiveness of rescue operations; the number of jobs that will be lost in the service and the wider economic impact on local communities after bases close and when the closures will take place."

Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: "We respect the announcement that the Government is delaying the decision and hope that this will be an opportunity to consider an alternative way forward.

"People will find it hard to understand why, at a time of rising unemployment, the Government wishes to proceed with the 7bn, 25-year PFI that will create jobs in the United States, at a cost to Government seven times greater than the cost of the scrapped Harrier fleet, which flew for the last time yesterday."

He added: "We have argued that, in light of the Government's fiscal approach that has seen decisions to make large scale cuts in the Armed Forces and to other programmes, it would be better to explore with industry and others how we might secure a better value-for-money alternative that maintains this vital capability in the future. We hope the Government will be open about the details of alternative bids they have received.

"We would like to be informed, as appropriate, about the issue behind today's delay and whether there will be a cost to the Ministry of Defence as a result."

Scarborough and Whitby Tory MP Robert Goodwill said: "Unfortunately, we are having to make cuts where we can. There are lots of areas where we are having to make cuts. Every time the Government announce savings the critics say we can't make these cuts but never volunteer alternative areas where we could."

But Mr Penning added: "These changes will strengthen the service by dealing with potential weakness in current structures and adding resilience throughout the system while also maintaining strong regional links and enhancing front-line rescue services through the volunteer Coastguard."