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Clyde Coastguard Station

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 28 February 2013

Clyde maritime rescue co-ordination centre was closed on 18 December 2012. The sea and coastal areas that were formerly the responsibility of Clyde are now being covered by the centres at Stornoway and Belfast. There has been no change to front-line services. The professional coastguard officers at those centres are maintaining the provision of a search and rescue co-ordination service to the highest standards, and those are the standards that the public rightly demand and expect.

The Minister will be aware that the staffing levels at Clyde fell below risk-assessed levels on a number of occasions in the lead-up to the closure. We found out this week that the staffing levels at Belfast, which has taken over its work, fell below risk-assessed levels on 28 days and 55 nights in December and January. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other interested MPs, given the genuine concerns about the safety of the west coast of Scotland, huge cuts to staffing and the loss of local knowledge?

First, let me say that there has been no loss of local knowledge. The pairing arrangements that were put in place show that, as does the incident at Loch Fyne. There were 40 occasions in December and 43 in January when the Belfast staffing numbers were below the risk assessment level, but the hon. Lady will know that that was obviously mitigated by the ability of the Stornoway station to take that up. I am happy to meet her to discuss those matters.

As my hon. Friend knows, the main concern when the Clyde coastguard station was closed was to ensure that local knowledge was transferred to staff at Belfast and Stornoway. What monitoring has been carried out to ensure that that knowledge was transferred?

Since the closure at Clyde, local geographical knowledge has been retained and improved, principally in the new management structure of the volunteer coastguard rescue service. Strong relationships and the working arrangements prior to the closure ensured that knowledge was transferred. Of course my hon. Friend will be aware of the new, improved mapping technology that is being put in place at the new co-ordination centres.

A number of hon. Members have raised the issue of Clyde, and I share the concerns about having the appropriate number of staff available, staff morale in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the application of local knowledge to saving lives under the new structure. When the Minister looks at the specific situation of Clyde, will he also look at any possible ramifications for other coastguard closures?

I give the assurance, as I gave the hon. Lady’s Select Committee, that we will ensure that local knowledge is transferred post-closure through the pairing arrangements that are in place prior to a closure. I intend to ensure that if there are any lessons to be learned, we learn them so that that local knowledge is passed on.