Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Coastguard closures - "an element of gamble" says Kennedy

Been away for a week, though it seems like more. Amazing weather on Skye and Raasay and now back in harness in the Commons.

Transport Minister Mike Penning, a man we like more and more on the west coast, has just been on his feet in the Commons making a formal annoucement on the closure of coastguard stations around the UK.

As expected, Stornoway and Shetland coastguard have been retained as 24/7 operation centres after a furiously well organised campaign which, the Minister acknowledged, made an "overwhelming" case.

Alistair Carmichael, the Shetland MP, looked tremendously relaxed as the announcement was made - as well he might. There have to be some advantages to being deputy chief whip in the government. Carmichael, I'm told, burst a blood vessel when the original proposal to close Shetland was made and managed to get his station into a face-off for 24 hour coverage with Stornoway.

It took some amount of politicing to get both Stornoway and Shetland retained - though the maritime case is abundantly clear to anyone who looks at a nautical chart.

The Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea stations will all close, to be replaced by a new national network that must be fully tested.

The PCS union has already accused the government of ignoring the people who know best and Charles Kennedy MP, while quick to praise the retention of west coast coverage, issued what could be a prophetic warning.

Kennedy said: "there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this".

“Whilst welcoming the sensible concessions that have been made, not least with regard to the west coast, the Minches, the northern waters, because the earlier suggestions just flew in the face of all common sense whatsoever.

“Would the minister nonetheless accept that there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this? And given the warnings from the seafarers and the emergency services who have been doing this job successfully for generations, about what may occur, would he at least confirm today that if circumstances merited he would reopen this entire recasting and go back to the drawing board?"

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