Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Coastguard has to "prove" closures case - PM

That looked like an easy hit for Ed Miliband on the Forestry sell-off at Prime Minister's Questions, getting Cameron to signal a retreat on the policy with a one word answer.

But Cameron is deft on his feet, and his frank admission that he was unhappy with the way the consultation on the future of the Forestry Commission was proceeding knocked the balance of the exchange in his favour.

But the result is good one for the opposition - bye bye forestry sale, and bye bye Caroline Spelman possibly.

In England the Forestry Commission sell-off has ignited the kind of anger coastal communities are feeling over the proposed Coastguard station closures.

In all of Britain's remote coastal constituencies - Holyhead, Angelsea, Bangor, Storoway, Shetland - people are up in arms about plan to drastically reduce the number of stations from 18 to eight. Only three – in Aberdeen, Southampton/Portsmouth and Dover – will be open 24 hours a day. Stornoway and Shetland are expected to fight it out to decide which should be open in daylight hours only.

Ministers are beginning to get the message from all across Britain that the proposals are a step too far.

I think I detected the beginnings of another U-turn when Cameron answered a question from a Northern Ireland MP, the DUP's Jim Shannon I think, on the coastguards later in Prime Minister's Questions.

"I'm very aware of this issue," said the Prime Minister. "The point is that the coastguard has got to prove in this consultation that what it wants to do is to co-ordinate the number of offices that are receiving calls in order to put more money and resources into the frontline services, the number of boats and rescuers and helpers there are. That is the aim of the policy but I fully accept they have to prove that to people in order to go ahead with the proposals they are making."

After the Forestry turn around that sounded like a very long way of the Prime Minister saying he wants some distance between himself and the consultation over the station closures currently underway. It's a big signal that the case for retaining a lot more of the stations could be won.

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