Scottish government considers devolved coastguard

Coastguard helicopter The Scottish government said the current proposals were "dangerous"

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The Scottish government is seeking views on whether coastguard services should be devolved to Holyrood.

The move follows anger about a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) plan to reduce the number of centres in the UK.

If agreed, the proposals would see Scotland with one main control centre at Aberdeen and another daytime-only centre at either Shetland or Stornoway.

Scotland's Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has written to 40 organisations about the issue.

They include port boards, ferry companies, coastal councils, fishing groups and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

'Unjustifiable measures'

They were asked by Mr Lochhead how coastguard services should be managed and whether the current set-up was adequate for Scotland's needs.

The SNP administration, which said it was not consulted before the announcement, intends to use the responses in its submission to the MCA.

Mr Lochhead said he was also looking for feedback on how many MCA co-ordination centres there should be and whether there was a strong case to devolve Scotland's coastguard functions from Westminster to Holyrood.

He said: "The UK review of the coastguard services recommends maintaining just one 24-hour centre in Scotland - at Aberdeen - and keeping one other, either in Stornoway or Shetland, in daylight hours only.

Start Quote

The locally-based volunteer rescue teams are unaffected by our proposals, indeed we are actually improving the support they receive through better management and training”

End Quote Spokesman Department for Transport

"If these unjustifiable measures are implemented, maritime safety in Scotland will surely be compromised.

"Scotland holds 60% of the UK's coastline but these proposals would leave us with just a quarter of the co-ordination centres."

He described the UK coalition government proposals as "dangerous" and said they were inappropriate when the increase in activity in Scotland's seas was considered.

He added: "That's why I'm keen to hear views from those who are most affected by the proposals on how this valuable public service can best be managed in Scotland, including the merits of devolution."

Other political parties have argued against the idea of devolving coastguard services to Scotland.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott said it was "not the time for a constitutional debate".

"We need all parties to stand behind Scotland's coastguard stations and ensure the UK government retain this vital service," he added.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray MSP said: "The only thing more ill-thought out than the Tory plan to close coastguard stations is the SNP plan to break up the whole coastguard service."

He added: "Changes should only be driven by the need to save lives, not by the Tory desire to cut or the SNP's obsession with breaking up the coastguard."

'Increasing resilience'

In response to the SNP's comments, a spokesman for the UK's Department for Transport said: "Our proposals - which are subject to full public consultation - are in response to a long-overdue need to modernise the coastguard, providing a fully-integrated national network of control centres, actually increasing resilience.

"In turn, this will enable us to provide staff with greater responsibility, a recognised career structure and salaries to match.

"The locally-based volunteer rescue teams are unaffected by our proposals, indeed we are actually improving the support they receive through better management and training."

The UK government's proposals would see the current network of 18 Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC) across the UK reduced to eight.

Greenock and Forth are likely to close, while consultation will consider whether Shetland or Stornoway remained, the government said.

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