Coastguards 'disillusioned' by changes to service, say MPs
Coastguards have been left "confused and disillusioned" by government changes to their service, a report by a committee of MPs has said.
The Transport Committee said the government "had not yet fully explained" how the new system - which involves some closures - would work.
Too many coastguards were "drifting out" with "a risk that talent and expertise will haemorrhage", they said.
Ministers rejected the criticism and said safety remained the priority.
Under government plans, the Clyde, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea coastguard stations will close.
Forth coastguard station in Scotland has already closed as a consequence of the plans.
Ministers believe there should be one maritime operations centre in the Solent area, in Hampshire, with back-up provided by the Dover station in Kent.
But the report said there was a "worrying lack of information about what coastguards at the MOC [maritime operations centre] will actually do from day to day".
It added: "Low morale and disillusionment with management were evident in all of the evidence we received from coastguards, and not just from the trades unions.
"Our main concern is not that the new system is flawed but that the government has not yet explained properly how it will work. As a result, coastguards are disillusioned and confused."
The MPs were also critical of shipping minister Stephen Hammond who told the committee that people in the coastguard service were happier than the evidence presented to the committee had suggested.
Mr Hammond had not personally been to any of the coastguard centres to verify this, the committee noted.
The report said: "The minister's remark that coastguards were happier than their evidence to us suggested would have had more credibility if he had chosen to visit a coastguard station rather than simply rely on advice from MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] management."
Committee chair and Labour MP Louise Ellman said: "The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it is a great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010.
"Regrettably, the previous shipping minister [Mike Penning] was ambiguous about the timing of coastguard closures and this has dented staff morale across the service."
In response to the report shipping minister Stephen Hammond said: "Safety remains our top priority. Our reforms to modernise the Coastguard will deliver a more resilient, and effective rescue system, with faster response times, benefiting all parts of the UK.
"The issues raised in the report have been addressed throughout the two consultations and in our evidence to the Select Committee. We have been frank and open in our responses on these and will continue to be so.
"We also have some concerns that the committee has given too much weight to anecdotal evidence and too little to the evidential testimony of the MCA and the DfT.
"We would disagree that we have been complacent and contradictory. And the previous Minister for Shipping and the MCA were and have always been clear in their ambitions and statements."