Plans to modernise the coastguard have been confirmed by Shipping Minister Mike Penning. The proposals, which were announced for consultation in July, will make the coastguard better coordinated, more resilient to the challenges of the future and will increase the number of regular coastguard officers working in coastal communities, who provide leadership and support to the volunteers of the Coastguard Rescue Service.
The plans - which will modernise how rescues are coordinated and do not affect the services which go out to perform rescues - will create a nationally networked system of coastguard coordination centres comprising:
- one Maritime Operations Centre, to be established in Fareham, Hants, with a back-up facility at the existing Dover coordination centre, both operating on a 24 hour basis
- eight Coastguard Centres, all operated on a 24 hour basis, located at Falmouth, Milford Haven, Holyhead, Belfast, Stornoway, Shetland, Aberdeen and Humber. The station at London is also retained.
Mike Penning said:
After many years of uncertainty, these reforms provide a clear plan for the future of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. They will deliver a resilient and fully networked national rescue coordination service. They will make much better use of the talents and skills of our Coastguards and will provide more interesting and rewarding work with better pay.
The UK coastguard has a great heritage. This is a blueprint for a 21st century Coastguard that commands even greater respect and it will provide an organisation of which coastguards themselves and all of us can be justly proud.
Under the plans the coastguard co-ordination centres at Forth, Clyde, Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Thames, Swansea, Brixham and Portland will close progressively by 31 March 2015. The centre at Solent will be replaced by the new maritime operations centre.
While a rescue coordination function will no longer be required in these locations, new coastal operational hubs - providing better leadership, support and training for the volunteers of the Coastguard Rescue Service - will be established at the existing sites at Liverpool, Swansea and Thames, as well as in the Clyde area, and through the further development of the MCA’s site at the former HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent.
The new maritime operations centre will be housed in a purpose built emergency services centre at the vacant Fire Control Centre building at Fareham. The building’s existing facilities mean that the Maritime Operations Centre can be established quickly.
How coastguard rescues are co-ordinated has changed little over the past 40 years. Currently, operations are coordinated from 19 dispersed centres with no network of national integration. This means that there is very limited resilience in the event of high demand or technical problems and it is impossible to spread the workload evenly across the system, leaving staff in one centre struggling to cope with call volumes while workloads in another may be low. The plans confirmed today will create a resilient and nationally networked system of Coastguard coordination centres as well as giving Coastguards more opportunity to develop and apply their skills, offering increased responsibility, a recognised career path and the remuneration to reflect this.
The blueprint for the future of HM Coastguard is available on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency website
The government first launched a consultation on Coastguard modernisation in December 2010. The Government then published updated proposals for consultation in July 2011. The first set of proposals had proposed establishing two Maritime Operations Centres (in the Southampton/Portsmouth area and Aberdeen) and 5 sub-centres, operating in daylight hours only, as well as retaining the 24 hour centre at Dover which oversees English Channel activity.
There were a total of over 1,800 responses to the consultation launched in December 2011. These reflected a general acceptance that change and modernisation is necessary, but also expressed concerns over a potential loss of local knowledge and a perceived weakening of operational relationships. The second consultation, on the revised proposals launched in July 2011, has attracted 800 responses.
Compared to the consultation launched in December 2010 the plans confirmed today keep more centres open, all operating for 24 hours, and retain more coastguard jobs. At least one coastguard centre in each of the existing operational ‘pairs’ - where work and local intelligence is already regularly shared - will be retained.
That second consultation exercise invited views on four specific issues: the case for a single Maritime Operations Centre; keeping both the centres at Stornoway and on Shetland; whether there were factors to support the retention of Liverpool rather than its paired centre at Holyhead; and whether there were factors to support the retention of Swansea rather than its paired centre at Milford Haven.