UK Government cuts could compromise maritime safety.

The future of the coastguard service in Scotland was the subject of a Member’s Business Debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (January 27).

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead spoke for the Scottish Government in debate. Speaking ahead of the debate Mr Lochhead said:  “The Scottish Government is extremely concerned by the UK Government’s coastguard modernisation plans, which would result in the closure of three of Scotland’s five Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCCs).

“These unjustifiable proposals would leave Scotland with just 25 per cent of the co-ordination centres in the UK despite accounting for 60 per cent of the sea area. In anyone’s book, that spells danger.  Maritime safety – not financial savings – should be the driving force behind any review and the Scottish Government is closely examining the rational for the closure of any of these services.

“With ever increasing activity on Scotland’s seas – through oil and gas, offshore renewables, fishing and tourism – I have real concerns over the UK Government’s ability to manage the coastguard service. That’s why we are seeking views on how this valuable public service can best be managed in Scotland, including the merits of devolution.

“The UK Government announcement came as a complete surprise to the Scottish Government as there had been no formal discussion on the matter. This is unacceptable and is contrary to the ‘respect agenda’ agreed last year. The First Minister will be writing to the Prime Minister to express his disappointment that matters with clear implications for Scotland are not being handled sensitively.”

The proposals (launched on 16 December 2010) will see the number of coastguard MRCCs in Scotland reduced from five to two. The UK Government announcement was made without any meaningful prior discussion with the devolved administrations. The consultation document does not list any of the devolved administrations as consultees.