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Coastguard staff being kept in the dark

SHETLAND coastguard staff said they had to resort to making requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to find out more about restructuring proposals that could lead to the loss of their jobs.
In December the UK government published plans to streamline the national coastguard service and closing more than half of the existing 19 stations.
For the Lerwick and Stornoway stations a 14 week consultation process was announced to decide which of the two stations should be closed. The remaining station will convert to a daytime service only, the government say.
Under the proposals Scotland will be served by only one full time coastguard station, in Aberdeen.
On Thursday staff fighting for their jobs at the Lerwick coastguard coordination centre said they found themselves in the “ridiculous” situation where their own management at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) told them “very little or nothing”.
A Save Shetland Coastguard spokesperson said: “It really is incredible that the MCA management are not telling their own staff how the plans in the consultation document were arrived at.
“Surely if you are making the sort of sweeping assertions that this document makes, the staff and indeed the wider public are entitled to know on what basis you make these assertions?”
From day one, staff at the coastguard station had claimed the proposals to close the country’s most northerly coastguard station were deeply flawed and neither considered the area’s remoteness and the importance of local knowledge, nor the type of shipping and industry working in the seas to the north of Scotland.
The request under FOI legislation follows a staff meeting with MCA director Richard Parkes, last week, which failed to answer most questions.
The meeting was also attended by isles MP Alistair Carmichael and local MSP Tavish Scott.
But MCA spokesman Mark Clark called on staff at all coastguard stations to contribute constructively to the consultation process.
He said it was widely recognised that the service needed to change in order to face up to the very different challenges of the future.
“It has been acknowledged for a long time that the coastguard has got too many stations and that in terms of work patterns in the form of incidents the system isn’t working. The manner in which we have got the coastguard structured at the moment is about 40 years old.”
As part of that process three stations had been closed at the end of the ‘90s, at Oban, Pentland and Tyne, he said.
“These proposals have not been drawn up on the back of an envelope, they have been discussed already for a number of years in a bid to make HM Coastguard fit for the 21st century.”
He said operation rooms were staffed round the clock, often leaving staff doing very little and not developing their skills.
“We are not diminishing the role of the coastguard. Why not taking this consultation as an opportunity to move forward and contribute to a coastguard that will stand the test of time for the next 50 years.”
Mr Clark added that the MCA was in the process of organising public meetings in all areas affected by the proposals, and that the MCA’s chief executive Alan Massie was due to visit the Lerwick station in the near future.
One of those public meetings will be held in Lerwick, although a time and venue has not been agreed.