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Emergency services / Local support for RNLI after criticism of overseas work

Aith lifeboat
Aith lifeboat. Photo: Shetland News

THE RNLI has received strong backing locally following criticism from two Conservative MPs of the work it carries out overseas.

MPs Nigel Evans and Andrew Bridgen questioned in the Daily Mail and the Times why the lifeboat charity was spending on projects abroad while at the same time cutting jobs in the UK.

This led to calls from some to stop donating to the charity, although the newspaper reports have in fact encouraged many to pledge cash.

The RNLI said it spends less than two per cent of its expenditure on work abroad, which is targeted at drowning prevention activity in countries such as Bangladesh.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said it was “entirely appropriate” for the RNLI to offer its knowledge to other countries.

“Anyone in an island or coastal community knows how important the work of the RNLI is,” he said.

“I served on the RNLI national council for three years and saw for myself how professional and innovative their work is. Those who volunteer in the Northern Isles benefit from the RNLI’s expertise and it is entirely appropriate that the RNLI should share that expertise with other countries.

“Many people from the Northern Isles work in the merchant navy and may themselves one day have cause to be grateful for that cooperation.”

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson said Shetland has always donated generously to the RNLI – which has busy stations in Lerwick and Aith – and will continue to do so.

“Living in an island community, the RNLI is an essential part of all of our lives one way or another,” he said.

“The RNLI is a charity, but it is also an essential part of our lives, an emergency service we could not do without.

“I hope the RNLI continue to save lives, all over the world, wherever lives need saved. We are very lucky to have such dedicated servicemen and servicewomen here in Shetland and our outward thinking communities will continue to donate to this very worthwhile cause as generously as we always have.”

Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jamie Halcro Johnston, meanwhile, proposed a motion in the Scottish Parliament recognising the work of the RNLI.

“The RNLI is a leader in making life safer for all those who enjoy our coasts,” he said.

“And so surely it is both appropriate and welcome that it seeks to make its expertise and experience available to those trying to save lives in other countries, and supports those efforts where they can?

“Much of the work the RNLI is doing overseas appears to be targeted at young people and children – helping making the water safer for them – and that is something I would fully support.”

A spokesperson for the RNLI said: “We don’t operate RNLI lifeboat or lifeguard services overseas – instead, we support the work of partners to build local capability.

“Our international drowning prevention work currently includes educating children in water safety and survival swimming; training personnel in lifeguarding, search and rescue and lifesaving leadership skills, and international advocacy to champion the drowning prevention cause at a global level.”