Consultation Process

Q1. How do I contribute to the consultation?

A1. The consultation opened on 16 December 2010 and will last for 20 weeks (closing on 5 May 2011) and will be subject to the Code of Practice on Consultation. A consultation document has been published which outlines the proposals and provides a response form for you to fill in.

 We will also be organising local meetings to discuss these proposals, answer questions and hear your views. Local itineraries can be found by contacting your local MCA Regional Office. All responses will be acknowledged but it will not be possible to make individual responses. At the end of the consultation exercise a collective response to responses will be published with the next steps.

Q2. When will the final decision be made?

A2. The consultation period will close on 5 May 2011, after this the responses received will be analysed and reviewed and a final proposal will be put to Ministers. Once this process is complete we will publish the final proposals. At present there is no firm timetable, because the time required for analysis will depend on the volume of comments received.

Impact upon Service

Q3. The existing arrangements serve us well, why change?

A3. We are committed to maintaining the capability of HM Coastguard as an International model of Maritime Search and Rescue coordination. The current organisation of MRCCs was conceived in the age of radio which has been superseded by the technological advances of AIS, Vessel Traffic Management and Digital Selective Calling. The new structure will seize the opportunity provided by technology, maximise the knowledge and skills of Coastguards and implement modern, flexible working practices. The full rationale for change is outlined in the consultation document.

Q4. Will fewer Coastguard locations increase emergency response times?

A4. A distinction needs to be drawn between Coastguards, who are civil servants employed to maintain watches in Rescue Coordination Centres and the volunteer Coastguard Rescue Service (CRS). The CRS is a national voluntary organisation with about 3,500 volunteers, organised into over 350 teams around the UK coastline. These proposals do not alter the number of these volunteers, teams or their locations. The teams are equipped and trained to effect coastal rescues in the areas where they are based – typically cliff rescue using rope equipment but also mud rescue and inland searching. As part of its plan to modernise the Coastguard the MCA also intend to bolster its support and training arrangements for the volunteer organisation. It should also be noted that these proposals do not affect the response times of lifeboats that are provided independently of HM Coastguard by the RNLI, other independent organisations or rescue helicopters. These organisations are not affected by this restructuring.

Q5. How can you be sure you can still manage rescues on busy summer weekends with fewer MRCCs?

A5. We believe the new structure will give us the flexibility to deploy the right number of Coastguards where we need them. Our analysis has shown that even on a busy summer weekend, whilst a number of MRCCs have incidents to deal with, others are quiet. Currently a very busy station will have to deal with this peak load within the constraints of their staffing level on that day. Currently there is very limited facility to delegate away activity of a non SAR nature or to reinforce the number of officers available. The proposed new national network will allow the delegation of non SAR work and for additional staff to be utilised from other stations.

Q6. How will you manage major incidents with fewer front line staff?

A6. Although nationally it is true there will be fewer coordination staff overall, the new structure means that we will be able to use more Coastguard resources on any major incident, irrespective of where it occurs.

Q7. How is in effect what is a large ‘call centre’ going to offer seafarers a better service?

A7. We are not proposing a ‘call centre’, it is no more a ‘call centre’ than is the current arrangements for air traffic control in the UK. A single national network will provide a more robust and resilient service to seafarers. Rather than being geographically restricted in the incidents they deal with officers within the network will be able to gain greater and more diverse exposure to the range of incidents locally and therefore have more opportunity to utilise and develop their professional skills.

Q8. Will fewer Coastguard Stations mean that there will be less chance of spotting a distress signal?

A8. It is many years since watchkeeping Coastguards have spent any time maintaining a visual watch for signs of vessels in distress. For over 30 years their work has been to maintain a radio watch for distress signal or to respond to 999 calls from members of the public. The work is increasingly involved with maritime traffic monitoring and proactive ‘hazard spotting’ using technology. Some volunteer organisations (NCI, SSG) do maintain a visual watch, we will continue to work closely with them.

Q9. Will fewer Coastguards reduce our national response capability?

A9. The existing organisation of 18 Rescue Coordination Centres, each having a stretch of UK coastline, is inefficient. Watchkeeping staff can go for days or sometimes even weeks without practising their SAR coordination skills. By reorganising into a new national network having fewer but larger centres, the Coastguard will be able to maintain more effective surveillance of the entire UK coastline and coordinate the rescue effort by operational SAR partners with more practised skill. The present pairing arrangements between neighbouring Rescue Coordination Centres only allows for partial resilience and cover between those stations; a national network will enable resilience and flexible cover across the whole UK.

Q10. What account has been taken on the effect of any closure of stations?

A10. These proposals will be subject to the appropriate consultation process which will listen to the views of employees, all those with an interest in the shipping industry, local communities, and members of the public. The consultation document includes a draft equality impact assessment(s).

Q11. How can you justify cutting front line jobs?

A11. HM Coastguard will continue to provide a front line service which fulfils the UK’s international obligations for the provision of a national search and rescue capability. These proposals will reduce the number of coordination staff, but increase resources invested in the support of the Coastguard Rescue Service. We will ensure that there is no reduction in the service we currently provide to the mariner and coastal user, in fact it our belief that these proposals will improve the service we deliver.

Q12. How will you try and maintain links between far distant MOCs and CROs? Surely reducing the amount of Stations you have reduces the ability of CROs to have any sort of meaningful relationship with Watch Officers?

A12. These proposals provide for the enhancement of the management structure of the Coastguard Rescue Service (CRS). This additional manpower will enable the CRS to co-ordinate land based dry rescue on scene and provide the interface with the MOCs and sub-centres.

Q13. In Scotland there are many different locations all called Tarbet. How will an operator many miles away understand to which ‘Tarbet’ he/she should send resources? Isn’t that just going to take up time and put lives at risk?

A13. This is a challenge we currently face in our existing organisation where we already have MRCCs covering many hundreds of miles of coastline. An important part of these proposals is the ongoing improvement of our current comprehensive training programme for existing and new staff ensuring they will have the skills required for the new concept of operations. Part of this will involve training on questioning techniques and the use of comprehensive databases which will enable such scenarios to be successfully encountered.

Q14 How will the relationship between the SMs and the MOCs work? If ‘brigaded’ SM led teams undertake ‘dry’ work and MOCS ‘wet’, will there be regular updates to ensure SMs are fully conversant in updated MOC technology to assist where necessary?

A14. The relationship will be similar to that which currently exists between the Coastguards and other land-based services (RNLI Lifeguards, Fire Service etc.) or that of Police and mountain or lowland rescue. The tasking will emanate from the MOC and the coordination of the on-land task will be carried out by the CRS including the call for, and management of required resources. SMs will not be expected to undertake duties in the MOC and will not be expected to use, or be trained in MOC technology.

Q15. Where will I hand in Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEPs) when my local MRCC closes?

A15. Should following consultation these proposals be implemented then alternative arrangements will be made for those stations that close.

Q16.  What is the effect of the new SAR-H provision on these proposals?

A16. The SAR Harmonisation project is not part of these proposals or consultation. These proposals cover how HM Coastguard delivers its service and will not effect the day to day interface with Search and Rescue Helicopters.

The Proposal for a National Network

Q17. How can a single national network be more robust than having 18 geographically dispersed MRCCs?

A17. At present the pairing arrangements between neighbouring MRCCs only allow for partial resilience and cover between those stations that are paired together. The proposed single national structure will enable resilience and flexible cover across the whole UKSRR supporting the national network of sites and radio coverage.

Q18. What criteria were used when deciding which station should go and which should remain?

A18. The selection of stations to remain open has been based principally on operational grounds ensuring HM Coastguard and the broader MCA have a strategic geographic presence around the UK. We have also sought to provide best value for money for the UK taxpayer.

Q19. Why are you pulling employment opportunities out from remote locations?

A19. The selection of stations to remain open has been undertaken to identify the most suitable locations to provide the best service to the seafarer, coastal communities and provide value for money. This is outlined in the consultation document. It is not our intention to remove employment opportunities; our intention is to ensure that HM Coastguard is as resilient, effective and efficient as possible.

Q20. How will the vital local geographic knowledge of the coast and its communities be retained in the new structure?

A20. It is the aim of these proposals that local geographical knowledge will be retained and improved principally in the new management structure of the Coastguard Rescue Team structure. The Coastguard Rescue Teams will continue to be our dynamic link to local coastal communities. Our existing MRCC network includes centres managing many hundreds of miles of coastline which has already resulted in increasing use of technology such as Global mapping and Information services as well as satellite imagery. In the new coordination operation, we will maximise and standardise such innovation as well as providing a 24/7 provision from the within coastal communities and appropriate training. We will also maintain our current strong working relationships with partner SAR organisations such as the RNLI, in which considerable local knowledge and expertise reside.

Q21. The Coalition Government talks of the big society and localism, so why is HMCG centralising?

A21. We are centralising to provide a more efficient and robust SAR Co-ordination service. We are promoting localism as our volunteer Coastguard Rescue Service draws on the good will and talent of community members. We are proposing an improvement to the support and co-ordination of these Coastguard Rescue Teams. Civilian maritime SAR is an international business that does not adhere to local boundaries; we are shaping a service that meets those needs on a national level as well as supporting the needs of the local communities, regions and devolved administrations of the UK.

Q22. What new responsibilities will HM Coastguard Officers have?

A22. No final decisions on new job descriptions and role profiles have been made. HM Coastguard is proposing new roles with new job descriptions and role profiles. These are outlined in the consultation document. These proposals are subject to consultation and we will listen to all views on the merit of these proposals.

Our Relationships with our Partners

Q23. What discussions have been had with search and rescue partners/stakeholders?

A23. Discussions so far have been informal and have sought to understand the views and concerns of other maritime service providers and partners, as well as employee Trade Union representatives. All partners and stakeholders are invited to respond formally to this consultation.

Q24. What effects will these plans have on search and rescue partners such as the RNLI or MoD?

A24. These proposals reorganise how HM Coastguard delivers its service but do not affect the day to day operational interface with partners such as the RNLI.

Q25. What will be the effect on local and regional resilience fora (LRFs and RRFs) of the new enhanced role (and numbers) of Sector Managers around the coast.

A25 There will be no impact on local and regional resilience fora as a result of these changes. With a complement of 105 officers in total, these fora are afforded a better service capability than we have at present.