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Vacancy rates in coastguard service run at 'worrying' 14 per cent

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 24, 2012

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Ministers have been accused of failing "to win hearts and minds" over controversial coastguard cutbacks which will see the Brixham station close.

It came as bosses of the maritime rescue service admitted that staff had faced great uncertainty which "eats away at people's will".

And they conceded this had contributed to more than one in ten posts currently going unfilled – a vacancy rate of 14%.

At a parliamentary hearing into the reorganisation of the service the government was also accused of failing to honour an assurance the revamped coastguard set-up would be thoroughly tested before any stations shut.

It was pointed out a number of centres would shut before a new central Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) at Fareham in Hampshire went fully operational in April, 2014, including Brixham.

It was towards the end of last year that the then Shipping Minister Mike Penning confirmed it was one of seven stations to be slashed in a coastguard cull. It is due to close in 2013-14.

Mr Penning insisted at the time the changes would result in a "modernised, nationally networked, fully resilient" service.

Ministers ditched their original proposals which envisaged cutting the centres from 19 to nine, with three remaining open 24 hours a day – including Falmouth.

But the announcement still meant the loss of just under half of all the UK's coastguard stations including Brixham. The prime waterfront site is to be sold-off when it closes.

Appearing before the Commons Transport Select committee, Shipping Minister Stephen Hammond insisted: "Safety is still very much this government's top priority."

He admitted: "Any organisational change is always unsettling." But he went on: "There's been extensive consultation throughout the whole period."

The Minister was pressed by Tory member Kwasi Kwarteng over the Government's failure to communicate what it was trying to achieve.

He argued it had "not won people over, not won hearts and minds".

Mr Hammond insisted: "There's an on-going process to engage people."

Meanwhile Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey, the Chief Executive of Maritime and Coastguard Agency, told MPs he was "not comfortable" with the 13.8% vacancy rate and steps were being taken to recruit staff.

He said: "I would be the first to agree that morale could be better in this service. Against this background people are going to be unsettled and disaffected, not least if their station is going to close and they have to move."

Sir Alan said: "Uncertainty eats away at people's will to work for you." But he said progress was being made.

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