Awarding of private search and rescue contracts raises serious concerns over operational effectiveness - Maria Eagle

8 February 2012

Maria EagleMaria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, responding to the awarding of private contracts to provide the UK’s Search and Rescue service, said:

"It is wrong for the Government to be rushing ahead with the privatisation of the UK’s search and rescue service before they have satisfactorily answered the concerns that have been raised. The decision to split the contract will see two different private contractors covering half the UK each and the Government has so far failed to provide the assurances needed about how this will work operationally.

"The decision to award these stop-gap short-term contracts will see these services retendered again next year and then potentially changing hands every ten years. This is an emergency service that must be completely dependable at all times, not regularly in the middle of contract renegotiation. There must also be greater clarity on whether operational decisions involving our military will be placed in the hands of contractors, rather than Ministers.

"We support in principle the decision to transfer responsibility for search and rescue to the Department for Transport, but there are real concerns that Transport Ministers have not sufficiently gripped the seriousness of providing safety around Britain’s coastline. Their reckless decision to cut the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s budget is leading to the closure of nearly half of the UK’s local coastguard centres, the loss of coastguard staff and the axing of the Emergency Towing Vessels that were a clear recommendation of the report that followed the Braer tanker disaster off the coast of Shetland. And these cuts come at the time when the rushed defence review has removed Britain’s long range maritime surveillance capability without a strategy for replacement."