Opinion Former Article

All UK coastguard stations understaffed this summer

All the UK's coastguard stations have staff vacancies this summer as call-outs rise, the Public and Commercial Services union reveals.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency figures show understaffing of almost 20% among rescue co-ordinators at what is the peak period for the emergency service.

Nationwide there are only 251 co-ordinators when there should be 308, according to the most recent staffing data.

This comes as incidents have been on the rise, with the MCA reporting in July a 23% increase on the previous year.

Last month the union also revealed almost a quarter of shifts were staffed below the risk assessed levels between January 2012 and May 2013, rising to 27% during last summer.

In five of the stations – Aberdeen, Belfast, Dover, Falmouth and Thames – shifts were staffed below the risk level more than a third of the time.

Current staffing vacancies include:

- Aberdeen, seven staff short of the full complement of 26
- Dover, should have 24 co-ordinators, but only 15.5 full time equivalents are in post
- Liverpool, only 10 instead of 18.5 FTEs
- Shetland, missing a third of its 18 staff
- Swansea, only 13 instead of 22
- Thames, in Essex, 40% understaffed with eight vacancies out of 20

The union says these vacancies are a grave cause for concern and blames the uncertainty caused by the government pressing ahead with the closure of nine of the UK's 19 coastguard stations and cutting 140 jobs.

Clyde and Forth in Scotland, and Yarmouth in the east of England have already shut ahead of a new national operations centre on the south coast being up and running, contrary to a previous assurance from the MCA that this would not happen.

The union remains opposed to the closures, saying the government has failed to make a convincing case to either the public or parliament that lives will not be put at risk.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It is deeply troubling that at the coastguard's busiest time there are such large holes in staffing.

"Officers have been leaving in droves because of the government's ill-thought through closure plans and ministers and senior officials need to address this urgently."

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