Critics have 'grave concerns' over centralised coastguard plans

By Gareth Morgan
23 Nov 2011 View Comments
A lifeboat from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Critics have attacked government plans to rationalise the UK's coastguard service, warning that there are “grave concerns” over its ability to manage the technology implementation necessary to support a centralised operations centre.

The Department of Transport has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to establish a nationally networked system, which means eight coastguard stations across the UK will close.

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But a spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union told Computing that the proposals could put lives at risk.

“We have grave concerns about the government's plans to do away with years of local knowledge of our coastlines and replace this with technology,” he said.

The Blueprint for Future Coastguard Operations envisages the establishment of a Maritime Operations Centre, which will connect regional coastguards to a central hub, sharing data and communications.

“This will mean that operators anywhere within the network will be able to access any of the radio aerials, communication and management systems they need to carry out operational duties,” the plans state.

The proposal is reminiscent of the thinking behind the ill-fated FireControl project – a contender for the crown of worst ever government IT project – which was intended to centralise fire response operations.

The coastguard plans propose the repurposing of the now redundant FireControl centres, in Fareham, Hampshire – for which the government continues to pay rent.

However, the failure of FireControl and other centrally controlled IT projects should make ministers think their plans through more carefully, said the PCS spokesman.

“The government has a far from glorious track record in implementing IT projects,” he said. “In the case of the coastguards, there is no room for error because people's lives are at stake.”

The PCS has accused the government of ignoring public concerns about the closure of coastguard stations.

The Blueprint plans will ensure the modernisation of coastguard services, argued shipping minister Mike Penning.

“They will make much better use of the talents and skills of our coastguards, and provide more interesting and rewarding work with better pay,” he said.

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