When I found out last week via the media that Swansea Coastguard Station was to close, at first I couldn’t believe it. This was mainly due to the fact that Swansea was never even earmarked for closure. When I attended the public meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Swansea before the last National Assembly election (I was the only national politician from the area to attend) the discussion was around downgrading Swansea to a day service, with the evening emergency calls being covered from Southampton. People were not very pleased with this proposition, but it was far more palatable than full closure.
Of course I am pleased that Milford and Holyhead have been saved from closure, and I commend local activists for their strong campaign in opposing the closures from the outset. But I am deeply concerned about the announcement regarding Swansea, given that it was never on the table in the consultation process and consequently campaigners did not respond as such.
It seems to have been announced for closure by the UK Government because Swansea already has a large proportion of public sector jobs. This reasoning seems preposterous to me. You cannot, in my view, make a decision on this basis. Are Coastguard staff seriously to be exepcted to get a job at the DVLA (which, incidentally is also being targeted in terms of job cuts)?
I have written to the UK Government asking why they have decided to close Swansea now. What new information has come to light? What safety considerations have they made? What does their risk assessment show?
A new consultation process has been established to hear people’s concerns about the announcement to close Swansea. What is the point of this consultation when the UK Government has made clear the intention to close it? One cynical constituent said to me that he would put a bet on that they would eventually announce that it would be maintained as a day service after this latest campaign ends, so that we could feel that we had ‘won’ some element of the campaign. This would be a very cynical and underhand move, but I wouldn’t put anything past them at this stage!
Of course I will be helping to campaign against this closure – I will be helping staff at the Station, the Trade Union, and local people. I must, however, say that I am a little suspicious of this ‘cross party’ campaign that the local Tories are pushing for at the moment. The only reason they want this is because they know that their votes will suffer if they do not have a cross party campaign. We all know that it is the Tories and the Lib dems who are delivering this on a UK level. They should be taking this up with their London leaders as we speak, not grandstanding locally. If this was Plaid’s action plan in power, we would know it – people would be saying ”you must take responsibility for this”. Why should it be different for other parties? The reality probably is that they don’t have much clout with Mike Penning and Philip Hammond, the ministers with responsibility for these decisions and are seeking a way of being in the limelight.
If I don’t hear any of them take a vague amount of responsibility for their own parties’ decisions at the public meeting at Oystermouth School on Friday night, I will certainly make it known that I disapprove. After all, these changes are only taking place because the UK Government are cutting budgets and investment. But should this be done, when lives could be put at risk as a result?
And so they should explain to the public the rationale for this at any meeting or protest, so that we are all clear where they stand. The fight back starts here…