MRCCs to be cut from 19 to eight

The government has announced plans to axe more than half the UK’s coastguard centres and privatise search-and-rescue helicopters.

Currently there are 19 MRCCs (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre), but under these plans only three will continue to operate 24 hours a day with a further five remaining open to some extent.

The Department for Transport needs to cut 15 per cent from its budget over the next fours years and this move will see 250 jobs lost in order to save £7.5million.

Meanwhile the search and rescue service is expected to be handed over to a French-US consortium called Soteria in a deal worth £6-7 billion over 25 years.

The previous Labour government first mooted the outsourcing in February when it emerged that the Royal Navy’s fleet of 36 ageing Sea King helicopters needed updating.

The number of military aircrew will fall from 240 to 66, with civilians making up the shortfall.

Trade unions have warned they will oppose any cuts to the coastguard service.

The Public and Commercial Services union said: ‘We are waiting to see the detail, but we would have concerns about any cuts that compromised coastguard cover and our members’ ability to provide a speedy and effective service to the public.

‘As an emergency service it is absolutely essential that coastguards are properly resourced to ensure lives are not put at risk.’

The RNLI also expressed concern about the anticipated cuts. A spokesman said: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely.

‘Clearly, in the current economic climate very hard decisions are having to be taken across the board.

‘Any reduction in Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres would be significant, but we have yet to see the detail.

‘Once decisions have been taken and we have been informed of the extent of any changes affecting UK Search and Rescue we will be in a position to assess their potential impact on the operational effectiveness of our charity’s lifeboats and also on the operation of our lifeguard units.’

Ministers are expected to announce the details of the cuts later this week. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: ‘The key principle is to use our resources wisely.’

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