Dear Department for Transport,
Request for Information
I am making this request for information on behalf of the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign. The Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign (CLC) was formed on July 4th 2017 in response to the RNLI's decision to strip New Quay of its All-weather Lifeboat in 2020, replacing it with an Atlantic 85 inshore vessel.
The community-driven CLC action group is made up of representatives of local fishermen, boat trip operators, yacht clubs, rowing clubs, long-time fundraisers, and other committed supporters of New Quay Lifeboat Station. There are also crew members in the group, independently supporting the campaign in their own right. We have over 30, 000 petition signatures.
Our MP is building up cross-party political support in Westminster; the Leader of the House of Commons and members of the House of Lords have already backed our campaign with a recent debate held on the 4 February. We have support too from a growing number of Welsh Assembly Members, including the Presiding Officer, and the unanimous backing of Ceredigion County Council. The Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, the Welsh Fisherman's Association, and a wide range of other groups, associations, communities, and influential individuals across the UK have also offered their support.
When the decision was announced, 20 months ago it came as a shock to many as it was unexpected. We have not been able to identify a single organisation or individual that has been consulted specifically about the removal of the all weather lifeboat. From the outset we have been asking to see what evidence of any consultation that has taken place but the RNLI has refused to provide us with any evidence.
This decision has caused significant concern and leaves many along the coast feeling vulnerable. Nobody understands this decision and the RNLI has refused to provide us with any of the information surrounding how they have arrived at a decision of this magnitude. Not only does it depart from the status quo of over 150 years but also makes the objectives detailed in their 'Plans and Purpose' document unachievable in Cardigan Bay.
As an authority you must consider the relative weight of the arguments for and against disclosure. There can be little prejudice in disclosing the information as the decision has already been arrived at. This decision is fairly recent so all the information should be easily accessible. Crucially, the information we have requested will inform us to what extent the RNLI has consulted with its principal stakeholder and further our understanding of how this decision has been arrived at. This information is not available from any other source and is not in the public domain as the RNLI is refusing to be transparent and accountable.
There is a public interest in transparency and accountability, to promote public understanding and to safeguard democratic processes. There is a public interest in good decision-making by public bodies, in upholding standards of integrity, in ensuring justice and fair treatment for all, in securing the best use of public resources and in ensuring fair commercial competition in a mixed economy.
On the 4 February 2019 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Sugg) (Con) responded to the following questions put to her in a House of Lords debate. A full Hansard copy is attached below.
04 February 2019
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
To ask Her Majesty's Government what the impact will be on the coastguard of the RNLI's decision to downgrade the all-weather lifeboats capacity in New Quay, Ceredigion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Sugg) (Con)
My Lords, the RNLI is an independent organisation that declares its lifeboats available to Her Majesty's Coastguard. It determines how and where it deploys the resources that it has available. Based on historical incident data and the outputs of the RNLI's risk-assessed five-year review, we do not anticipate that its decision to replace the all-weather lifeboat with an Atlantic 85 vessel at New Quay will have an impact on HM Coastguard's capability to co-ordinate search and rescue in Cardigan Bay.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
I, too, hesitate to criticise such a respected charity, but the replacement of the all-weather lifeboat with an Atlantic 85 inshore vessel, which cannot be launched in stormy conditions exceeding force 7, leaves a gap of 63 nautical miles in all-weather search and rescue provision. This and the alleged lack of a proper, open consultation with any local stakeholders concerned with sea safety in Cardigan Bay are a matter of grave concern to the local community. Will my noble friend the Minister intervene and ask the RNLI to publish its evidence and perhaps also to review its decision?
My Lords, the RNLI's decision was underpinned by extensive research of incident reports as well as information gathered in face-to-face meetings and workshops at the lifeboat station both before and after the coast review visits, to ensure that local knowledge and concerns were considered. The decision is a significant investment by the RNLI in the area—which of course we are very grateful for—with new, faster boats at all three RNLI stations. The RNLI view is that that is the optimal combination for future life-saving in the area. It has shared a 30-page extract of the report with the lifeboat operations manager, and I understand that it is in dialogue with a campaign group to ensure it has the appropriate information.
Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former Lord Lieutenant of the county and my wife is from a long line of New Quay sailors. The Government have paid £3.5 million since 2014 to increase capacity and resilience in rescue, so they cannot wash their hands entirely to the RNLI. Since it is proposed that all-weather lifeboats will be as far away as Pwllheli and Barmouth, will the new inshore lifeboat at New Quay diminish capability? Will there be a gap in safety provision in Cardigan Bay in severe weather?
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right to point out the change in provision. Three 17-knot Mersey class all-weather lifeboats are being replaced with two Shannon lifeboats at Pwllheli and Barmouth and there will be a smaller but faster lifeboat at New Quay. This was based on a risk-based review that looked at the entire area and the RNLI's decision to replace the all-weather lifeboat was, as I said, underpinned by extensive research. It is convinced that this is the optimal amount of resource for the area.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
I declare a personal interest as someone with long-standing family connections in the area and as a supporter of this campaign. The RNLI of course does wonderful work, but I am afraid that in this instance it has been totally lacking in transparency with the people of New Quay about the reasons for its decision. Despite what the Minister said, independent research shows that in severe weather conditions—force 7 in daylight and force 6 by night—it does increase the risk. There is a 70-mile gap, as I understand it, between the nearest all-weather lifeboats and it simply takes that much longer to get there. Should not an organisation such as the RNLI that depends on trust be more open about its decisions and in this instance look again at the increased risk of this decision?
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his question. I know of his long-standing interest in the area. The RNLI, as I said, has shared a 30-page extract of the report and is working closely with a campaign group. I understand that the campaign group is made up of passionate people who want to ensure that they have the optimal provision in the area. As I said, along with the replacement new boat, the all-weather lifeboats in the surrounding area will be replaced with much faster ones. There is also a new helicopter base in St Athan, and the new boats, the helicopter and the increase in lifeguarding on the coast will not only maintain but improve life-saving provision in the area.
Baroness Humphreys (LD)
The RNLI's decision to move the all-weather facility from New Quay has led to huge public disquiet in the area—an area where people understand the important role fisheries play in providing a livelihood for commercial fishing and angling vessels. They also understand the danger to the fishermen who brave all weathers. What assessment has the noble Baroness made of the importance of the all-weather lifeboat to the safety of fishermen in Cardigan Bay?
My Lords, the RNLI carries out a coastal safety review every five years. It is a very extensive review based on extensive research; it considers all the rescue records and looks at all the reports of launches and incidents carried out by the lifeboat stations. It has concluded that services by the New Quay RNLI all-weather lifeboat could have been carried out safely and effectively by an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat, supported by the new, faster lifeboats at neighbouring stations if required. I understand that people who have long experience in this area locally are concerned about it. The RNLI continues to have conversations with them and will ensure that they are given the appropriate information.
Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
My Lords, the Minister was asked just now what assessment she had made of the need in the area. She told us what assessment the RNLI had made. She referred to the campaigners as being passionate. We can also say that the RNLI is passionate, because day in and day out volunteers are out there saving people's lives and collecting and raising the funds to do so. This is a difficult decision that has been made. What engagement do the Government have with the RNLI to ensure that the interests of the public are taken into account, so that the Government can assure themselves that the work it is doing takes public safety into account? That may allay some fears of those who are concerned about this decision, or who may be in a position to provide funding so that they do not have to make this decision.
My Lords, lifeboat provision in the UK is delivered by independent charitable organisations that declare their lifeboats available to Her Majesty's Coastguard. As I said, we are very grateful for their work. It is the responsibility of the organisations to decide on the specific operational capacity they consider appropriate, but of course the MCA works closely with the RNLI on the coastal review. The noble Baroness was quite right to pay tribute to the scale of volunteers in this area—it is extremely impressive. The Coastguard Rescue Service is made up of approximately 3,500 volunteers; the RNLI has 5,000 volunteer lifeboat crew; and, as the noble Baroness said, there are more than 23,000 volunteer community fundraisers. They all contribute to providing the excellent service on our coasts.
REQUEST FOR DISCLOSURE UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
Further to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 we request the following information in response to the answers given by Baroness Sugg as detailed above.
The RNLI's decision was underpinned by extensive research of incident reports as well as information gathered in face to face meetings and workshops at the lifeboat station both before and after the coast review visits, to ensure that local knowledge and concerns were considered
1. Please confirm whether Baroness Sugg or someone within her department has received any written evidence from the RNLI to include reports, minutes of meetings and consultations of the above answer given. If not, how and by whom was Baroness Sugg briefed in order to enable her to give the answer above. Please provide copies of any briefing notes received to explain how Baroness Sugg was qualified to give the answer and ensure that the information received was true.
The RNLI carries out a coastal safety review every five years. It is a very extensive review based on extensive research; it considers all the rescue records and looks at all the reports of launches and incidents carried out by the lifeboat stations.
2. Please provides us with any written information to ascertain whether Baroness Sugg or someone within her department has verified this information to include whether:
(i) the RNLI has made available a full unedited copy of the 5 year coastal safety review to the Department of Transport. If so, when;
(ii) if the Department of Transport has been furnished with a copy of the 5 year coastal review report as referred to in Baroness Sugg's response we request a full unedited copy
(iii) if the Department of Transport has not received a full unedited copy of the 5 year coastal review report by the RNLI to confirm that this is the case
Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign
Dear Department for Transport,
By law I should have received a response to my request for information by now. I haven’t received an explanation for the delay and would be grateful if you could please confirm when I am likely to receive the information that I have requested.
Dear Ms Powell,
Apologies for the email not reaching you on time. As you will
see in the attached response letter, the email address I used was not the
same as the one I have now been passed to resend the response letter. It
was correct as per the address on the top of your original request when
passed to myself and I am unsure as to how this can have happened. I will
look in to this to avoid a reoccurrence in the future. I hope this
information is suitable for your purposes and that this slight delay has
not caused you undue difficulties.
If you could send a short reply to this message to confirm receipt that
would help to reassure me that the email has reached you this time as
Thank you for your understanding,
Dear Department for Transport,
I submitted 2 separate FOI requests. One involving a letter written by Sir John Hayes and the other regarding Baroness Sugg’ s answers given in the House of Lords on the 4 February. There seems to be some confusion as I have received a response to Relating to Sir John Hayes letter but nothing yet about Baroness Sugg.
Following my chasing up the delay yesterday I have received an email referring to Sir John Hayes letter again. There seems to be some confusion. I am chasing up the FOI request about Baroness Sugg as per my questions.
If I can be of any further assistance please let me know
Dear Department for Transport,
Further to my earlier email sent on the 3 April can you please confirm when I am likely to receive a response to my FOI request which has now been delayed past the statutory requirement by 18 days.
Dear Department for Transport,
Further to my last email sent on the 18 April I have not had the courtesy of a response. There has been no explanation for the delay in responding. Can you please confirm when I am likely to receive the information I have requested.
I would like an internal review to be carried out to explain why there has been a failure by your department to comply with its legal obligations.
In response to your emails of 18^th April and today, I can confirm that
the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is looking into the Freedom of
Information request, you originally sent to the Department for Transport
central office.. You should receive a response to your request shortly,
and in any case no later than the due date of 21^st May 2019.
I am sorry you felt that the request was not being actioned; however, I
can assure you that this is not the case.
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Maritime & Coastguard Agency
Spring Place, 105 Commercial Road,
Southampton, SO15 1EG
Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas
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