Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 590 - 599)




  590. May I ask you to identify yourself?
  (Mr Storey) Good morning, my name is Maurice Storey, I am the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

  591. Do you have any general remarks you wish to make?
  (Mr Storey) With your kind permission, if I may. You may remember the last time I appeared before your Committee was on 11 November 1998, which is just over two years ago.

  592. Yes; very clear in my mind.
  (Mr Storey) I am very proud to say that the UK shipping register is continuing to grow and prosper and the MCA is fulfilling the important role given to us of an inward investment agency. More than 160 ships have joined the register since the MCA was formed on 1 April 1998, and more are joining all the time. Because I understand how the industry works, I have been able to bring considerable personal expertise to the role of Chief Executive. The result is that we have changed the industry's perception of the Agency by becoming more focused on the needs of our customer, both at home and abroad. Of course, that does not mean we have undermined safety. We are still prepared to say no to shipowners, but we now ensure that they understand why we are saying no and what they have to do for us to be able to say yes. In short, it is our style and approach that has altered. We are also supporting our customers' needs through the continuing development of our one-stop-shop, which incorporates a 24-hour information phone line and the appointment of customer service managers. We are actively exploring the new possibilities of the internet and e-business to make our registration procedures and our ship survey fees collection arrangements as professional and as efficient as possible. We are determined not to be left behind by modern business methods. I recall from your last report on the Agency your concerns about stability. Of course all good organisations change to keep pace with modern practices and technologies and the MCA is no exception. Change is inevitable. The challenge is to ensure that change is properly managed and implemented with the widespread support of both staff and systems. I believe that this is best achieved by setting out clear plans for the future—both short and long term—which allow everyone in the Agency to accept, manage and implement change. Our planning provides a stable framework within which change takes place. You will recall that the introduction of the new Integrated Coastguard Communications System (ICCS) was a central theme of the Committee's Sixth Report which looked at the MCA. As the Committee recommended, we thoroughly tested the new ICCS equipment at our training centre before we installed it in coastguard stations. That testing proved successful and the new technology is now up and running in Clyde, Stornoway, Shetland and Aberdeen. The successful installation has allowed us to close the coastguard stations at Pentland and Oban. I believe that closure programme has been well handled and managed. I also believe that those involved and the unions share the view that careful planning has allowed us to redeploy our resources appropriately and sensitively. As you will know, the Deputy Prime Minister announced on Monday of this week an expansion of the Coastguard Service with the establishment of new arrangements for search and rescue for the tidal Thames as far as Teddington lock. This will include the establishment of a new coordination cell based at the Port of London Authority's Thames Barrier Navigation Centre. The new arrangements will be in place by next January and will take the form of a significant partnership between the MCA, the RNLI, which is providing three lifeboats, the PLA and other emergency services. I also recall that last time you rightly asked me about the added value of the MCA compared to its predecessor separate agencies. One benefit of the merger has been the deployment of sector managers to undertake initial inspections of under-12-metre fishing vessels. This has proved successful and has enhanced the job satisfaction of those involved. Another benefit is the cross-fertilisation of the Agency's coastguard and surveying expertise. Coastguards will often accompany surveyors on ship inspections. This improves their ability to deal with incidents because they can visualise the equipment that a ship will have as a result of their familiarisation. A further benefit is that our counter-pollution work is now much better coordinated, again bringing together into one unit the skills of experts in salvage, experts in search and rescue, and those with practical experience as master mariners or ships' engineers. Together this pool of expertise is invaluable to the Secretary of State's Representative (SOSREP). Let me turn now to some management issues. We are implementing a recent independent review of our recruitment arrangements which will lead, over five years, to the development of entry and career progression routes based on the competencies needed to perform a job, with less of an emphasis on academic qualifications or previous experience. Competency frameworks are in place for the vast majority of the Agency's staff and others are in development. In time it should be possible for staff to join the Agency at one level and be able to map out their potential careers to senior management knowing exactly the skills and knowledge they will need to acquire for each job on that career path. We will actively encourage careers which include experience as a coastguard, a marine surveyor and as an administrator. In that way, we will continue to break down out of date attitudes and promote greater integration. Another vehicle for breaking down those barriers is our annual conference in Leeds at the university. It is a chance for a wide range of our people at all levels and in all jobs to get together and exchange views in an informal setting. I have continued to promote a policy of frank and open discussions at all levels within the MCA. I have annually visited each and every MCA Coastguard Station and Marine Survey Office and have encouraged everyone to have their say. I want to hear as many views as possible and I have encouraged my managers to do the same. I am determined that everyone should feel valued and that they should know they have a contribution to make. My directors and I operate an open-door policy for when staff feel that their normal channels of line management are proving unsatisfactory. I am convinced that our relations with the trades unions have improved over the past couple of years. Of course we have our differences, but generally we air them in a spirit of frankness and cooperation rather than confrontation whenever possible. Our regular formal Whitley meetings are a useful vehicle for exchanging views and discussing issues and I welcome the unions' valuable contribution to the close cooperation over the closure programme and the current discussions about watch levels both demonstrate good industrial relations. I am pleased to say that this approach was rewarded with Investors in People status last year and we continue our commitment and determination to maintain that status. We are also now adopting the EFQM excellence model, which also stresses the need to invite and listen to the concerns of all those working in the organisation. The Agency's people remain its most important resource. I am confident that my managers take the same view, which was recently reinforced through a comprehensive series of management workshops catering for over 400 managers. Our commitment to good management is also demonstrated by our introduction in March this year of a management development programme which will lead to a certificate or diploma in management—externally accredited by the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations Boards. The training will combine on and off the job training and assignments between 15 and 18 months. I have attempted, Madam Chairman, to give you and the Committee a quick update on our progress. I thank you very much for your patience.

  593. It is nice that you are so satisfied. However, in your Chief Executive's foreword to the annual report you chose to credit my Committee with destabilising your system. You said that it was necessary for you to work to internally agreed targets whilst ensuring you did not prejudice the Government's response to the Committee, but you were unable to print your business plan. Then you are saying that it was only when the Government said that they were not going to demerge them that you were able to proceed. It seems a trifle unlikely that that was the impact of this Committee's report, but I am very interested to hear it. I am sure you would like to tell us in what way the merger of the Marine Safety Agency and Coastguard Agency benefited the customers.
  (Mr Storey) First of all, the sector managers have undertaken the fishing vessel inspections. We have been able to undertake a series of fishing vessel inspections: in the first year 900 inspections which will increase to 1,600 inspections. I believe from a customer perspective, in the form of the fishing industry, they have applauded this input because we are pointing out areas of safety to individuals who seem to disregard some of the safety issues. They are listening to what we are saying and I think in turn it will enhance the safety requirements within the fishing industry in the small fishing vessel sector, which is the under-12-metre sector.

  594. Could you not have done that before? You did not need an enormous merger to do that, did you?
  (Mr Storey) The Coastguard sector managers are currently out around the coast of the UK where these vessels are dispersed in all the nooks and crannies around the UK.

  595. We know that; we pointed that out to you at the time.
  (Mr Storey) The coastguard sector managers are patrolling those areas and have an opportunity to have an interface with these people.

  596. Do you mean they are talking to them?
  (Mr Storey) They are and they have built on that interface or talking to the people, and have grown in the safety regime and tried to expand the safety regime of the organisation further. You will remember that surveyors are classed as policemen rather than people who are there to help you and that is why the sector manager gives a better interface with the fisherman.

  597. That is not something you could not have done before. What else have you done?
  (Mr Storey) The counter-pollution work has been better coordinated in respect of the employment of the Secretary of State's representative for salvage and intervention. It has allowed him, with the team of people, both coastguards themselves and search and rescue and working with the counter-pollution team, the surveyors, to bring together the various issues with the other groups in environment, English Nature and all the various areas round the coast, to work much more closely together, to look at the environment and salvage situation, to protect the UK coasts.

  598. How concerned are you that your staffing numbers in coastguard stations at times fall below the appropriate levels?
  (Mr Storey) The staffing numbers do concern me if they do fall below certain levels. I believe there are no stations where the staffing numbers have fallen below the levels which are required for the minimum safety levels. In any organisation you have a small turnover of staff and of course we obviously look to fill those vacancies as possible. I do not believe we have any major concern at the present time.

  599. Even though your staff work long hours and often may operate apparently without proper numbers you do not think that has any implication for safety at all.
  (Mr Storey) I do not think they operate without proper numbers. The hours that they work is a system which was agreed between our staff and the unions.

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