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The Petition of Prestwick Marine Neighbourhood Watch and others, believes that there is an essential need for improvements to the seafront area in Prestwick, particularly the installation of CCTV cameras on the seafront, in order to control anti-social behaviour in that area.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons pass legislation enabling South Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Executive to install CCTV cameras on Prestwick seafront, thereby assisting the authorities in controlling anti-social behaviour in Prestwick.
The Petitioners further request that the House of Commons urge South Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Executive to open the seafront toilets on Links Road in Prestwick all year round, and to organise cleaning of the beach from 1 March to 31 October each year.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I believe myself fortunate to secure this debate on the proposed closure of the Met Office in Aberdeen in my constituency, just a week before the House rises for the summer. The proposal has caused widespread dismay and consternation, as the Aberdeen office is the only civilian weather forecasting operation in Scotland. I express my appreciation for the cross-party support that the campaign to have the decision reversed has gathered.
I note with satisfaction that the Minister has made it clear that the final decision is his. I am glad that I and others will have the chance to press the case with him tonight, although the campaign will not end with this debate.
My first concern has to do with the way that the decision has been handled. Staff learned through an internal e-mail that the option to close all six branches had been chosen by the Met Office board. Internal consultation was then initiated on the basis of a done deal. Not surprisingly, that caused anger and resentment, and the information was then leaked into the public domain rather than announced in an orderly fashion by the Met Office management.
At present, there are six Met Office branches apart from the headquarters in Exeter. The one in Aberdeen is the only one in Scotland, and the others are in Belfast, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and London. Of course, there have been management changes in the Met Office. The decision by Dr. David Rogers to leave following his marriage clearly created a hiatus. I understand that he finishes at the end of this week, and that he may have attended his last board meeting today. It is perhaps worth putting it on record that he stated in his farewell message:
"and I believe that I will leave the organisation strongly focused and committed to meet the challenges in the future. I would like to take this opportunity to relay again my personal thanks to all Met Office staff for helping me to determine the new strategic direction for the organisation and for putting in place a clear vision and robust plan for the future. I wish the Met Office, and its excellent people, every success for the future."
"I want the Met Office to work with Government to help to mitigate the impacts of severe weather. This goal can only be achieved if we maintain a significant regional presence and my wish to focus on services which improve public safety. Aberdeen Met Office is a great example of somewhere this has already happened. Everything they do is focused on protecting life at sea. This is a model."
What has happened in the past 12 months to produce that complete about-turn? Only last September, a strategic decision was taken to transfer the shipping forecast and gale warnings from Exeter to Aberdeen. In that short timeless than a yearstaff at Aberdeen have achieved a 35 per cent. increase in accuracy, for
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which the team recently received a performance bonus, yet management now want to transfer the service back to Exeter.
I do not know whether the Minister will want to comment, but I can tell him that there is a suspicion that the change of policy was driven by the cost overruns in the move to Exeter. When his predecessor, Ivor Caplin, accepted the new headquarters at the end of 2003, he described it as
yet in a recent reply to me the Minister confirmed that there was a cost overrun of £7.9 million. It is estimated that the option recommended by the boardclosure of all the brancheswill save £3,652,000 over five years and £20,691,000 over 10 years.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman made a similar calculation to the one I made? The savings suggested by the Met Office may not actually happen, because there is no guarantee that, if Met Office functions were centralised in Exeter, the business currently done by the Aberdeen Met Office will follow. It could go to a commercial company.
I stress that the difference between the option that the board recommends and option 3I am not saying that option 3 is the definitive one, but it would retain Aberdeen, London and Manchester as centres of excellenceis a reduced saving of £917,000 over five years and £5.324 million over 10 years, an overall projected saving of £15.367 million. Can the Minister tell us whether it is reasonable to destroy morale and disperse expertise for a projected savingI take the hon. Lady's pointof about £500,000 a year? That does not seem to make sense, and more to the pointexactly the hon. Lady's pointwill that saving really be achieved?
Why not? That is a trading fund and if the Government do not know what those branches cost and how much revenue is generated, how are they competent to make any decision that closing them would be a saving rather than a cost?
I have already been told that there is a presumption of a revenue loss of only £20,000. Even that implies that more information is available than has been made public. There is evidence that the revenue loss could be far greater and could be even more than the project savings, so the net result of the decision could be to increase the deficit or the loss-making potential of the Met Officecertainly not to boost it. The Minister should take that into account. Over the last couple of weeks, we have already heard that a £1 million contract for Shell has been lost. Other contracts are being bid for, but, against the background that I have described, it is hard for the Met Office to win them, although it is determined to try to do so.
The situation is odd, because there are three private weather forecasters with substantial staffs operating in Aberdeen and they will certainly take a predatory
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approach to Met Office customers. Indeed, they have already done soShell has been won across. Can the Minister give us even the internal estimate of the cost savings from closing Aberdeen and where the main savings will be made? I have spoken to nobody who believes that those savings will be realised or that they can be made without damaging business.
"While there is still an important human involvement in the forecasting process this is reducing with time and needs to be used in a way that adds real value to the output. The role has evolved and forecasters are now more involved with service provisioninterpreting the likely weather impacts and helping users and customers to make best use of the information available and mitigate risks."
It is also interesting that the Ministry of Defence insists on retaining Met Office operations on its bases in Scotland. If a remote computer can do the jobaccording to the Met Office's operation in Exeterwhy does the MOD need a local operation? Or is its insistence in fact confirmation that local operations really add value and qualitative information?
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