For Those in Peril on the Sea

Friday June 1, 2018

Of the hundreds of Charity organisations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I am sure that most people will have, at some time, donated money to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

To many people, their donation and in numerous instances, their legacy will contribute towards the daily running costs of maintaining lifeboat equipment; the purchase of new lifeboats and, of course, the provision of the safety equipment for the crews themselves.

At this point in this Newsletter, I have to declare a “financial” self interest in the RNLI, as I have been a regular donor for many years; believing that the money would be used for the purposes as outlined above – so, I am sure, have millions of other donors thought likewise.

When you have had time to read this Newsletter you may well wish to consider other Charities which you believe may be more in need of your generous donation.

Perhaps we have all been a little too trusting and naive – thinking that the men and women at the sharp end – those volunteers who, at a moment’s notice, leave their regular occupations or beds during the night to put their lives on the line to rescue those in peril on the sea – were the people we were assisting and what a worthy cause.

The men and women of our lifeboats are to be applauded for their self-sacrifice; unpaid commitment to providing a volunteer service unrivalled in the world. Sadly, to use a military expression rather than nautical one, it appears to be yet another case of “Lions led by donkeys.”

The Financial reality of the RNLI is somewhat different. Since its foundation in 1824, the public, as mentioned, has been more than generous in their repeated support and donations for the Charity.

So much so that, in 2016, the income for the RNLI was £191 million, which is apparently £177 million more than it takes to run its 238 stations (not forgetting that, apart from some full-time mechanics, the lifeboat station personnel are unpaid – unlike the army of administrative personnel, which we will come to later.)

According to a recent report in the Daily Mail newspaper, the Charity’s overall assets (including property and boats) have grown to £712 million, of which £271 million is now held in “investments”.

Some major companies in the private sector would rejoice at this yearly income and a “war chest” of £271 million.

In some ways, the RNLI is similar to a major corporation as, in 2016, it had on its payroll 2,366 employees with 35 senior executives earning more than £60,000pa, and its Chief Executive Paul Boissier on a total package of £162,705.

This cosy, well-off institution, with all its executives and full-time employees, has, however, a major problem – that is, the volunteers who actually risk their lives doing the rescues at sea.

They are currently, it would appear, a thorn in the side of the otherwise financially prosperous charity with its state-of-the-art website, explaining how to leave a legacy, how to donate and resumés of its Executive Team.

In recent years, despite protestations to the contrary by Mr Paul Boissier, or I should refer to him as Vice Admiral; his naval rank when writing a letter to the Daily Mail on 15/05/2018, the relations between the “management” and the volunteer crew members has reached crisis point.

In July 2016, 12 volunteers at the New Brighton Station were sacked by the RNLI as a result of a dispute with the Station’s Management over them refusing to sign a new “code of conduct” agreement.

In 2017, Andy Hibbs, the Coxswain of the St Helier lifeboat in Jersey, was sacked for allegedly launching the lifeboat without authority. He had joined the lifeboat in Jersey aged 21 and, now 45, had spent most of his adult life putting his life in jeopardy to save others – unpaid of course.

After many months, the claim was found to be untrue and Mr Hibbs was reinstated. He was furious that the RNLI had not believed him and that they refused to inform him who made the allegation. He angrily (Edt. understandably) emailed an RNLI manager saying “the whole thing was b****cks” and was sacked for breaking the charity’s “code of conduct.”

As a result, local public protests followed and Mr Hibbs was reinstated but with the RNLI insisting that a full-time employee from HQ had to be stationed in St Helier to oversee him.

After months of friction, the total crew resigned and St Helier was effectively without lifeboat cover. It transpired that the original complaint against Mr Hibbs was made to RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier by Phil Buckley, then the harbour master at St Helier, whom it appears was a longstanding acquaintance of Mr Boissier; both having served together on Royal Navy submarines.

Still devoted to serving the public. Mr Hibbs and his lifeboat team have now formed the Jersey Lifeboat Association and will shortly be launching their own boat totally separate from the RNLI.

The sorry saga of mis-management by the RNLI continues unabated.

Earlier this year, as members may have read in the press, the Whitby lifeboat crew were the latest volunteers to be the subject of RNLI “management” when some saucy mugs were found in the lockers at the lifeboat station and 2 crew members were sacked for what was termed “pornographic images” even though it was joke.

The mugs were in a cupboard but the RNLI alleged that “they could have been seen by visiting schoolchildren”. Four other crew members resigned and 11,000 local people have signed a petition for them to be reinstated.

In Scarborough recently; on the same stretch of wild coast line, Tom Clark, the coxswain with 34 Years of life boat service, has been sacked for allegedly breaking health and safety regulations when he went on a sea exercise with unauthorised passengers on board. A petition to reinstate him has gathered 5,000 signatures.

The “Politically Correct Night of the Long Knives” storms on with the Coxswain of the Arbroath lifeboat being sacked for an incident at the last Christmas party which was deemed to be practical joke. Two other crew members left in protest, resulting in Arbroath being without a lifeboat for months.

Next – over to Anglesey, North Wales, where the coxswain resigned together with a fellow crew member.

We move to Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, where two senior helmsmen were sacked for allegedly taking incorrectly-trained staff on a rescue.

Apparently, last year, there was a restructuring of management implemented by recently resigned Director of Community Lifesaving and Fundraising Leesa Harwood. This new “restructuring” created 42 “area lifesaving managers” responsible to supervise 6 lifeboat stations each. Apparently, in the past, “regional managers” responsible for dozens of stations would visit every six months. Now, volunteers are inspected monthly or even weekly in some instances.

To quote Tom Clark, who was sacked after 34 years’ service: “Too many area managers, including the one who got rid of me, are young graduates who have never been to sea and have no idea of the skill and effort required to be a lifeboat man”. Mr Clark did admit swearing, which was one reason for his dismissal, but stated “Yes I did swear but being at sea is a rufty-tufty sort of place” (Edt. Most people may well be forgiven for swearing in a force 10 gale.)

Some months ago, I wrote, in my personal capacity, to Mr Paul Boissier regarding the fact that the sacking of the Jersey lifeboat Coxswain was utterly ridiculous and pointing out to him that, without volunteers, there wouldn’t be a lifeboat service in this country.

In fairness, he did reply very promptly to my complaint and stated how much the work of the volunteer crew members was appreciated but that they had to abide by health and safety regulations.

One could facetiously argue that Mr Boissier is being complicit in the crews’ breaking any health and safety regulations by them putting to sea to rescue stricken sailors when the sea state is above force 5, as this may endanger their safety when manoeuvring near a stricken vessel.

If you should visit Whitby Lifeboat Station, which is located in the harbour, it has the name “George and Mary Webb” inscribed on the side of the vessel. A crew member informed me that they had bequeathed the cost of purchase of this vessel to the RNLI.

Further down the East Coast of Britain, at Aldeburgh in Suffolk, is located the Aldeburgh lifeboat. In 1993, the boat was named “Freddie Cooper” funded by the legacy of Mrs Winifred May Cooper.

So devoted to serving voluntarily at sea to save perhaps fellow sailors, are generations of the Cable family. In 1954, Patrick Cable, aged 16, went out on service. James Cable was a famous Coxswain of the 19th century; serving for 30 years from 1888 to 1917.

He was awarded the RNLI Silver Medal three times for bravery. Today, 8th generation James Cable is the full-time mechanic at Aldeburgh Life Boat Station.

One wonders whether, with its ever growing “fleet” of administrators and managers, the RNLI, will eventually have any volunteers left to man the lifeboats. Perhaps the currently advertised “Safeguarding Officer” post, earning up to £41,926 and responsible for “health, safety and wellbeing”, won’t mind being called from his/her bed at 2am to venture into the North Sea in a Force 9 gale.

Surely, the time has come for this utter nonsense of volunteers being drowned in paperwork should cease and allow them to do what they volunteered for – saving lives; pathetic treatment of some of the nation’s unsung and unpaid heroes to be recognised; and for Mr Paul Boissier to have the dignity to resign and make space for a Chief Executive who has common sense and who will employ like-minded individuals who have the welfare of the crew foremost and “ticking boxes and diversity” last.

A person drowning needs a lifeboat, which this country has a long proud history of providing – but for how long?

Of course, the health and safety of the lifeboat crew is of paramount importance and this has been acknowledged by Mr Boissier both in his personal reply to me and in a letter dated 15/05/2018 which he had published in the Daily Mail.

Nevertheless, once the alarm is sounded, every second is critical and there is no spare time for unnecessary “management” procedural delays.

Perhaps Mr Boissier would have been wiser when implementing radical changes, to invest in professional Change Management and inter-personal skills training for his HQ Implementation Team.

Perhaps, if there had been more patience and forbearance shown, then it could have been proved that “Old dogs can be taught new tricks.”

The Conservative Monday Club, PO Box 7694, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, CM23 3XR