Several factors are combining to make rescue insurance for sea kayakers and hill walkers seem a distinct possibility. I sincerely hope not. I'll try to summarise what's happening.
The fear is, casualties will have to pay for rescues. Yesterday a Government spokesman attempted to reassure us this is not the case, but gave newspapers this very un-reassuring quote.
"There are no plans to introduce charges".
Note the "there are no plans..." form of words. That's exactly the same, transparent rhetorical device used on many previous occasions.
For example, to suggest they wouldn't increase VAT after the election. On gaining power, they promptly announced VAT would rise. (Read this if you don't remember). Continued...
A more reassuring promise comes, in the same article, from Alfie Ingram, Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee Chairman. He is quoted as saying, "It's not going to happen - not in our lifetime".
Phew! That's that then? Well, maybe not.
The same article reports 'Cairngorm MRT Leader Willie Anderson feared Scotland could
become like the Alps, where skiers and climbers are advised to take out insurance cover' ... and the same rules could apply to anyone else involved in a rescue.
There's no direct quote from him to express this, but the sentiment seems clear.
Having to pay for rescues is an idea which keeps cropping up, and is dismissed as a non-story. So what's changed? In my view, it's the timing of three developments, two of which have been well publicised.
Firstly, the Search and Rescue Helicopters (SAR-H) will be outsourced to a private operator using a Private Finance Initiative contract. The favourite is a consortium called Soteria. (Their powerpoint 'pitch' is downloadable here).
Soteria includes RBS and Thales, and since you ask, is the name of the Greek goddess of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm.
The stated aim is to create a harmonised SAR Service operated by one provider, rather than the current mix of RAF, Royal Navy and civilian rescue helicopters working for the MCA.
The service is part 'privatised' now, as a company called CHC already operates an 'interim' service for the coastguard, including Shetland and Stornoway.
Incidentally, CHC is the largest global supplier of civilian helicopters and is part of the Soteria consortium.
Secondly, the Department for Transport is expected to propose cutting the number of coastguard stations in Britain from 19 to 8, losing 250 jobs and saving £7.5m a year.
That photo shows the Channel 16 desk and ops room at Clyde Coastguard.
Those two issues are enough to start people thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, we might end up paying for rescues. But there's one more little niggle.
There may be a change in the way Scottish teams are part-funded by the Scottish Government.
I still need to check this out further, but I'm told more call-outs will mean more money. Given the quiet teams need a base level of money to maintain training, while busy teams actually get more experience, this is not as sensible a notion as it might at first sound. It's all to easy to envisage a range of possibilities arising from this situations.
On a much smaller scale, don't forget what's happened regarding the disposal of flares. We used to be able to do this at Coastguard stations. Now this service is highly limited, so many of us have ended up paying for disposal.
So let's hope this 'paying for rescues' is a non-story and, once again, the idea of requiring insurance goes away. At least for a while. Here's Stoteria's promo video.