RNLI Bicentenary — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:54 am on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 9:54, 26 March 2024

I will not give way yet, no. Eventually, following correspondence back and forth, it was only because I knew one of the trustees that I was able to get a phone call with the then chief executive. They insisted that the call could take place only if it was private and the details were not shared. I was prepared to take the call under those conditions, because it turned out that the chief executive had already been to the station. I turned up the day after the chief executive’s visit. Not all the volunteers had been informed that the chief executive was visiting. It turns out that that was part of a tour, which was proudly advertised, with photographs and similar in other stations on the tour, including the one at Southwold, but there was radio silence when it came to Aldeburgh.

I kept my part of the bargain; I did record the phone call, because I do not have the best memory, but I too had assumed that the conversation would be private. I was therefore sad to learn just last week that the chief executive in fact recorded the call and played it to another Member of Parliament. I am not going to say who they are—I do not need to embarrass them or the chief executive—but I am telling the story because I am concerned about the culture. Indeed, the chair of the trustees offered to meet me at some point, but then seemed to withdraw the meeting—certainly, we have not been able to find a time to do it.

None of this has been received well in the local community. Not all the volunteers were informed. I attended a subsequent meeting with Aldeburgh Town Council, and a member of the local leadership later complained to the council that I had been there, although I am not sure why—perhaps because I was concerned about the culture there. However, I have chosen not to reveal to the community some of the things that were said at that meeting, because that would embarrass the RNLI, and I do not seek to do that. It would also really upset the volunteers who go out, or are on stand-by to go out, on that boat every day. However, at the same time, people are wondering where the money has gone, and we can see in the RNLI’s accounts that the cost of wages, salaries and similar was £83.3 million in 2020 but is now £102.3 million.

As I say, this is a sad moment for me, and I have gone to the Charity Commission and similar. I really wish the RNLI success in the next 200 years, but it will need the strong support of its communities, and sadly some of those volunteer crew have now stepped away. I wish them and all the stations around the country well, but let us make sure that the RNLI is strengthened, and way to do that going forward is transparency, rather than secrecy.