The BBC has a news article today which is basically an editorial piece calling on the government to look at central funding.
This has been an issue for a while – Mountain Rescue teams are not funded by the government in any way and to be frank, some people don’t want us to receive government funding either. So what’s the fuss now and what’s the insider scoop?
There’s a number of issues at stake here.
Mountain Rescue in England and Wales is set up in what some people would consider a very odd way. We are not a national organisation like the coastguard or lifeboats for example. Each team is an individual charity and is affiliated with the Mountain Rescue (England and Wales) Council. The national body sets general direction, manages things like our intellectual property and provides a national face for the organisation. It’s run by and made up of Mountain Rescue team members. On some things, like the medical
syllabus, it sets very specific rules. On other things, such as technical equipment and techniques used in rescue it only sets guidelines and recommendations. Why’s that? Well, each team is different – they call cover different areas with different types of terrain and incidents to respond to. What works well for us, for example, may not work so well for a team like Patterdale. However, each team benfits from the experience and knowledge that comes from the national body to help them make a decision.
In recent years, our profile as an organisation has changed. Originally, the organisation was a loose collection of mountaineers – traditionally we were mountaineers helping mountaineers – a field in which self-rescue and the responsibility of fellow mountaineers to help others in trouble has been unmatched. However, with society becoming more leisure-oriented and also more litigious, we’re facing new challenges. The police especially have a tough time – they have a duty of care to the public, and are expected
to respond to missing persons but are expected to do so within an annually decreasing budget. As a result, the police have found Mountain Rescue teams an invaluable resource, especially when coupled with SARDA search dogs. A recent search was typical, with police resources stretched between multiple incidents and the mountain rescue numbers on a single incident greater than all of the officers on duty at that time in the area.
We’ve changed too. With the different uses we’re seeing, we’ve adapted, becoming used to “urban searches” and changing what equipment we carry. We’re experts on searching for missing persons, and our database of missing person behaviour is growing daily.
In my personal opinion, I have no doubt that we’re seen by the police as a “cheap” resource – after all, it’s cheaper to get us out for 8 hours searching and buy 20 packs of pie and chips than it is to pay overtime for 20 police officers to go out searching for 8 hours. Additionally, while officers may be better at door-to-door enquiries and the skills they typically use, in areas of wilderness or scrubland, the police are no match for us – because this is what we do and I wouldn’t expect them to be anywhere
near as good as us. We’re specialised search teams – not general officers handing out tickets and investigating crime one minute, searching for a missing 60 year-old with Alzheimer’s the next.
So should we be funded? This is still a contentious issue. Last year was the biannual Mountain Rescue conference held in Lancaster. A number of issues were discussed and funding was one of those. It’s a tough call – many people fear that with government funding will come government control. People are afraid that like the money from the Welsh Assembly and National Lottery (when we occasionally are successful), it’ll be ring-fenced – set aside for a specific purpose determined by a civil servant with very little
idea of what we actually do and need that money for.
In 1998, the tourism industry contributed over Â£1.1bn to the Welsh economy – 7% of the GDP. This is expected to more than double by 2010 to more than Â£2.3bn and to be directly responsible for over 150,000 jobs – we have the largest tourist industry in Europe. Last year, our team alone answered 77 calls. The obvious question is why do we struggle to raise enough money to keep the team running when we directly support an industry that accounts for so much of this country’s income?
In any event, the BBC has opened this discussion up to the public. You can make your views known here. I suspect that this discussion is going to be closely watched by a number of people.