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New radio fee sparks anger with RNLI

PUBLISHED: 16:54 12 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:00 03 July 2010

ANGRY lifeboat supporters say they may have to raise another £260,000 a year under plans to make them pay for using life-saving radio airwaves.

Communications regulator Ofcom is looking at introducing fees for ship and air radio users to bring them in line with other licence-holders.

ANGRY lifeboat supporters say they may have to raise another £260,000 a year under plans to make them pay for using life-saving radio airwaves.

Communications regulator Ofcom is looking at introducing fees for ship and air radio users to bring them in line with other licence-holders. But the RNLI says the move could be a major drain on hard-earned cash gathered in volunteers' collecting tins across the nation.

Ofcom says a planned 50pc discount means the RNLI may only have to pay about £100,000, and that the fee is essential to ensure effective use of the commercially-valuable airwave “spectrum”.

But lobbyists for Britain's fleet of lifeboats which provide a vital service through public donations are asking why seafaring lifesavers have to pay anything at all.

Great Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said it would be unfair to charge any charity life-saving service, taking away money, for no extra benefit, which could be used on buying equipment.

An Ofcom spokesman said other users of the airwaves, from television broadcasters to taxis, paid to use parts of the spectrum, which was a “valuable and sought-after” finite resource and needed to be used effectively.

But the maritime and aeronautical sectors did not, so it was planned to bring them into line with the rest, under Administered Incentive Pricing (AIP). The biggest impact would be on ports and airports.

No specific figures were floated in the report currently out to public consultation, except that it would mean adding another 15p per tonne of shipped freight, and 3.9p for each air passenger flight.

There was no intention to affect safety, added the spokesman, and any fees would not start until 2010 to allow time for people to adjust funding.

Management of the spectrum airwaves was the sole responsibility of Ofcom, though it had been in discussions with the Department of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency over this issue.

In Norfolk, the chairman of Caister's independent boat also felt it was wrong for life-saving charity money to be channelled to licence fees.

“It costs us £120,000 a year to run this lifeboat station,” said Paul Garrod at the busy privately-run station. “The last thing we want to do is to dish it out for radio licences.”

Although the size of any charges were unknown “any fee is too much,” he added. “I don't see why they have to charge us at all.”

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