Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
560. You said, in response to my remark on a
"team of heavies", that it was a questionable proposition.
Did you mean that there is not a team available?
(Mr Griffin) Yes, sir.
(Councillor Phillips) Could I add to that? You mentioned
a sort of unitary authority. I come from a county with districts
and not unitary. There is a considerable measure of cooperation
and liaison between all the districts which do not have the responsibility.
The county has the main responsibility. We do have joint liaison
committees, with chief executives and with other professional
officers within the county that work together as a team, although
the districts do not have any formal civil emergency planning
element to itand, of course, we are also fortunate that
we have a very close link with the Ministry of Defence in my own
county in Wiltshire because of the large number of defence establishments
situated within our county. We are just on the point of holding
an exercise at the present moment, with the brigade responsible
from the Ministry of Defence of a joint emergency exercise. In
our county we are very fortunate in that way, in that we already
have the Ministry of Defence very much involved in our system.
561. If that is the case, and you are suggesting
that in certain events national government are taking responsibilitywhich
is what I think you are leading up to suggestingand they
should set up the planning for dealing with major events like
a terrorist attack, how would you think such an arrangement would
work? How would the Government response be given? How would you
be involved in that? What would your mechanism be for alerting
them to a change from your issue to a national issue?
(Mr Kerry) Chairman, the whole ethos of local authority
emergency planning has for many, many years been enshrined in
the document Dealing with Disaster which says, we believe
quite rightly, that the emergency planning response should be
prepared and made by the level delivering response to the emergency.
That has worked very well for any disaster you may care to name
that we have suffered in the last 10/15 years in this country.
The change or shift in planning assumptions now since 11 September
is to be: What if we are having to deal with something of such
a magnitude that even our existing mutual aid arrangements and
our liaison arrangements may be swamped by that? I think that
perhaps is where the question comes in: Is there a team which
could be "parachuted in" (as I have heard earlier) to
support that or to take over? Certainly we would say there is
not a role for another body to come in and take over. That is
a recipe for disaster. We believe there is a role for resources
to be accessed, for somewhere in government to cut across all
departments to provide that single point of contact, so that at
the level dealing with that disaster, whether it is the emergency
services in a part of London or in a shire county, or whether
it is the local authorities who are collectively supporting each
other, if the resources required are greater than mutual aid arrangements
locally can provide: Where do we go? The mechanism I think we
are looking for is something altered from the existing lead government
departments's principle, whereby, depending on the nature of the
major incident or catastrophe, a different department may be providing
the lead, with a different control room and a different set of
officials, we would support the concept that perhaps there should
be a central emergency operation centre somewhere in central government
to which we can go and say, "This is our shopping list."
We can manage the emergency because there are professionals in
all of the emergency services and in local authorities who are
capable of doing that. What we do not need is a separate tier
that takes over and provides a disruption then to the actual management
of the incident.
562. Councillor Tony Phillips said that in his
own particular area, because of the unique, particularly relevant
defence interests in that area, there is a good liaison between
his local authority and presumably the county council and the
MoD in Wiltshireas there is in my own, in Portsmouth in
Hampshirebut that is not the case everywhere. A terrorist
attack presumably would not be naturally directed towards a military
target; it would be directed towards a civilian target. What has
the LGA been saying to Government about who takes the responsibility
for triggering all the things that need to be happening? If there
was a major terrorist attack against a civilian target in a part
of the country that did not have these "cosyish" relationshipsand
I use that word reservedlywith the MoDbecause they
do not always work and they do not always tell each otherare
you satisfied that the Government is telling you enough about
what they expect of you and what you can expect from them? Is
there a line of management where an incident occurring could be
transported from a local issue to a national issue?
(Mr Kerry) I think at this point, probably, no, not
to the degree we would certainly want and the evidence for that
has been in recent emergencies such as the fuel crisis and, a
while ago, foot and mouth. We have seen the delays in: What is
a local emergency? What becomes a national matter? What are the
mechanisms for bringing in that? Certainly the LGA and others
have made representation to the Government that there needs to
be some trigger mechanism. Again, I think, we get back to: Where
is the central coordinating part of government departments where,
depending on what the information is, it comes together to a body
of people that can make that assessment?
563. Are they listening to what local government
(Mr Kerry) We are still awaiting some of the responses,
I think, if it is fair to say that for my colleagues. We are certainly
564. Eighteen months on from 11 September and
you are still awaiting a response from them on clearly defining
the role of local government in this sort of incident.
(Mr Griffin) I think the role of local government
is clearly defined. I think the relationship with central government
and how central government responds is the issue which is still
capable of improvement. I think it would be fair, however, to
say that perhaps before 11 September or perhaps, more accurately,
following other emergencies which have happened in the last 24
months, shall we say, central government has become more aware
of the issues. I think things are generally improving. The establishment
of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office is
an improvement; there is more distance to go.
(Councillor Phillips) I think I must emphasise, though,
that from the local government point of view our role is, as Thomas
said, specific. We are there afterwards to finish off everything.
When the emergency services go away, that is very often not the
end of the matter at all; there is a lot of follow-up work to
do which local government always picks up and does. If it has
assistance from central government, very good, but very often
the emergency has gone over but there is still an aftermath which
has to be dealt with and it is always local government that has
picked that up and dealt with itand I think, may I say,
fairly effectively too.
(Mr Shuttleworth) I think, in the emergency phase
of any incident, the role of local government is usually, in an
incident like September 11, to support the emergency services
and provide resources and expertise to support them. In certain
emergencies (flooding and foot and mouth), the local authority
could actually be taking the lead, with the emergency services
supporting the local authority in some areas. I think those are
locally determined of when that happens. So that is clearly defined,
but afterwards, obviously, as Councillor Phillips has said, in
the recovery phases, the local authority takes the lead. That
is our community role.
Chairman: We will come back to this.
As far as I am concerned I am sure almost every local authority
with the appropriate resources could deal perfectly adequately
with a crisis up to a point, but September 11 has revealed to
us what we should have known, as many did know, that there is
a point at which no existing arrangements would be adequate. You
do not have the time, two or three days, to work out, "I
am afraid existing arrangements are not satisfactory." It
would have to be done very quickly. I think that is what we want
to explore, the relationship between central government and local
authorities. This morning's session will be a variation of that
565. And this will be no exception. Your memorandum
welcomed the notion of a change in the legislative framework in
terms of the emergency planning in England and Wales, by which
I think we are all referring to the new emergency planning duty,
and it agrees that local authorities should have the lead in preparing
emergency plans and that all other agencies should be under a
duty to share in partnership arrangements. I just want to explore
a little more this notion of partnership duties, both in relation
to partnership across tiers of government and with the private
sector. Could you just explain, first of all, what benefits a
partnership duty would bring?
(Mr Griffin) I think one needs to look at what is
likely to need to happen. In any response and in any recovery
phase a large number of agencies are likely to be involved and
those agencies which are involved will need information about
certain circumstances. Agencies will only effectively work together
in an emergency situation if they understand each other's roles,
responsibilities, structures, if they understand each other's
culture. That is very much a point your Chairman made a moment
ago. If that has got to be learned on the job at the time, it
will be learned on the job at the time but not necessarily effectively.
That kind of understanding needs to be built up, preferably in
advance. We have got, as local authorities, a lot of experience
of working in two tier areas, such as mine with the other tier,
with the emergency services, with the voluntary sector. We are
used to working together, planning together, training together,
exercising together, so that we do understand each other's rules,
responsibilities, structures, and we have a shared understanding
of what is expected of us and what is expected of the other agencies.
That needs, we think, to be enshrined and to be widened out; widened
out to cover central government and widened out to cover organisations
such as utilities and the utilities' regulators, for example.
Once upon a time, the infrastructure of the country was relatively
easy to understand. Utilities now have changed beyond all recognition.
We may not necessarily understand the organisation or the facts
about utilities within our area as well as we ought to. And other
things change as well. We are used to working very closely with
the health service. NHS involvement is always an element where
there are casualties, but it may be a particular element if it
should be a September 11 type event or, worse still, a chemical
biological type event. The NHS is going through yet another of
its periodic reorganisations and we are struggling to understand
what the outcome of that will be, but the basic principle is that
we need to be working in partnership with these other agencies
in advance, understanding, planning, training, exercising together,
so that there is a good chance that the response and recovery
will be effective. Our experience generally is that organisations
are willing to work together, but that is likely to be more strongly
reinforced if there is a duty of partnershipand there are
existing models, such as the Crime and Disorder Act and some of
the health legislation, which impose duties of partnership, which,
in my experience at least, work.
566. Yes. Well, I could comment on thatwhich
is not necessarily on my script.
(Mr Griffin) Well, they work in some areas.
567. I would say that in terms of youth offending
teams, for example, crime and disorder partnerships and so on,
there are very good examples of them working well.
(Mr Griffin) Yes.
568. I think in Wiltshire the youth offending
team system works exceptionally well, but it is not necessarily
consistent across the country. I guess that is part of the concern
within this whole debate. Most of us accept local government taking
a lead, but we are also looking for a consistent set of standards
in how that is applied and how it works. Within that context,
I am interested in what capabilities local authorities are bringing
to the partnership and how that remains consistent. Councillor
Phillips, I used to live in Wiltshire, as you may remember, and
I am well aware that many people look to community leadership
from their town council, from the town mayor. So local authorities
have all sorts of definitions in all sorts of places. People look
to them in different ways in different places. What are local
authorities within that broad definition bringing to the table
in terms of leadership and in terms of partnership?
(Mr Griffin) I think we bring a number of things to
the table. One is, I think, an existing community leadership role
and an existing community leadership expectation, in that those
of us who have experienced not the type of events we are talking
about, but other incidents, know that the community will look
to us for a response. More importantly, I think we bring experience,
expertise and professional capability in terms of dealing with
specific issues. Often the response involves providing shelter
for those who have been evacuated: that is the business with which
we are familiar. Or it is dealing with actual or potential or
perceived pollution: that is business with which we are familiar.
So we bring expertise, we bring experience. We also bring experience
in working in partnership, increasingly, and in leading partnerships,
bringing partnerships into beingnot necessarily leading
the product but leading in bringing them into being. So we have
a lot to bring to the table.
(Councillor Phillips) I will also add to that, of
course, that one of the things local authorities can bring, both
through officers and elected members, is of course local knowledge,
which is absolutely key to the whole situation. If people do not
have the local knowledge, they can be the most expert in the world
but they cannot contribute what a local individual's knowledge
is on that particular situation. That is absolutely fundamental.
569. I fully accept that, so that ultimately
we are looking for a marriage between that local knowledge and
that professional expertise and an increasing amount of specialist
knowledge that agencies can in turn bring to the table. They may
be in the private sector, they may be in central government and
they may be in the MoD as well. Given that level of specialism,
given that there are local authorities, many of them, up and down
the land and all addressing these issues and seeking to exercise
their own capability, how do you coordinate that? How do you bring
in those specialist agencies and their expertise and make that
(Mr Griffin) Can I just dig a little bit into that
570. Yes. Please.
(Mr Griffin) What exactly do you mean by how do you
bring that about? Do you mean how structurally?
571. You have agencies such as the Environment
Agency, which, in my dealings with them, is a regional type structure.
You might have utilities that have perhaps a national structurecertainly
their regulators do. You are seeking to exercise
(Mr Griffin) I think I understand the point of the
question. Thank you for that. Yes, I think perhaps that question
steps off from one of the things I said earlier on about the importance
of all agencies being involved. That does not mean to say that
the only level of planning and preparation is, if you like, at
the smallest local agency and that, if you have . . . I do not
know how many district councils there are in England . . . 350
district councils, you have 350 different individual units. Clearly
there has got to be a level of cooperation and coordination at
an appropriate level. In the particular shire county where I live
and work at the moment, the appropriate level I would suggest
is at the county level, which is coterminous with the police and
the fire level. There may be different answers in different areas,
but, yes, there has to be a certain degree of cooperation and
coordination. That is partly one of the reasons why the duty of
partnership is important: the duty of partnership should also
be a duty to ensure that cooperation and coordination arrangements
are in place. If one chooses the appropriate level, which needs
to be a balance between involving all the relevant agencies and
retaining the local response because of points about local knowledge
and soon, then I think that is the ideal solution.
572. Does there come a point at which a regional
lead should be taken?
(Mr Griffin) I am much more sceptical about that,
partly because some of the regions are relatively large and may
start to suffer some of the diseconomies of scale, and they suffer
some of the difficulties in understanding local circumstances.
There may well be a regional dimension in terms of providing support,
additional resource, assistance and, for that matter, perhaps
liaison with central government, but I would not recommend the
base level of cooperation or coordination being at a regional
(Councillor Phillips) I think I would follow that
with the fact that I was the independent member on the inquiry
in the LGA into regional government and one of the problems that
we had in some areas that would be regions is that they are very
compactManchester/Liverpool/Birmingham, sort of thingand
in the south west there is 300 miles from one end of the region
to the other. You can actually go to Glasgow in the same distance.
Whether you would call Glasgow to help you in the south west .
. . I mean, I am being stupid in that way but, nevertheless, it
is true that the geographical set ups would inhibit certain regions
from taking part in an organisation like that, but in other regions,
where they are close-knit, then they may well be able toand,
as they are big centres of population, I think there is a very
good reason for something being set up in that particular direction
but it would only apply to those sort of areas in the country.
(Mr Shuttleworth) I think the support role from the
region would be vital, but, of course, you must remember emergencies
may not reflect local authority boundaries and may not reflect
regional government boundaries either. Foot and mouth in our area
affected Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire. That was three government
regional offices, so you are back to the same problem again.
573. I would like to raise the issue about what
is realistic in terms of objectives for emergency planning and
how you would realistically set those objectives against the resources
and capabilities that are available to you, either individually,
as a group of local authorities, or collectively, bringing other
agencies in, and how you express what those objectives are. I
am interested to know whether or not you feel they ought to be
properly quantified, in that there ought to be achievable targets,
in that they in themselves ought to be public documents.
(Mr Shuttleworth) I do think there should be objectives,
and performance indicators perhaps (if you want to use that term),
of our capabilities and our performance, of how we are meeting
those objectives. They should be public. We are public authorities.
A number of us have been through the best value review process
and have produced locally determined performance indicators. There
are no national performance indicators at the moment. Although
we have seen draft documents produced over a year ago, those have
not been produced, so nationally there are no performance indicators.
There is no monitoring of our performance nationally. Our own
performance indicators reflect some of our key areas of work:
producing plans, how many plans we produce in the required timescales;
how many people we train; how many exercises we hold; how many
inter-agency liaison meetings we have; how many incidents we respond
to within agreed timeframes; and overall satisfaction of some
of our partners, if you like, with our performance. As I say,
there are no national performance indicators, and we have to work
against in any emergency as well: we have to respond to the emergency
but we also have to keep other services running because the other
services do not go away. So we have to try and balance the response
and dealing with business as usual: social services still need
to be working, education needs to go on. We can come up with performance
indicators, but, again, they are not consistent at the moment.
574. What does your committee within the LGA
have in the way of self-imposed targets for you as local authorities
to respond to, to be able, say, to evacuate and temporarily rehouse
a certain number of people over a certain period of time, getting
the basic services restored to an area, like water and sewage,
communications and power? What sort of targets have the LGA started
to address in saying, "We are an emergency planning organisation,
we have the responsibility to provide a plan. These are the targets
we are going to set ourselves. Are these achievable? (Yes or no.)
Do we have the resources to support them? (Yes or no.)" I
am interested to know what you have done within the LGA to see
whether or not there is a consistent approach across local authorities
about their responsibilities and whether you as an organisation
are starting to set targets for local authorities to be able to
say, "Our plan can meet the LGA's proposed targets."
(Mr Shuttleworth) The LGA's role in this is actually
to contribute to the Cabinet Office performance indicators when
they were consulting with local authorities. The LGA has not set
any performance targets for local authorities. I do not think
that is within the remit of the LGA to do. The quantifiable objectives
you mentioned, about how many people you can evacuate and shelter
for a certain period of time, are very difficult to quantify.
There are so many imponderables in there. I mentioned continuity
of service. All local authorities will have identified premises
that they can use for rest centres, to evacuate people to and
shelter them. They will have identified agencies that would respond
in the local authority and within the private and voluntary sector.
The WRVS and Red Cross/St John come to mind. That is resource
limited. You could not use all your rest centre accommodation
at any one time because of the resource implications for the local
575. That beggars the question: How realistic
is any local authority's emergency plan? Based on what you have
just said, there is no benchmark to go by. You are not sure whether
they are accurate in what they can deliver, the targets are not
judged on any national guidelines, it is just your version of
what ought to be done. How realistic is that? Do the public not
have a right to know that you have an emergency plan which is
flawed because it really does not stack up when it is open to
(Councillor Phillips) In general terms, the plans
that have been drawn have always been measured by local government.
The LGA and the predecessor authorities such as the county council
association have always been drawn on the basis of the best information
locally. I think what you are saying, sir, to a certain extent
is that because we are in a new scenario nationally in terms of
September 11, for want of a better description, do our plans meet
576. No, I am not talking about a specifically
terrorist threat. My area was affected badly by flooding and our
initial response was abysmal. It was absolutely abysmal: we could
not get our hands on generators, we could not get people's homes
cleared, the fire brigade could not cope. It was an abysmal first
response. It got better but it only got better when other people
from outside started to influence what was going on. It took some
while to get that in process. So it is not about just a reaction
to September 11, it is about what local authority plans are actually
worthyou know: Do they really identify where the inadequacies
are? There is insufficient temporary sheltered accommodation available
to deal with the thousand people who might have to be evacuated
for as long as a week, maybe. If those plans are worthless, why
spend any time on them? Why have them? Why should the public have
any confidence in local government and local governments plans?
And I am talking as someone who has 32 years' experience in local
government and is still a councillor, so I am concerned about
this. I am interested to know what local governments' response
to an emergency is worth.
(Mr Griffin) I cannot comment on the particular response
to flooding in your area.
577. No, of course you cannot.
(Mr Griffin) It would be wrong and presumptuous of
me to try to do so, but I think it is inappropriate to suggest
that local authorities' emergency plans are flawed and then to
move from that pre-supposition to any conclusions. Can I just
roll back to the issue of the Local Government Association. The
LGA is a representative body. It does not set standards of performance
or performance indicators for any activity. We have quite a number
of other agencies setting standards and performance indicators
on us as things stand at the present moment. There is an absence
of nationally set indicators for emergency planning and it is
probably appropriate, given increased recognition of the significance
of emergency planning, that that is looked at. That will be looked
at by central government or the Audit Commission, not by the Local
Government Association. But I think the more important point is
that Ian's comment about quantifiable targets has perhaps been
slightly misunderstood. It is difficult to set quantifiable targets
because one needs to look at the circumstances in which an event
occurs and the resources which can be brought to bear. Yes, we
can identify the resources which are available, but we cannot
necessarily use all the resources ourselves at any given time,
and for that reason it is important that authorities do work together
with other agencies to bring those resources to bear. We have
mutual aid arrangements with our neighbouring districts and neighbouring
county, so that if we had to evacuate large numbers of people,
more than we could look afternot more than we could accommodate
but more than we could look afterthen we could call on
staff from neighbouring counties to help us on that. The issue,
when you step up to something like September 11, is that mutual
aid between local authorities could potentially be quite difficult
because a number of them might be in the same boat and it is for
that reason that I started to talk about the availability of additional
resource from the centre.
578. Is it then not your responsibility, in
your emergency plan, clearly to identify where there are deficiencies?
so that the people out there, the people in the end who will have
to pay, the council tax payers or general tax payers, know that
they will now have to foot an increased bill to give them not
a great deal more but certainly a better chance of having an emergency
plan that is robust and defensible. Should they not be told by
local authorities: "We have a plan but it has got holes in
(Mr Griffin) It has not necessarily got holes in it.
It has got a limit beyond which it can go. The capacity of an
individual organisation to respond to an event is clearly a limiting
factor on the plan, yes, of course.
579. Let us cut the nonsense. Of the three of
you in local government
(Mr Griffin) There are four of us actually.