Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
700. There is nobody really in the system at
your level that is trusted enough to be exposed to the information
on the basis they would not tell an enemy? That is clearly a weakness.
(Mr Hoult) It is an operational difficulty, it is
a working difficulty that we are faced with on a regular basis,
yes. It would be of benefit if some of us could get security clearance.
Certainly at the meeting I attend with Mr Clark it would put me
in a better position than the one I am faced with currently.
Mr Crausby: But is it trust or is it a question
of who you are accountable to? It would change your relationship
clearly, would it not?
701. Can I add to that. It sounds to me that
what you are effectively saying is the officials can be trusted
but the politicians cannot.
(Mr Hoult) Certainly not.
702. That seems to be the conclusion of those
who do not want to give you documents that you might them be required
to hand over to a politician.
(Mr Hoult) Whether those are their thoughts or not
I could not possibly comment.
703. We have a similar problem with the Ministry
of Defence so it is not unique.
(Mr Hoult) I am a public servant and, quite rightly,
any of the elected members of my authority can ask to see any
document which I hold and have in my possession.
704. You have a fiduciary duty?
(Mr Hoult) I am not familiar with that.
705. I was a councillor for 29 years in Portsmouth
and a Hampshire county councillor as well and that has been used
to stop me getting information, certain information at certain
levels which is not required to be passed on to mere elected councillors.
I can understand that. Councillors are not security cleared but
in some respects when you get appointed to high office in local
government then there is a certain clearance and security, I can
understand that. We have discovered a blank link there which is
not easing things. There should be some trust especially after
the events of 11 September.
(Mr Hoult) Absolutely, yes.
706. I think what we are trying to say is do
not take it personally.
(Mr Hoult) No, we are not.
707. Can I just ask you, you heard the earlier
response from the Local Government Association when they were
asked about their experience of the usefulness of the Emergency
Communications Network and the business with personal radio networks
and so on. Can I ask you whether your experience of it has been
any more positive?
(Mr Cunningham) I thought the LGA were very polite
(Mr Hoult) In fact, let me quote my colleague here
at a presentation that Patrick made a couple of weeks ago to an
audience looking at a national framework for emergency planning.
Patrick said "There have been a number of reviews of the
ECN, none of which we ever hear the results of". Patrick
has reviewed it and the result of his review is that it is totally
(Mr Cunningham) I am sure I did not say that.
Rachel Squire: Thank you for your direct answer.
708. Just a few concluding questions. Is it
essential in your profession that you have to acquire certain
qualifications and what are those qualifications?
(Mr Hoult) It is not essential at all, no. Different
organisations have different recruitment policies for emergency
planning officers. It was historically the case in the days when
it was civil defence war planning the majority of people doing
the job were emergency or ex-military services and that has now
completely changed. The Emergency Planning Society has been working
recently very closely with a number of educational establishments,
most notably Coventry University, and we have now put together
with that establishment an emergency planning qualification which
the Emergency Planning Society are sponsoring and recommending
to employers that people they take on have undertaken some period
of study, preferably this one. We cannot force that upon employers,
we cannot make employers do that.
709. I know there are good courses in Hertfordshire,
the Scarman Centre. Should it be compulsory? If not, should it
be made retrospective? Is it deable, feasible, that people who
enter your profession should prove at some stage that they have
the requisite qualifications in order to undertake the onerous
tasks, which are becoming more onerous?
(Mr Hoult) Absolutely, and this is very much the case
that we would like to get to. What we would like is the profession
to receive Institute status. For example, to become an environmental
health officer with a local authority you have to be a member
of the Institute of Environmental Health and that is where we
would like to get to and then we can put people through continuous
professional development courses and ensure that they receive
regular updates and regular training to enable them to have the
skills to be able to do the job.
710. Is there a reasonable career structure
in your profession?
(Mr Hoult) There is no career structure whatsoever.
There used to be but that is one of the things that has been stripped
away. With the advent of metropolitan boroughs undertaking emergency
planning and unitary authorities, most of those types of local
authorities employ one person, so there is nowhere within their
authority that they can move on to. Within county teams, which
are larger because they look after the districts within their
area, there is a certain element but not a great deal.
711. Are there any guidelines laid down for
the physical environment in which an emergency planning team would
operate during an emergency?
(Mr Hoult) No.
(Mr Hoult) No.
713. What if there was a serious threat, let
us say chemical or nuclear, obviously you would not have hardened
facilities but nobody lays down that the telephones must be secured
or there must be enough room for people to operate?
(Mr Hoult) No. There used to be a requirement for
every local authority in civil defence terms to have an emergency
centre from which you would operate. The Home Office Emergency
Planning Division removed the requirement to have that in 1994
or thereabouts. No. In those days when there was a requirement
to have that you had all those facilities within that place.
714. It seems to an outsider that is absolutely
appalling. Is it as bad as it appears to me? Here you have a crisis
which might be more serious than even foot and mouth, a serious
terrorist attack, and nobody lays down that the room must be able
to be protected, the doors must be of a certain strength, the
telephones have to be secured, there must be enough telephones,
there has to be a supply of water and tea making facilities, computers
operating, communications to all and sundry, nobody insists on
(Mr Cunningham) Nobody insists on that but I do have
to say that a lot of local authorities have ignored what they
have been told by the Home Office Emergency Planning Division
and they have kept their emergency centres and they are paying
(Mr Hoult) We fund them ourselves.
(Mr Cunningham) It is one of the things that local
authorities fund themselves because they know that the Home Office
will not fund them. Nobody actually insists now that you have
to have them. That is one of the ways that my own authority could
save money by just not having that room available. There would
be no come back to the authority if we got rid of the room because
we have more or less been told by central government that there
is no requirement for these rooms. It was ironic in that the one
piece of guidance we have had from central government to do with
CBRN had actually talked in their document about local authorities
not having one emergency centre but two. It was a little bit of
an about turn and again it talks about having two emergency centres
but no funding to fund them.
715. This may be a silly question but what would
happen if there was a chemical attack and your whatever planning
centre was operational but was no longer capable of being used
and the staff were no longer capable of undertaking their task?
This is feasible. What are the arrangements then? Is the nearest
local authority adjacent designated or do you have some alternative
site in which those left could go to?
(Mr Hoult) There is no statutory requirement to have
those sort of arrangements in place. Those of us obviously who
take the role seriously then we have those ad hoc arrangements
with our neighbours to have that in place. The majority of us
have business continuity plans as well which enable us to continue
our business if the place we normally work from or the staff that
normally perform the role are not available to do that.
716. I will not ask you because I am being paranoid
but from where I am sitting things look pretty dreadful. Things
cannot be as bad as they might appear to be. Please assure me.
(Mr Hoult) I would not want anybody to leave this
room with the wrong impression. An awful lot of good work is done
out there by an awful lot of people, very, very committed to the
process of ensuring that this country is prepared to meet the
challenges of any major emergency it may face. An awful lot of
work. I have a team of nine people in Hampshire and we work very,
very hard at ensuring that whatever is thrown at us we are able
to meet. The majority of my colleagues around the country are
in exactly the same position.
717. It could be so much better?
(Mr Hoult) It could.
718. It should be?
(Mr Hoult) It could. If we only had the resources,
the money, the funding, the adequate funding to do the job properly
then we could have a wonderful system. You asked the LGA if the
current arrangements provided a basis from which to start. In
terms of providing a platform on which we can start to build,
yes, we have that in place but we need an awful lot of money,
we need an awful lot of other resources to start that building
process to build up.
719. Thank you all very much. It has been very,
very helpful. If there is anything further you would like to send
to us, documents you think we ought to be looking at pointing
out the strengths and the weaknesses we would be grateful to receive
them. Thank you.
(Mr Hoult) We will do. Thank you.