Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100 - 1119)



  1100. There would have to be a translation. Sorry to reduce that very sensible reply to a much lower level. Perhaps you could help us by sending us some of the literature on the argument on regionalisation. I do not have a problem in the West Midlands. Would that be the level of regionalisation or would the region of the West Midlands have to incorporate Staffordshire, for example? The logic of decision making at a higher level seems to me so overwhelming I am surprised.
  (Mr Bull) In our previous life in the Home Office there was a document produced some four or five years ago called Working Together[5] which actually produced some regional models for discussion and consideration, one of which was based around the Government Office boundaries which seemed eminently sensible at the time. Largely at that time the boundaries between the blue light services were also a little bit more coterminous than they are now. As we have moved through the last five years, those boundaries between emergency services have fragmented quite a bit now, particularly with the changes in ambulance service, trusts and things of that nature which have become larger. So the boundaries are no longer coterminous. My personal opinion is if we went for a regional model, I think we would end up with different geographical models to suit different parts of the country because we will have different fire services. The fire service in Devon is different from the fire service in London which is different from the fire service in Newcastle in geographical spread alone without any of the other economic facts taken into account.

  1101. If you would not mind sending us the literature it would be very helpful.
  (Mr Bull) Yes.

Patrick Mercer

  1102. Some brief questions and beg your opinion and I will ask you to be succinct if I may. What is your view of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat record? I probably know what you are going to say but do you think it has improved since 11 September?
  (Mr Bull) First of all, I think it has improved since 11 September. The reason I say that is because we are now an inclusive stakeholder and player in that game, if you like, putting it that way. Originally when CCS was conceived the fire service was not included in the CC committee. We made strong representations to our ministers and thankfully we are included now. We are a major player, major stakeholder in the work that is going on. I understand now there are some 18 sub-committees under CCS which is up and running. We are represented on the majority of those committees. The difficulty we have from a Fire Service point of view is being able to resource all of those committees, both from a national DTLR fire policy unit perspective and local authorities. If you just take the work that is going on at the moment that is associated under the Fire Inspectorate on a new dimension, we have got some 100 fire officers nationally working on those aspects which authorities have released voluntarily to work on national projects because obviously there is a mutual benefit there. That again then puts strain on those local authorities to enable them to continue to do their day to day work. My answer is yes, it has improved in my view. Perhaps one of my concerns would be openly to say that perhaps in some ways you do get the impression that the impetus and the pace of the work has slowed a little.

  1103. What is the effect of responsibility being transferred from the Home Office to the DTLR?

  (Mr Bull) I think from a Fire Service point of view it has given us a re-birth, a greater opportunity. It has put us into a department where we are now alongside our local government colleagues so there is a greater understanding of the Fire Service in terms of local government and how it fits, how it operates and how we work in preference to when we were in the Home Office. I have to say that when we were in the Home Office as a Fire Service I think we were a little bit of a poor relation underneath the police, prison, immigration and the services which went along with that. Obviously we are an essential emergency service but we are only 3 per cent of local government spending in totality. In terms of that we are not a huge local government resource that is going to make a difference in terms of any of the party's manifestos or things of that nature. We are not a political animal, if I can speak very candidly in that way.

  1104. Nor should you be.
  (Mr Bull) Also moving into DTLR, it is obviously a much bigger department with much more resources. Initial impressions are it is much more dynamic in dealing with issues. Also, the opportunities there for working alongside Health and Safety, building regulations, neighbourhood renewal, social inclusion, housing, transport, all of those things now provide wider opportunities as the United Kingdom Fire Service now develops because we are developing to provide more community services with the operational safety net being recorded as a failure now. Attending a fire is a failure, we should have stopped that fire occurring in the first place. We have a responsibility to reduce fire deaths, fire related injuries, things of that nature, which build into the wider community safety agenda. My impression is a very positive one. Where we are lacking, however, is in the Home Office, now DTLR, ministers were working up a vision and primary outcomes for the United Kingdom Fire Service on which we would build our future and that work has been going on for some two or three years now. I understand that it is about to be published but obviously it now needs to include the wider dimension of the events of 11 September and how that is integrated into the future work of the Fire Service.

  1105. Are you getting enough information from central government?
  (Mr Bull) Yes, I think we are. We have excellent liaison arrangements with all of the stakeholders now and because we are representing professional fire officers we have regular meetings with the Local Government Association, for example, with fire policy in DTLR, with the Inspectorate, we are represented on all of the various committees now, the Fire Brigade's Advisory Council, all of those various sub-groups. We are very closely involved in policy development. We do get a lot of information. The only concern I would raise is in terms of what we are actually basing our risk assessments upon now. You hear a lot of people talking about catastrophic events but I do not think the Fire Service is fully in the intelligence loop to actually understand what is being defined now as a catastrophic event. In some ways we are weighing our risk assessments and our risk footprints and the resources and things required to underpin that against something of an unknown quantity which perhaps the Cabinet Office, CCS, other people are more involved in and understand that definition.


  1106. As London is a bit closer to the seat of the action, have you had more information on intelligence?
  (Mr Dobson) We have very good links with the Anti-Terrorist Branch at New Scotland Yard and with the Metropolitan Police generally. We also represent CACFOA on many of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat committee structures within that. On a day to day basis we have very good intelligence links with the Anti-Terrorist Branch and we do get information in relation to the potential for specific threats against London but on a very day to day, short term basis rather than a longer type planning scenario.

  1107. And have communications reached as far as Devon?
  (Mr Young) Yes. I think it applies all over the UK that there are good relationships between fire brigades and principal fire officers and their colleagues in the police particularly. I think that 11 September, if anything, has really spurred on the development of those communication links.

  1108. It is high intelligence, I suppose, you are talking about.
  (Mr Young) Yes.

  1109. What can they tell you, and if they tell you maybe you can tell us as to what is their, thinking about the kind of attacks that might take place? Is it at a level above which we have no real comprehension and maybe no real ability at this stage to deal with it? What would have happened if you had been in New York and you had to deal with an attack of which I am sure nobody had the slightest idea of the magnitude of that catastrophe? Is that the kind of intelligence, taking you into their confidence about much of their thinking as to what are the different scenarios, whether they can fit in your thinking and planning to meet the top levels of that potential threat?
  (Mr Bull) That is exactly the case, I could not have put it better myself.

  Chairman: Perhaps we will put it better. I must say with your defence of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat they may be writing to you shortly inviting you to go along as head of public relations. I think they need a little bit of help. I think you can start packing your suitcase already.

Syd Rapson

  1110. I think it goes without saying that since 11 September it has brought home to many of us in this country how much we owe the Fire Service. We take it for granted, not least with the IRA attacks that have happened, often you, the police and the ambulance crews are the first in and in New York, unfortunately, a lot of people lost their lives in the subsequent collapse of buildings. We are interested in knowing just how much you know before you go into an event. The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association memorandum states that all chief fire officers and other principal fire officers are security cleared to the appropriate level. Now that is vague enough for me to know that you need to know you have the information. Other local authority representatives have told us that they cannot actually have security clearance to that sort of level because under the arrangements in local government the chief executive or elected members of the authority can insist upon knowing what they know. I think there is a protection somewhere, which I have mentioned at a previous meeting, about fiduciary duty. How do the shire county fire services avoid this conflict of being able to have security information at a higher level of a potential risk for terrorism in particular yet at the same time avoid releasing that information to elected members and chief executives who have the right to know what you know?
  (Mr Bull) It is not an easy issue, first of all, and I think it is a matter of understanding between the people concerned. I think it is a matter of confidence as well between local authority members, officers, chief executives or whatever, they have confidence in each other's ability to make a judgment about what is releasable in terms of the planning assumptions in order to make sure that all of the integrated emergency planning and risk assessment which underpins that, everybody understands the overall picture. For example, fire officers before 11 September were not universally security cleared. Indeed, at the moment we have two principal officers in each fire authority security cleared, simply and utterly to undertake CBRN training at Winterbourne Gunner, that was the crux of the thing, and to be able to share some of the risk assessments which are now coming out of the work of the CCS and the sub-committees, that was the simple reason. We ensured that it was built into those arrangements. I will ask Paul just to deal with the shire perspective.
  (Mr Young) Yes. There are sensitivities about that. If I can give you a very local example. In my own case I had a dialogue with my own fire authority, particularly my chairman, when it was made clear that I and other colleagues would be security cleared. There may well be issues that members may want to ask questions on which would put me in a difficult position in terms of responding when it may be something that I actually cannot divulge. I think, as Richard has said, we have relied a great deal on trying to ensure that there is a mutual understanding about our respective positions. We have managed to get along on that basis. It is a difficulty and there are sensitivities there. I think the political position of the members and the professional position of the officers is one where we have tried to develop a mutual understanding about where we are and to do our best to try and avoid putting each other in difficult positions. It is not a terribly satisfactory way forward but it seems about the only thing we can do.


  1111. You might have found from the earlier session we had there is a different perception about what can and cannot be said.
  (Mr Young) Yes.

  1112. Did they understand your arguments?
  (Mr Young) Yes. Frankly, I think in practice what happens is that members avoid issues which they think might be difficult for me, even though they might wish to explore them really. I think that is the position.

  1113. Very often Government uses this as a means of avoiding answering questions.
  (Mr Young) Yes.

  1114. It is quite difficult to make that judgment as to whether they are being excessively secretive or genuinely holding back information.
  (Mr Young) Clearly I would not do that.

  1115. Of course not.
  (Mr Bull) I think it is part of an education process as well which we have gone through in explaining to our people what the various levels actually mean and what the classifications are, and that is quite important as well. Ron had some experiences which I will ask him in a minute to go through in London which are quite interesting.
  (Mr Dobson) I think the basis of the work we have been doing in London with the Metropolitan Police in particular has been on the basis of need to know and trusted friend basis whereby some of the information which has been available we have needed to know from the Fire Service perspective firstly in order to make sure that we can plan effectively for our response and also in order to play our full part in the multi-agency planning and work that takes place generally. Yes, there have been some sensitivities and there continue to be some sensitivities amongst some people but I think generally people need to recognise as well that the owner of the information has to be trusted to make a decision about what can and cannot be passed. Generally speaking we have managed to reach very amicable agreements around that.

  1116. Is there an indication that they are talking to London more openly than to Devon because the threat assessment would include London much higher up the list than some of the shire counties?
  (Mr Dobson) Certainly I would say there is very open sharing of information between emergency services in London but I think there is more information to share in London. I have nothing to indicate that would not be the case if it was outside of London as well.
  (Mr Bull) From a major city point of view, if you look at the liaison and the regular meetings which take place in those larger conurbations, if I can put it that way, I think you would find they are more frequent in the major cities than they would be in the more urbanised areas, I think that is a fact.

  1117. Do you face the dilemma in London if they are prepared to talk to you in that direction, do you find yourself under an obligation to communicate that information to your professional colleagues in other parts? This might be a delicate question to answer. In a way that overcomes imperfectly the communication problem.
  (Mr Dobson) It has not really caused a problem because we are very careful in London that whilst we have been party to information which other services have not been party to, really because of our location, we have always made it clear to the source of the information that we are representing, also, a national Fire Service as well and we need to make that information more widely available. We have done that from a range of means through our professional association.

Mr Crausby

  1118. The CCS consultation on the emergency planning review indicated a large majority in favour of a new partnership duty. Do you support new legislation to create an emergency planning duty of partnership?
  (Mr Bull) I think there are two things there. First of all, the emergency planning review started off some months ago, as you are aware, and sits here. Civil contingencies in 11 September work sits here. One of our greatest concerns is that those two pieces of work have to be brought together with some urgency and we have been asking for that for a number of months now because they are not sitting in isolation, we want an integrated way forward in planning for these events of the future. In terms of the sort of community leadership and partnership, from a Fire Service point of view, again when the emergency planning review was commenced, the Fire Service were excluded from the review and we had to make some very strong recommendations to get included, and we were included in part of the steering group. We did provide a very detailed document on our comments regarding the consultation document and where it should go in future. My view is that all of the partners at the local authority level, which includes the Fire Service, should be statutory partners of the new emergency planning integrated response. The Fire Service should not be taken over in emergency planning, it should be an equal player with equal status within that future planning scenario and consultation. I think the Fire Service is the only service really which plans on a day to day basis for high level emergency incidents, responds on a daily basis and actually delivers the goods in those particular scenarios. The wealth of experience we have got, it would be very wrong to ignore that in the emergency planning assumptions of the future.

  1119. What about leadership? Should the local authorities be given the community leadership role?
  (Mr Bull) Yes, I think they should provided everybody else has a statutory role to play there. For example, if you take the aspect of risk assessment, within the review it was indicated that local authorities should take the lead role for risk assessment, from our service point of view I do not think that is entirely right. The experience for risk assessment in the emergency scenario lies with the police and the fire. We have people who are employed to do those things who are expert and qualified in those particular fields who can contribute to the overall system. It is important that it is inclusive and not exclusive and the word is, as you have said, Sir, partnership.

5   Received by the Committee, not printed. Back

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