Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill First Report

7 Audit and Management


245. In this chapter we consider the mechanisms for assessment of performance, the role of the lead coordinator in declared states of emergency, and the provision of advice to contingency planners.

246. The Government believes that the certainty offered by the new local contingency framework will provide the basis for robust performance management of civil protection activity to ensure operational effectiveness and financial efficiency. It has considered establishing a new mechanism for performance management, possibly through an inspectorate, but believes that the use of existing mechanisms will achieve its aims of ensuring consistency of performance and bringing civil protection into the mainstream.[267] The new framework will feed into established processes through bodies such as the Audit Commission, the emergency services inspectorates, and the utility regulators.

247. In common with other areas of policy, the Government believes the means are already in place to allow the Minister to monitor performance and take effective action in the event of poor performance or non-compliance.[268] The Local Government Association is satisfied that joint preparedness can be tested and audited. It cited as an example the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, which are based on obligations placed jointly in two-tier areas, on the county council, the district council and the chief officer of police. The Association believe that the arrangements for audit and inspection generally work well.[269]

248. The Association of Chief Police Officers took a different view. They argued that there would be benefit in a separate inspectorate for emergency planning. Their experience of working with Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships suggested that multi-agency performance measures were both difficult to create and had limitations in holding organisations to account. They believe something as definable and containable as emergency planning could justify a very small inspectorate.[270]

249. We share the view of the Police, and are attracted by the concept of a separate, dedicated civil contingencies inspectorate. It would be able to ensure that civil contingency inspection had a high profile and that specialised expertise was developed to examine civil contingencies and the joint working arrangements which will be needed to underpin it.

250. Because of the importance of ensuring public confidence in the system, we recommend that the Cabinet Office examines the feasibility of a dedicated inspectorate to oversee performance management of civil protection activity, to ensure operational effectiveness and financial efficiency. Such a dedicated inspectorate might be based within a Civil Contingencies Agency (see paragraphs 256-260).

Crisis Management

251. Emergencies frequently develop into disasters because of the inadequacies of command and control. Confidence in commanders needs to be established before an incident occurs, and is dependent on a number of qualities, the most important of which is leadership but which include a deep understanding, and ideally experience, of the generic principles of the response to emergencies. The principle of appointment/organisation primacy already has a proven track record in counter terrorist operations where the police may be supported by a variety of departments, organisations or agencies, but it is ultimately the senior police officer who determines the course of action to be taken on the basis of the advice provided by the subject matter experts. Although in these circumstances the term "command and control" is avoided to minimise the sensitivities of the subordinate contributors, they are in effect the functions that the senior police officer fulfils.

252. In its Consultation Document, the Government states that "the identity of the Regional Nominated Coordinator would depend on the nature of the incident, mirroring at regional level the existing Lead Government Department concept."[271] In his evidence, the Minister in charge of the Bill said:

    "I am convinced that the approach that the British Government has taken, with lead Government departments identified in core areas of responsibility, is the right way forward for the people of Britain".[272]

253. Others disagreed, for example, the Surrey Police, who argue that "recent experience through the fuel crisis and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease has shown it does not work."[273]

Lead Government Department

254. We are concerned that the principle of lead government department for coordinating the response to a crisis following the declaration of an emergency will not ensure the best level of leadership under what are likely to be the most extreme and challenging conditions. It is also unlikely to ensure consistency of planning among the broad range of different disciplines. Nor would it allow for a consistent central Government participation in emergency planning exercises. We accept that expertise in the subject matter, whether from departmental Ministers or the heads of agencies/organisations, is an essential component of any response to a crisis, but we doubt if individuals selected for their specialist knowledge have the skills or experience necessary for crisis and consequence management. It is our belief, therefore, that a Regional Nominated Coordinator (or Emergency Coordinator) should be an individual with proven crisis management skills, not an official with expertise in one or other branch of government.

255. This view was shared by local authorities[274] and representatives of the "blue light" services.[275] We also believe that he or she should be identified in advance, not appointed as a crisis is breaking. Ideally, there should be a crisis management capability at every regional office, whose members would be intimately involved with the continuing development of emergency responses, to ensure mutual confidence at all levels. On the declaration of an Emergency, Regional Nominated Coordinators (and Emergency Coordinators) would then be supported, on the one hand, by the subject matter experts from the lead department/agency/organisation and, on the other, by the embedded emergency management experts.

An Advisory Agency

256. In his evidence, the Minister in charge of the Bill firmly rejected the concept of an "Emergencies" super Ministry, along the lines of the Department for Homeland Security in the United States.[276] We accept and support his arguments. That said, as in the case of leadership discussed above, we are not convinced that preparedness for events of such potentially catastrophic consequence can be effectively overseen by anything less than an organisation established for that specific purpose. That is in no way to diminish the expertise developed within individual departments in the confrontation of terrorism and other threats to the population, the economy and the environment, or the professionalism demonstrated by those who routinely manage emergencies.

257. What we propose is the formation of a relatively small permanent national Civil Contingencies Agency (CCA), not a department, staffed by people with expertise in the management of crises and their consequences, and perhaps answerable to a body of part time Civil Contingencies Commissioners, who in turn report to the Home Secretary. In addition to fulfilling a management and audit function, the Agency would also be responsible for setting national response standards for Category 1 and 2 Responders. We believe that by having subject matter experts, from the department or organisation within whose sphere of routine responsibility the emergency falls, providing specialist advice to the emergency manager a consistently high level of emergency management would be provided. We also consider that by providing the emergency management function at both National and Regional tier level there will be a high level of operational coherence.

258. In his evidence, the Minister in charge of the Bill described the coordination of the response to the foot and mouth epidemic as "the beginnings of an effective regional response in parts of the United Kingdom",[277] having earlier commented that central Government was able to "draw on the expertise of a range of outside bodies to assist it in that work of central coordination and resilience".[278] In our view, that function could more easily be achieved through a separate Agency, which could include individuals seconded from appropriate fields of emergency expertise (for example, military, logistics, police, CBN,[279] etc) for 2/3 year periods - ultimately building up a reserve of men and women who can be pulled in to advise at every level of Government, and to advise on the management and coordination of responses to crises requiring the use of emergency legislation. An equivalent group but with the potential for extended tenure would have responsibility for the management/coordination of response to crises requiring the use of emergency legislation. It would serve several objectives without cutting across Whitehall boundaries. These could include:

  • To measure capacity, set training objectives and operational standards and ensure compliance across all contributing departments, organisations and agencies, including those of central government, to ensure consistency in planning and response capability
  • To provide a channel for expert advice to local authorities
  • To collate technical, scientific and other information as it becomes available (including intelligence on terrorist techniques) and to consider strategies for dealing with wide area emergencies
  • To develop the ability to "horizon scan" to improve levels of anticipation and the planning necessary to cope with the unexpected
  • To develop an intimate knowledge of capabilities and skills at Local Government level and among the emergency services, so that any contingency could be dealt with by bringing together those individuals best able to manage the given emergency. This would require the Agency to develop a tactical as well as a strategic capacity
  • The Agency would report to Parliament annually (through the Home Secretary), and its reports should be published, as is the case with the Security and Intelligence Committee.

259. The national Civil Contingencies Agency could have representatives based in the Government's regional offices to advise and support potential Regional Nominated Coordinators. They would bring some focus for what is at present a vague concept of the Regional Tier in crisis planning and management (see chapter 8). They, and the Agency itself, would also provide a link to those organisations which are currently absent from the Bill but who would be involved in the process, namely the military, central government departments, and an array of national bodies and utilities. Such arrangements would be preferable to relying on the senior regional civil servant having responsibility for a role for which s/he was ill-equipped.

260. We therefore recommend that the Government gives careful consideration to the establishment of a Civil Contingencies Agency which, like other Agencies, would have both advisory and supervisory responsibilities.

267   Cabinet Office (June 2003) Draft Civil Contingencies Bill: Consultation Document, para 37, p 21. Back

268   Cabinet Office (2003) Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment (Local Responders), para 69. Back

269   Q 27, Mr Griffin (Local Government Association). Back

270   Q 60, Mr Alan Goldsmith (ACPO), and Memorandum from ACPO, Ev 21, question 9. Back

271   Chapter 4, para 18. Back

272   Q 265, Mr Alexander (Minister of State, Cabinet Office). Back

273   Memorandum from Surrey Police, Ev 268, para 6(h). Back

274   Q 110, Mr Cunningham (Durham County Council) and Mr Davies (Leeds City Council). Back

275   Q 50, Mr Alan Goldsmith (ACPO). Back

276   QQ 266-268, Mr Alexander (Minister of State, Cabinet Office) and Mr Hargreaves (Head of Bill Team, Civil Contingencies Secretariat). Back

277   Q 272, Mr Alexander (Minister of State, Cabinet Office). Back

278   Q 265, Mr Alexander (Minister of State, Cabinet Office). Back

279   Abbreviation for Chemical Biological and Nuclear. Back

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