Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill First Report

8 The Regional Tier


261. This chapter examines the Government's concept of a regional tier to coordinate the response to an emergency over a sufficiently wide area to require the invocation of emergency legislation.

262. There is broad consensus on the need to modernise existing legislation in order to "reflect the move from Cold War civil defence to modern civil protection."[280] It is clear, too, that a key element in the Government's modernisation strategy is the creation of a regional dimension in the civil protection function. This objective is pursued in Part 2 of the draft Bill.

263. The two main purposes of creating a regional tier are:

  • to improve coordination - between the local and regional bodies, at the regional level itself and between the regions and the centre;[281]
  • to enable the Government to proclaim an emergency over a restricted area of the country.

The Bill's Provisions

264. The draft Bill however fails to meet the objectives summarised above because the provisions relating to the regional tier are contained in Part 2, which deals with crisis response - not crisis planning. More specifically, the Bill creates the role of Regional Nominated Coordinator (RNC) in England, and Emergency Coordinators elsewhere in the UK, to be nominated at the time an emergency is proclaimed. The Government's Consultation Document says in terms that the regional tier will have a non-statutory role, including "to identify gaps and interdependencies, to assist with the brokering of mutual aid agreements … and to establish a strong cadre of staff familiar with emergency procedures".[282]

265. The main thrust of Part 1 of the Bill is to harmonise and integrate the planning and response functions of the local tier. It is an enabling provision which allows the achievement of consistency by means of regulations and guidance issued from the centre. It is clear that the Regional Resilience Forums and the Regional Resilience Teams (RRT) are also intended to provide a planning function, but their omission from Part 1 results in a lack of clarity over their responsibilities in the planning field. A further source of confusion is that, in England, the RRTs are more accurately defined as the 'regional presence' of national government, not a part of 'regional government' in the sense either of reporting to elected regional assemblies or as a means of devolving power to the regions from the Centre. At the local level, the RRTs could well be regarded as a means of furthering centralised control over locally elected bodies, while supposedly only having a 'coordination' function after an emergency has been proclaimed.

266. Beyond the regional offices of which they are a part, the RRTs also report to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as 'other' lead Government Departments in Whitehall. The regional tier will thus involve interaction between four elements: "the Regional Resilience Unit, the Regional Resilience Forum, the Regional Civil Contingencies Committee and the Regional Nominated Coordinator".[283] Such a complicated chain of command and control is a cause for concern.

267. The Government's Consultation Document argues that "the regional role in planning has to be clearly defined and well understood by other Responders, particularly at the local and national levels".[284] As noted earlier (in paragraphs 91-102), the Bill does not achieve such clarity. The relationships between the three tiers of response are obscure, potentially undermining the objective of ensuring consistency of approach across all levels of the resilience framework. This uncertainty and complexity was identified in the Defence Select Committee's report[285] and reinforced by other evidence. It will create conflicts of identity between local and national representation, while singularly failing to establish an alternative 'regional' culture. The mechanism for the nomination of the Regional Nominated Coordinator is not properly articulated and appears merely to mirror the 'lead government department' concept embedded in the national level framework, while many believe that in crisis conditions a proven crisis manager is preferable to a specialist in the discipline most closely connected to it (as outlined in paragraph 254).

Other Concerns

268. There are two other concerns:

269. The formalisation of a regional tier of government as part of the UK's resilience framework is an important initiative and is potentially of great value, not least in allowing for the proclamation of emergency over a smaller area than the nation as a whole, but also in achieving economies of scale between Responders at a time of crisis. It also has the potential to promote consistency in the overall level of civil protection planning. But the structure and responsibilities require further development to avoid the pitfall of creating an unnecessary and unwanted bureaucratic layer that contributes little to the resilience framework. Most importantly, the extent (or otherwise) of the regional tier's involvement in local contingency planning must be spelled out.

270. We therefore recommend that:

  • Part 1 of the Bill should clarify the respective planning responsibilities of the local authorities and the regional tier, and include a statutory duty for civil protection at the regional level.
  • The regional tier should be simplified in terms of structure.
  • The chain of command and communication between national and regional tiers needs to be clarified, and linked to the proposed Civil Contingencies Agency.
  • Part 2 of the Bill should include the flexibility to proclaim emergencies in geographical rather than administrative areas in circumstances which so dictate.

280   Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Consultation Document, chapter 1, para 2, p 9. Back

281   Ibid, chapter 4, pp.23-23. Back

282   Ibid, chapter 4, para 5. Back

283   Memorandum from the South East Regional Resilience Forum, Ev 266, p.1. Back

284   Chapter 4, p 22. Back

285   7th Report of Session 2002-03 (HC 557), pp. 12-14. Back

286   Q 78, Mr Alan Goldsmith (ACPO). Back

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