Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from East Riding of Yorkshire Council


Q1.   Is the definition of emergency the right one? If not, in what ways should it be tightened or expanded to exclude certain classes of event or situation?

  We have the following points to make:

    —  We believe that the definition is too specific—it attempts to define the causes rather than the effects of an emergency. It is impossible to second guess the potential causes of an emergency. The definition needs to be more generic if it is to be of use to the practitioner.

    —  The definition needs to quantify the scale at which point an incident should be classed as an emergency. This could be achieved by using the word "major". Under the current definition an emergency could be declared following the destruction of one property.

    —  We do not think that political, economic or security issues should be included in the new definition—they are an unnecessary duplication and are simply one of the many events or situations which would require an emergency to be declared under the first two criteria of the definition due to the disruption to human welfare or the environment. The current definition is likely to prove very difficult for the local practitioner to operate. For example an emergency would need to be declared upon the closure of a major employing business, the collapse of a bank or the current inquiry over the death of Senior Weapons Inspector Dr Kelly.

    —  The proposed definition should be amended to allow the declaration of an emergency if public perception requires it. For example, a fire at a major chemical site may be under control but may require an emergency response to deal with the amount of enquiries generated by public concern.

    —  We have suggested a revised definition:

    An Emergency is an event or situation that presents a serious threat to:

      —  Human Welfare. Events or situations that cause, or may cause, a major disruption or threat to the welfare of the community.

      —  The Environment. Events or situations that cause, or may cause major contamination of land, water or air or disruption to plant or animal life.

    and requires the implementation of special arrangements by one or all of the Category 1 responders. (This could be in support of an incident affecting Category 2 responders.)

Q2.   Do you agree that the obligations imposed on both Category 1 and 2 responders by or under the new framework will ensure operationally effective and financially efficient planning and response to emergencies at the local level? If not, how should these obligations be increased or reduced?

  We believe that the duties imposed under the new framework have the potential to improve operational effectiveness and to encourage financial efficient planning and response to emergencies. In order for the potential to be realised the regulations must detail the roles and responsibilities of all those involved.

  We have the following general points to make:

    —  Giving Local Authorities the responsibility to promote Business Continuity in the community will mean fewer resources will be available for local authority emergency planning purposes. This will not result in a more effective or financially efficient local authority planning process or response.

    —  We believe that if organisations are considered sufficiently critical to be classed as Category 2 Responder then they should have a duty to carry out Business Continuity Planning.

    —  The regulations need to define the criteria and guidance for Business Continuity Planning and Risk Assessment.

    —  Placing a requirement on Category 1 responders to have business continuity arrangements in place for functions that they may need to deliver during an emergency may be counter productive and encourage organisations to choose not to provide those services in order to avoid the BCP duty. It may be beneficial to limit this requirement to statutory services.

Q3.   Do you agree that the membership of categories 1 and 2 is right? If not, which organisations should be added, moved or removed?

  We have the following comments to make:

    —  For sake of clarity, we think that Unitary Authorities should be specifically included in category 1.

    —  We believe that regional government should be included in one of the two categories.

    —  We believe that the Military should be a Category 1 Responder.

    —  We believe that NHS primary care trusts and hospitals along with the Health Protection Agency should be included under Category 1 responders.

    —  We understand that operators defined under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations and Pipeline Safety Regulations are not classed in either category because they are dealt with under existing legislation. We therefore question why Harbour Authorities and Airport are included as they are also covered under existing legislation (Civil Aviation Regulations, Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998).

    —  We would question why telecommunications operators have been identified and not other similar providers such as Internet Service Providers. Equally, rail operators have been identified and not other provides not such a coach or ferry operators. These specific elements of Category 2 responders may be best determined locally following risk assessment.

Q4.   Do you agree that the Bill gives the Government the right balance of regulation making powers to meet its aims of consistency and flexibility? If not, please explain how the powers should be expanded or constrained.

  Yes—The outline nature of the ill means that detailed consultation is required on the contents of the regulations.

Q5.   Do you agree that consistent arrangements for multi-agency working should be established, through the creation of Local Resilience Forums? If not, how else should consistency be established?

  Yes—We agree that Local Resilience Forums should be established but that consistency can only be achieved if it is accepted that the same model of membership, leadership, terms of reference and roles are used throughout the Country.

Q6.   Do you agree that the partial Regulatory Impact Assessment accurately reflects the costs and benefits of the Bill proposals? If not, how should it be changed?

  No—Within Section 5 of the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment Document reference is made to the additional costs for business, charities and voluntary organisations. The Council's are not in a position to comment on the cost to Category 2 organisations.

  It would appear that there is an acknowledgment within the document that costs will increase and these need to be considered as outlined within the section relating to Regulatory Impact Assessment Part 1 (Local Responders) Paragraph 64 which states ". . . the Cabinet Office will be responsible for finding the resources to transfer into the appropriate local government finance settlement as reimbursement to local authorities for the costs of their statutory role in emergency planning. At present the cost of compliance for Local Authorities is paid out of the Civil Defence Grant. Some local authorities have chosen to fund the activity above the level of grant for many years, and this is likely to continue".

  The statutory requirements to undertake additional emergency planning duties will place the council's within the Humber under significant pressure unless adequate resources are provided by Central Government.

  Local Authorities within the Humber have funded the emergency planning function at a level of £31,000 and £30,000 for 2001-02 and 2002-03 representing 13% and 11% contribution above the Grant. In 2003-04 the level of funding has been budgeted at £48,000, which is a 17% contribution above Grant. These contributions demonstrate a visible commitment to emergency planning in the Humber area.

  Nationally the Local Government Association has calculated a 68% shortfall of Civil Defence Grant below current local authority higher tier expenditure.

  It is therefore concluded that the local authorities within the Humber area would expect Central Government to redress the under funding of emergency planning nationally and ensure that the additional requirement of the local authorities proposed under the statutory legislation are recognised in the local government finance settlement.

Q7.   Do you agree that funding for Category 1 local authorities should be transferred from specific grant (Civil Defence Grant) to Revenue Support Grant? If not, why should specific grant be retained?

  Yes—The Council's within the Humber agree in principle with the transfer of funding from specific grant to Revenue Support Grant. However, this transfer must be transparent within the RSG and should not be lost in the Environment Protection and Cultural Service Block settlements agreed by Central Government.

Q8.   Do you agree that the level of funding to support the Bill is sufficient? If not, please explain why you believe it to be too high or too low.

  No—The Council's within the Humber strongly disagree with the statement in the Consultation Document, Chapter 3, Paragraph 35 which states "The Government believes that the current level of funding is sufficient to support the basic responsibilities for local authorities that flow from the Bill"

  The overall level of funding is inadequate. This is highlighted within the recent Local Government Association research that indicates that local authority emergency planning functions are under resources by 68% or £13 million.

  This under funding will increase as the Bill places additional resource pressures onto local authorities.

  The current allocation of Civil Defence Grant is based on a minimum level of grant for each local authority, with additional amounts made according they type of authority and the Bellwin Threshold figure. This form of calculation is un-equitable and is not reflective of the level of risk within the geographic area of a local authority. The Council's within the Humber area fervently advocate that the formula for allocation of resources needs to reflect the level of risk within their geographical boundaries.

  The proposed statutory requirements of the Bill require local authorities to undertake a full spectrum of emergency planning functions, a number of which it does not currently undertake. To enable these to be undertaken the councils will require additional funding to reflect the risks within its area.

  An example of formula funding which reflects risks is apparent within the Fire Service Formula Spending Share. This takes account of the number of "A" risk category buildings and also gives additional funding (a coastline top-up) to those fire authorities that have a coastline.

  The councils within the Humber area urge central government to reflect risk within the Formula Spending Share for Emergency Planning on the basis that carrying out the full spectrum of civil protection activities outlined in the Bill will be affected by the level of risk apparent within their boundaries.

  It is suggested that in allocating funds to local authorities the Government should consider using elements that are reflective of risks similar to those identified within the Fire Service Formula Funding Share.

Q9.   Do you agree that performance should be audited through existing mechanisms? If not, what mechanism would you like to see established?

  Yes—However, the flexible nature of the Bill is likely to result in different approaches tailored to different risks across the country. This is likely to lead to a difficulty in auditing performance. We think that consideration should be given to locally agreed standards agreed by Local Resilience Forums. However, until national performance indicators are established it will be difficult to determine whether local performance is comparable with others. It also needs to be clarified whose performance will be measured. It cannot be acceptable for the local authorities alone to be asked to meet performance targets. Our concern is that the audit process is based upon irrelevant and meaningless measures similar to those introduced under the Civil Protection National Standards and becomes unwieldy, unrealistic and burdensome on the councils and their emergency planning teams.

Q10.   Do you agree with the role of Regional Nominated Co-ordinator? If not, who should take responsibility at the regional level, and with what responsibilities?

  Yes—However, Local Authority Chief Officers have expressed concern that appropriate checks and balances need to be put in place by the Regional Resilience arrangements to ensure that the response to a localised emergency is not taken away from Chief Officers who have detailed knowledge of their own area, access to the resources to mobilise a response and already work within a multi agency framework for dealing with major emergencies. It needs to be stressed that the role of the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator and the Regional Civil Contingencies Committee should be to co-ordinate a region-wide disruptive challenge and leave the sub-regional co-ordination and response to those best placed to deal with them.

Q11.   Do you agree with the principle of applying special legislative measures on a regional basis? Please explain your answer.

  Yes—This compliments the intention of regions assuming overall responsibility for the response to a regional wide emergency and provides the necessary chain of communication to central government.

Q12.   Do you agree that the current emergency powers framework is outdated and needs to be replaced? If you do not think it should be replaced, please explain why.

  Yes—Whilst Humber Emergency Planning Service are not in a position to provide a legal perspective to this question it is considered that there is a need to modernise the emergency powers legislation to capture the broader spectrum of "modern" emergencies.

Q13.   Do you agree that the circumstances in which special legislative measures may be taken should be widened from limited threats to public welfare to include threats to the environment, to the political, administrative and economic stability of the UK and to threats to its security resulting from war or terrorism? If not, how would you like to see the circumstances narrowed or extended?

  Yes—See answer to question 12. Society expects more from Government in respect of responses to emergencies and crises. The introduction of the need to consider threats and remediation of the environment through the COMAH Regulations is a good example why special legislative measures are required. However, it is important that the defining of these special legislative measures does not put undue burden on any one organisation and are reflective of the circumstances at the time of the emergency.

Q14.   Do you agree that the use of special legislative measures should be possible on a sub-UK basis? If not, please explain.

  Yes—But national protocols need to be established which define the extent to which they can be used on a regional basis.

Q15.   Do you agree that authority to declare that special legislative measures are necessary should remain with The Queen as Head of State, acting on the advice of Ministers? If not, who should it sit with?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q16.   Do you agree that in the event of the process of making a Royal Proclamation would cause a delay which might result in significant damage or harm, a Secretary of State should be able to make the declaration in the place of The Queen as Head of State, acting on the advice of Ministers? If not, is delay acceptable or is there another alternative mechanism?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q17.   Do you agree that emergency regulations should be treated as primary legislation for the purposes of the Human Rights Act? If not, please explain why.

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q18.   Do you agree that the arrangements proposed for Scotland strike the right balance between reflecting the devolution settlement and ensuring consistency across the UK? If not, what changes are necessary?

The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q19.   Do you agree that the arrangements proposed for Wales strike the right balance between reflecting the devolution settlement and ensuring consistency across the UK? If not, what changes are necessary?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q20.   Do you agree that the arrangements proposed for Northern Ireland strike the right balance between reflecting the devolution settlement and ensuring consistency across the UK? If not, what changes are necessary?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q21.   Do you agree that the role and accountability of the Emergency Co-ordinator in a devolved country should be flexible to reflect different types of emergency? If not, what alternative role should the Emergency Co-ordinator have?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q22.   Do you agree that the devolved administrations should be able to declare that special legislative measures are necessary, and take action accordingly? If not, please explain why.

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

Q23.   Do you agree that London should have different arrangements for co-operation, and that the proposals set out are the right way to deliver this? If not, what arrangements should be in put in place?

  The Council is not in a position to provide an informed response to this question.

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Prepared 28 November 2003