Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from Gloucestershire County Council Fire and Rescue Service

  I refer to the draft Civil Contingencies Bill consultation document dated June 2003 and enclose herewith the comments of the Gloucestershire County Council in respect of the questions asked in that document.

  We welcome the publication of this draft Bill and look forward to legislation being introduced into Parliament as soon as possible.

  The attached answers to question should be seen in the light of this Council's wish to make progress in this subject and a desire to enhance already existing emergency management arrangements for the benefit of community safety.

  You will see that more details of the subject matter to be covered by Regulations and the question of adequate funding are subjects which this authority feels need to be addressed further.

Terry Standing

Deputy Chief Fire Officer

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?

  The definition of "emergency" fails to provide any sense of scale for which responders will now have a legal duty to assess, plan and advise. The definition needs to be dovetailed with the Cabinet Office publication—"Dealing with Disaster" so that "serious threat" includes the words,

    "on such a scale that the effects cannot be dealt with by the emergency services, local authorities and other organisations as part of their normal day-to-day activities."

  This comment applies to both Part 1 and Part 2 of the Bill and is important because otherwise an "emergency" may include any routine event of damage, homelessness, injury etc which will be dealt with by standard professional operating procedures.

  In relation to paragraph 3(a) the wording should be more general to enable future harmful materials to be covered. In particular the inclusion of the words "fuel oil" would appear to be too specific. The whole subsection should be reworded to read

    ". . . causes or may cause contamination of land, water or air with substances, materials or articles that are harmful to human, animal or plant life."

  In paragraph 3(a) the definition of the word "water" needs clarification because of the implications relating to local authorities and shoreline clean up, for which there is no existing statutory responsibility but which could come out of this paragraph.

  In paragraph 3(b) after the word "flooding" there should be some reference to "drought".

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?

  The new duties imposed will require an increased level of multi-agency assessment and planning in order to build on already existing multi-agency arrangements. However the arrangements suggested for county and district councils are confusing and perpetuate one of the existing weaknesses of the present arrangements for civil contingency response to emergencies.

  The proposals are to include district councils as Category 1 responders but to place a duty on county councils which will permit or require a county council to perform a duty under subsection (1) on behalf of the district council within that area. This is an almost impossible position as a district council will normally co-ordinate the immediate joint local authority response in its own area and long-term responses that naturally fall to it. The county council will respond according to its responsibilities and mobilise the wider area and more strategic long-term responses and recovery where appropriate.

  Whilst it is recognised that this is a difficult area to provide a workable solution, it is suggested that the correct amount of funding to local authorities plus detailed regulations aimed at placing a clearer duty on district councils are required. This should allow for many of the proposed duties of Category 1 responders to be undertaken as they pertain to district councils whilst requiring county councils to undertake a wider area assessment planning and advice role as that pertains to their duties. The problem was always to ensure that district councils fulfil statutory obligations to prepare for and provide statutory duties in an emergency. However the halfway house solution provided is a missed opportunity, which does not recognise the different service provision at county and district levels.

  It is not clear why the "maintenance of business continuity plans" duty at Clause 2(1)(c) is restricted to Category 1 responders. The storms of October 2002 and the loss of electricity to large numbers of members of the public for up to seven days in Gloucestershire is a prime example of why this duty should also be placed on Category 2 responders. If utilities companies in particular do not have this duty imposed it may be impossible for Category 1 responders to plan effectively to comply with the duty placed upon them. The ability of Category 1 responders to effectively undertake the duties of Clause 2(1) are only partially aided by Clause 3(h)—the provision of information—there remains no requirement for that information to reflect robust business continuity arrangements.

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

  It is felt that NHS primary care trusts, hospital trusts and the Health Protection Agency should be Category 1 responders.

  Local authorities will rely heavily on coach operators to provide transport for large numbers of evacuees from danger areas and some way should be found to ensure that coach operators are included as Category 2 responders.

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.

  Regulations and guidance are key to the success of this draft Bill. Whilst the explanatory notes provide some examples of what Regulations may include it is believed that Government must provide more detailed information on the content of the regulations proposed.

  Emergency planning in all its constituent parts can be detailed and protracted work which leads to robust arrangements for services to be provide at times of crisis. It will often require procedures, management styles and resources which are beyond the norm. The proposals as they stand are seen as open-ended and able to place enormous duties on bodies who are already not resourced sufficiently to prepare in an effective manner.

  Whilst accepting the mechanism of enabling legislation the government should be less cautious in describing what may be covered by regulations and guidance and include more details.

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?

  In the County of Gloucestershire there is a well established structure of inter-agency forums which is based on seven sub-groups of:

    —  local authorities

    —  utilities

    —  voluntary groups

    —  planning

    —  training

    —  rescue

    —  media

all of which report to a Strategic Co-ordinating Group called the Gloucestershire Major Incidents Co-ordinating Group (MICG) under the chairmanship of the Assistant Chief Constable (Operations).

  The MICG is already reviewing its composition in order to respond to this draft Bill.

  However the group is well established and operates successfully. If there are changes to be made it would be very useful for the Act or Regulations to be clear and provide best practice advice. The dangers here are that too much restrictive advice may have an adverse affect on existing effective structures but conversely without more guidance or best practice examples there is a very real danger of just reinforcing existing local practices.

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?

  The partial Regulatory Impact Assessment does not reflect the costs of the Bill's proposals. It is merely a summary of the objective, background and benefit to the Bill but is unable to provide detailed costings.

  This legislation takes civil protection far beyond what is currently required and a thorough funding review is required.

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?

  It is felt that these new arrangements will emphasise the new duties placed on local authorities. Providing a proper level of funding to the local authority is calculated in Revenue Support Grant for the emergency planning service then this should ensure that the new duties are complied with.

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.


  The level of funding to local authorities is almost universally accepted as too low to provide the present service and this is very well demonstrated by the paper issued in July 2003 by the Local Government Association when it surveyed top tier local authority emergency planning arrangements.

  Gloucestershire County Council is typical of local authorities who recognise that the present level of grant is insufficient to undertake existing requirements and in the financial year 2003-04 has contributed £152,000 budget in addition to the government grant sum of £189,960. The actual cost of the present provision of emergency planning within this County greatly exceeds the current level of government funding and grant is now only 56% of the total required.

  The draft Bill will require additional funding for:

    —  promoting business continuity management;

    —  increased risk assessment capabilities;

    —  new requirement relating to prevention;

    —  warning and informing the public; and

    —  initiatives which will emanate from the new regional tier of resilience.

  The mere existence of the new duties enhanced as they will be by detailed regulations and guidance will require additional resources to address new answers to old and new problems.

  This is graphically detailed by the present worksteams being undertaken by the Cabinet Office. Eventually it is envisaged that these workstreams will translate into regulations or guidance and whilst it is not clear to what extent this will develop it is obvious that subjects such as mass decontamination and mass evacuation could result in the commitment of considerable local authority resources in emergency planning. These and other areas such as removal of rubble, response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents are all new areas of work which will require proper funding.

  In addition the introduction of new standards and a monitoring process will generate more planning and training activities requiring more resources to be funded.

  There is considerable concern that the level of funding proposed in the consultation document is inadequate for the duties proposed in the Bill.

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


  Gloucestershire County Council Emergency Management Service is one of the very few emergency planning departments to have been subject to an Audit Commission Best Value Inspection. It is with this very useful and helpful experience that it is suggested that this type of rigorous audit process should become established best practice. Inspections of individual emergency planning departments by the Audit Commission have effectively ceased and whilst there may be more cross-cutting inspections taking place it is believed that the existing mechanisms will not ensure consistency of performance.

  The recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment process for County Councils did not include emergency planning even though there had been a recent local Audit Commission Inspection and report to inform it.

  It is considered that a rigorous, robust and open mechanism of inspection and monitoring should be developed which will provide standards of achievement together with the dissemination of best practice. The existing guidance is too loose and requires more detailed work which will ensure that inspectors include professionally qualified and experienced staff.

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?

  The role of a Regional Nominated Co-ordinator will allow for increased communications between central government and the local response. However, there is a real concern over the intention to mirror central arrangements for crisis management leadership.

  The ability to effectively lead at times of crisis is not necessarily dependent on technical or professional skills but requires individuals of genuine authority who possess critical management and leadership skills. These are clearly different to today's participation management styles common within organisations which day to day normally have more time to make decisions.

  Lead departments should retain a major advisory role to the RNC who should be chosen for their ability to provide credible critical incident management. In this respect a good example is the role taken by the Chief Constable as Gold Commander at the local Emergency Centre for nuclear incidents. In this case the Gold Commander is not provided by the lead department. Whilst it is recognised this is a local and operational group it is also very much considered to be operating strategically. In contrast the lack of any critical incident management experience by senior MAFF managers during the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak underlines the need for command experience and training. If lead departments are to pre-nominate RNCs then the nominees must be provided with critical incident management training which is assessed and updated.

  The position of a RNC being formally appointed at Level 3 but also chairing meeting at Level 2 need clarification.

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

  It makes sense to apply special measures on a regional basis as this will allow for a proportionality of response. However this does emphasise the need to keep to well understood areas and boundaries which need to be publicised. Once established the new Regional Resilience arrangements should keep to these boundaries. In the South West area we are already seeing divisions of the Regional Forum structure into two areas and this is unhelpful.

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.


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?


  However as there is scope here for these powers to be minimised, the safeguards described as a "triple lock" in the consultation document, should be included in the bill.

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


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?


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?

  No. This proposal is unnecessary.

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 case is not made out in the consultation document and the existing procedure allowing many of the rights protected by the Human Rights Act to be suspended in the event of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation appear to be sufficient.

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?

  No comment.

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?

  No comment.

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?

  No comment.

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?

  No comment.

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

  No comment.

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 put in place?


previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 28 November 2003