Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from Mid Bedfordshire District Council


  This draft of the Civil Contingencies Bill is a welcome response to the weaknesses that have been highlighted in the UK Civil Protection system in recent years.

  The creation of a legislative framework representative of current best practice arrangements is supported, and will provide the foundations upon which to develop further in the future. Questions about the framework are linked with the regulations and guidance, until they are published many unknowns remain. It is hoped that with the revised version of Dealing with Disaster third Edition only recently published, the best practice this document describes would be included in the guidance and not be lost.

  It is hard to consider funding for the new arrangements when the funding for the existing ones is inadequate. Following September 11 there has been no increase in funding despite an 80% increase in workload. District councils currently receive no funding for emergency planning and receive varying levels of service from county units. The Bill must address this. There can be no doubt that with a greater duty placed upon responders by the introduction of the legislation, there will be cost implications without even considering additional duties the Bill imposes.

  Performance management will be a key element of ensuring the objectives of the governments resilience agenda are achieved and as is welcomed. But it should not result in additional bureaucracy. The council would like to see a form of self-assessment established to achieve this.

  The ability to co-ordinate a response to national emergencies has shown to be lacking. Introducing regional arrangements through Government Offices will be a welcome link provided it can demonstrate its benefits to those responding at a local level.

  Further to the above, improvements to the Emergency Powers legislation in order to improve response to both national and regional emergencies are acknowledged. With great power however comes great responsibility, and adequate protection should be ensured for both the public it will affect and the government when invoking it.

  In conclusion the Bill is welcomed and will provide very real benefits in achieving UK resilience. There is a need for further consultation when the regulations and guidance are completed, and this is eagerly anticipated. The Bill team were successful in publishing the draft on time; the council looks forward to the benefits this Bill will bring when implemented in 2004.


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 term "emergency" is defined twice in the Bill, at the beginning of each part. The definitions are virtually identical except that Part I applies to England and Wales, and Part II applies to the UK as a whole. Treating them as a single definition there is value in a broad approach to a definition that is all encompassing. However, as there is no definition of "serious threat" one can only assume this is to follow in the regulation and guidance. It is therefore hard to pass comment without this detail.

  The Bill team stated at the Emergency Planning Society conference 2003 that the definition in the Bill would not replace the widely used operational term "Major Incident" currently used by responders. The current best practice guide produced by the Home Office now refers to "major emergencies" as opposed to disasters or major incidents. This is described as being an incident . . .

    " . . . on such a scale that the effects cannot be dealt with by the emergency services, local authorities and other organisations as part of their day to day activities". (Dealing with Disaster revised third Edition: 2003)

  The regulation and guidance needs to put the definition into practical terms, and it is hard to see how it could be defined any differently than above. As this is commonly used and understood, this would be welcomed.


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 obligations imposed by or under the new framework certainly have the potential to improve the arrangements, by making it clear that in the main arrangement are in place to some level throughout the country. Taking the view that the aim at present is simply to strengthen the existing arrangements rather than make radical changes, these arrangements will certainly achieve this.

  The broad duties of Risk Assessment, Planning, Business Continuity Planning, Warning and Informing, Sharing Information and Co-operation are the obligations the question is referring to, although to what level remains to be determined by the regulation and guidance. Certainly these are to be welcomed and will bring about clear benefits, especially in authorities where some duties may not have such an emphasis.

  The specific roles and responsibilities of the agencies at a local level are to follow in the regulation and guidance. This will obviously be awaited with some interest. It is impossible to have an opinion on the effect on the level of effectiveness and financial efficiency without more detail on the regulation and guidance. Unless there is an understanding of what the expectations are, how can a judgement be made of the potential effect?

  The inclusion of Performance Management will be of real benefit, without this Emergency Planning could not function as a modern accountable service. No doubt this will act as a driver to ensure Emergency Planning is taken seriously and receives the support from the authorities that the Bill will require of it.

  Having acknowledged the importance of Business Continuity arrangements for Category 1 responders, there should be consideration of placing this duty on Category 2 responders also. The implications of two incidents in 2002, one where the south of England lost their 999 facility for some time, and the other where much of England was affected by wide spread loss of electricity demonstrates the need for Category 2 responders to have this resilience. As key stakeholders, which Category 1 responders may rely upon during a Major Emergency, they should have this duty place upon them.

  The title of Chapter 3 of the Consultation Document is entitled "Clear Roles and Responsibilities at a local level". It is hoped that the regulation and guidance will achieve this, building on best practice from documents such as Dealing with Disaster and London Emergency Services Liaison Panel (LESLP) Major Incident Procedures manual. There are definite differences across the country in respect of planning and response roles. If there are going to be benefits as outlined in the question title, then these roles and responsibilities must be clear—achieving this in a consistent fashion across the country will have definite impact on improving resilience, especially when considering large cross-boundary or multiple impact incidents with massive mutual aid implications.

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

  The membership of the categories is not hard and fast and . . . .

    "movement between the two Categories will be possible under the Bill. New organisations may be added in future in either Category" (Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, consultation document: 2003).

  This is obviously desirable allowing a degree of negotiated flexibility. The Environment Agency do appear however to be the odd one out in Category 1, as they are the only agency listed that responds to specific hazards. The inclusion of further agencies such as Health Service agencies has already been brought to the attention of the Bill team, and this is supported particularly in terms of Primary Care Trusts. In Category 2 there are some forms of transport operators named, however not all. When considering evacuation procedures the full participation of bus and coach operators is essential but can be difficult to achieve. Bus and Coach operators should be included in category 2.

  Agencies that are not listed in either category 1 or 2 should be, with consent of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF), adopted (locally) on a temporary or permanent basis if appropriate. This would however rely on the will of the agency, as they would be under no obligation.

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.

  The balance meets the aims and is accepted. However, bearing in mind the flexibility that it allows, there is a need for further consultation on the regulations and guidance before they are implemented.

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?

  The aim of Clause 2 of the Bill is to provide a single framework for civil protection covering the local responder organisations. The Bill will

    ". . . provide the framework to replace the Civil Defence Act, and also reduce the reliance on permissive powers." (Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, consultation document: 2003)

  This is welcomed, as the current legislation was designed to repel foreign invaders. The nature of the threat has changed. This has been reflected in the best practice working arrangements that have been established following the decade of disasters in the 1980s and the end of the Cold War. It is only right that the new legislation reflects this framework and the creation of LRFs will help achieve this.

  The Bill aims to provide common partnership arrangements nationally. It is widely acknowledged that partnership working already takes place nationally, however there are disparities in the closeness of relationships, and membership of the working groups in different parts of the country. This national standardisation is welcomed.

  The consultation document states the LRF will:

    "Bring together core and co-operating responders..." (Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, consultation document: 2003).

  If this is meant literally, that the LRF would include all Category 1 and 2 members, then it would be very unwieldy and ineffective. Nor would it be an accurate reflection of current best practice arrangements. The LRF should include Category 1 responders only, with Category 2 members co-opted as required for specific issues. Full meetings should take place as a sub-group of the LRF if it is to be an effective working group that can make decisions.

  The use of the term "LRF" may be confusing initially but will have its benefits in being a common acronym that will be understood by all those in the profession, as oppose to having MICGs, BESMIC, LESLP, HESMIC, NORMIT etc.

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 estimates appear rudimentary but sensible, if not particularly wide reaching. In the last two years workload increased in key areas such as multi-agency working and risk assessment by approximately 80% as a result of September 11th (LGA Emergency Planning survey: 2003). No attempt has been made to quantify the increase in workload the Bill will create.

  The cost of business continuity onto local businesses may cause difficulty, as it would only be participating businesses that would pay. It is often difficult to get sustained interest and therefore investment.

  Without clear expectations from the regulations and guidance it is difficult to agree with the Regulatory Impact Assessment. The figures and benefits stated may be correct, but they do not show the full picture. The costs are in relation to implementing the new resilience framework. They do not take into account the increase in work the Bill will create, with greater demands for quality, higher public expectation and the additional growth in the emergency planning profession experienced in the last two years.

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?

  Being a district council there is no funding provided for Emergency Planning. This creates a reliance on the county unit to provide the service as they receive the Civil Defence Grant. As stated in the answer to Question 8, emergency planning is already under-funded, with an expectation from the local authority to provide any shortfall to achieve the service.

  Experience locally has shown how competition from larger services such as social services or education can make stronger bids for any additional money. With cut backs having been made year on year, there are concerns that the already suffering county service may face further cut-backs if funding is not ring fenced.

  A question for the Bill team would be that as district councils are placed in category 1 would this entitle them to receive funding? Under current arrangements the county unit receive a sum per shire district within their boundary. However, the districts are currently unable to claim any of that sum for their own use in emergency planning and have to fund through their own budget.

  If the funding was to be transferred to the revenue support grant, then the systems of performance management must be in place to ensure that emergency planning is not sacrificed for other services that the public have more contact with on a regular basis.

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 current level of funding is considered by many to be insufficient to meet the cost of current contingency planning arrangements. This is before considering the possible cost implications the Bill may impose.

  The Civil Defence Grant is only expected to be a contribution toward Emergency Planning, with the Local Authority being expected to supplement the grant in order to fulfil their duties. A recent Local Government Association (LGA) survey of top tier authorities estimated the national cost of emergency planning to be £32 million. The Civil Defence Grant is £19 million, providing only 60% of the expenditure (LGA Emergency Planning survey: 2003).

  This is set against a background of an 80% increase in workload following September 11 due to greater government expectations. The figure of £19 million was established before September 11 and has remained the same (LGA Emergency Planning survey: 2003).

  Locally this has resulted in the budget of the county unit being reduced year on year due to competition from other services. Combined with increased workload this has resulted in derogation to the service to the point where as a district council the decision was taken to fund a full time Emergency Planning Officer's post. This in itself is a cost not already considered under the current funding arrangements.

  The Bill itself does impose new duties—or expectations for particular duties already carried out to be completed to a higher standard. Promotion of Business Continuity Management is a new duty, as it places greater emphasis on Risk Management and greater participation in Regional Resilience.

  It is reasonable to assume that an authority that is already following best practice, and has been proven by Audit Commission inspection to be performing well will be spending a greater amount on Emergency Planning than an authority that is not performing comparatively. Such authorities that are leading the way acting as "beacon authorities" should be rewarded for their efforts, as leading in such a way will cost more than waiting for neighbouring authorities and using their templates for work.

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

  When referring to existing mechanisms it is not clear whether the question implies Audit Commission inspections or assessment through Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), but whatever mechanism is employed it should not result in additional bureaucracy.

  The need for an external audit of performance is questionable. Instead a form of self-assessment should be established that can be completed by each authority and then be submitted to the Cabinet Office or Regional Government Office for accreditation. This would be the route the council would support.

  Making reference to the existing mechanisms, in the case of District Councils, CPA is a relatively new process, so to rely on it for performance auditing may be too early. However, CPA and inspections both have the potential to be effective methods of monitoring performance and capturing good practice. This will require an informed selection of appropriate indicators, and inspectors with an appropriate level of knowledge.


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 need for more effective co-ordination during a national emergency has been recognised. The regional tier appears to be the logical method of achieving this. The concern held by many will be following the experiences of Foot and Mouth where it simply added another layer to report to without adding any value. Demands were made for information which had to be met, despite the fact it was often a duplication of information provided to the centre. There was no service offered in return. A regional system with real value would be supported.

  The role of the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator (RNC) to chair the Regional Civil Contingencies Committee (RCCC) is necessary. However, it would seem more logical to have an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) representative as chair from one of the forces within the region. Whilst a "lead" agency RNC will have the specific expertise, the Defence Select Committee are correct in having concerns that they would not necessarily have the broad view, leadership and incident management qualities that would be required of them.

  It would be more sensible to have an ACPO representative who is used to chairing Strategic Co-ordinating Groups at a local level to chair the RCCC at a regional level. This is close to the current arrangements where the Police often feed the national picture back to local level through the Police National Information Centre (PNIC).

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

  Acknowledging the major disruptive effect invoking such powers would bring, it seems sensible to have a level of control to restrict it to specific regions as opposed to the whole country.


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, agree.

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?


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 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?


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.



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 administrations 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?

  No comment.

Iain Berry

Emergency Planning Officer

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Prepared 28 November 2003