Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence


Memorandum from Rochford District Council

  Rochford District Council welcomes the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, and the opportunity to contribute to the consultation process.

  In providing a response document, attached, there are four particular areas that give pause for thought; the placing of Shire Districts in Category 1, the linked topic of Regulations, Regional influence and the provision of financial resources.

CATEGORY 1

  The formal recognition of Shire Districts as service providers in the response phase of a major incident is long overdue. However, the picture provided by the Bill, and its supporting papers, is less than clear. The proposed relationship with County Councils has some context, but no shape or texture. The quality of the Regulations proposed will be vital.

THE REGULATIONS

  It is unfortunate that the much mentioned Regulations have no substance with this consultation process. Without that substance, it is impossible to make any assessment of future management of emergency planning. Government places District Councils in the invidious position of supine response to whatever eventually emerges. By default, it would seem that Districts are to be Category 2 authorities, notwithstanding the placing within Category 1.

REGIONAL INFLUENCE

  District and County Councils act using statutory powers that enable them to carry out a number of functions. Both operate within a democratic process. The Regional Office would appear to be outwith that arena.

  Resilience at the Regional level is an emerging science. However, the value of its applications remains to be seen.

FINANCE

  True resilience can only be built on a properly costed basis.

  Emergency Planning is already under-funded. Yet, with new statutory obligations, even "co-operation" is likely to demand greater levels of resource. Whether human or financial in nature, unless funding increases, the resilience earnestly sought by Government will not pertain. Double taxation for emergency planning funding, is neither appropriate or just.

Charles Thomas

Emergency Planning and Health and Safety Manager

1 August 2003


INTRODUCTION

  Rochford District Council welcomes the draft Civil Contingencies Bill and the opportunity to comment on the Cabinet Office Consultation Document. It is committed to achieving a consistent standard of emergency planning throughout the United Kingdom at national, regional and local level, and meeting the requirements of the resilience agenda. As one of 12 District Councils and two Unitaries in Essex, this Council is used to working within a structure that has many of the features proposed in the Bill. Accordingly, it is an easy step to accommodate much of what is proposed.

  The District Council accepts both the definition of an emergency and the need to revise the Emergency Powers in the UK to reflect a changing world and national situation. In welcoming the recognition of District Councils in Category 1, the District Council seeks better definition of the responsibilities within each category. Rochford District Council cannot support the view that no additional resources are required to meet the wider scope and potentially higher standards envisaged by the Bill. In recognising the functions of the regional tier, there are concerns over democratic accountability at that level particularly in Stages 1 and 2.

  For Essex at large, and Districts with the potential to be involved with London issues, the proximity to London gives rise to the need for special and additional resource requirements.

RESILIENCE, EMERGENCIES AND CIVIL PROTECTION

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?

  Yes. However, Part 1 Meaning of "emergency" 1 (1) a-d ". . in/of a place . . " needs to be clearly defined in terms of place ie in this 3 miles offshore or in UK waters?

CLEAR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT THE LOCAL LEVEL

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?

  There is a clear anomaly in that the Bill separates out first and second tier authorities but with both as Category 1 responders, yet supporting papers refer to Counties carrying on much as they do now. It is evident that Regulations must follow to ensure that response, planning and mitigation flow smoothly. It is difficult to provide a comprehensive comment in the absence of those Regulations. Rochford District Council would therefore wish to reserve judgement until such documents are available for comment. However, it is with some misgivings that we have had to deal with the consultation process without seeing what those Regulations may say. It would have been useful if Government had expanded on its perceived options earlier. Rochford believes that a clear definition of the roles and responsibility of each level of local authority must be made in Regulations, with mutual agreement, not prescription. Regulations developed on this basis will take account of the relative statutory powers and diversity of Councils. The Bill, as drawn, and with the prospect of Regulations that deny Category 1 response, effectively makes Districts Category 2 authorities.

  In terms of a response, the District clearly co-ordinates the immediate response, and will deal with medium and long term responses that naturally fall to it, while the County Council mobilises the wider area and more strategic long-term responses and recovery, if necessary and where appropriate. There are Emergency Planning resource implications already to Districts, not currently acknowledged by Government.

  With reference to Part 1, 2(3)(e) greater flexibility could be afforded to the County Resilience Forum if this were to be worded ". . . on behalf of or in lieu of . . .".

  There are some potential issues here ". . . or in lieu of . . ." could involve a County negotiating with a District for the application of resources in connection with statutory functions of Districts that Counties require in order to fulfil its perceived obligations of the Emergency Plan. (This could apply under the existing wording, in any event). Expense could follow.

  For Business Continuity Management a methodology could see the District tier identifying those businesses for whom continuity planning was vital to delivery of the local response, with the duty falling to the relevant "lead" authority to provide this service. There will be a need to finance these new obligations either through raising of taxes or general financing of Emergency Planning.

  It will not be possible to definitively comment on the financial efficiency until greater definition is provided in the Regulations. However, it should be noted there is already a contribution to Essex County Council Emergency Planning from the taxpayer, raised through Council Tax. It would be inappropriate to raise taxes again in order to pay for additional Emergency Planning needs at the District Council level.

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

  Broadly, yes. There is a need for great clarity over how Health is to be represented in Category 1 and 2.

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 Bill appears to provide the capacity for the correct balance. Evidence of this balance will only be apparent when there is detail available of the Regulations to follow. Consistency must relate to outcomes in terms of standards whilst maintaining flexibility to the framework and methods of local delivery.

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. Rochford District Council believes that this framework accurately reflects proven best practice, already evident in Essex.

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?

  Categorically not. The partial Regulatory Impact Assessment does not take proper account of the wider scope of risk assessment, business continuity and scale covered by the new definition of emergency in the Bill. Resource requirements must be based on a proper and evidenced assessment taking into account standards, geographical proximity to identified risk eg London and extendibility criteria for nuclear installations.

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, to facilitate wide ownership of fully integrated planning and joint response.

  A decision to fund through Revenue Support Grant should ensure that District and County Councils have sufficient resources to conduct properly costed planning and response and should be done in such a way to ensure flexibility in delivery but ownership of outcomes. Transitional arrangements will be necessary in line with plans for incremental introduction of the legislation to ensure continuity of existing service.

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 it is not enough in terms of the current local authority share of grant and recent budget provision for truly building resilience. Districts find themselves dealing with an ever-broadening remit. There is no recognition of the additional burden that falls on local authorities in comparison with health and emergency services. Evidence of this might be seen in the true cost of preparing local resilience plans that see Districts playing a part in, say, a response to London resilience, and in identifying accommodation, transport and welfare for large numbers of displaced persons from outside county boundaries.

  Business Continuity is not currently a responsibility, and therefore not resourced, for any of the Category 1 authorities in relation to the public or business sector.

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

  It is acceptable that the Audit Commission carries out this function, if it is based on adequate understanding drawn on the experience of local specialists in undertaking their work.

A NEW REGIONAL TIER

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 is agreed to. However, there are considerable concerns over both the process for identifying and selecting the holders of the posts in specific situations. The lack of a democratically elected regional tier of government in the English Regions would make it very difficult at stages 1 and 2 to agree the powers of this post in relation to the democratically elected tiers below.

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

  Yes, subject to the establishment of mechanisms for powers to cover incident zones that span regional boundaries.

STRONG CENTRAL STRUCTURES AND TARGETED POWERS

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, reflecting the nature of the internal and external threats.

Q13.   Do you agree that the circumstances in which special legislative measures may be taken should be widened from limited 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, reflecting the new definition of an emergency 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.

  See Question 11.

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?

  Yes. It should always remain with The Queen.

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 advice from Ministers? If not, is delay acceptable or is there another alternative mechanism?

  A situation in which it would not be possible for The Queen or her nominated deputy to be contacted within the required time scale appears unlikely. The alternative appears to raise a major constitutional change and this Bill is not the appropriate place for that discussion.

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.

  Yes, in line with other legislation covering such things as disease control.

SCOTLAND, WALES AND NORTHERN IRELAND

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?

  Not applicable.

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?

  Not applicable.

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?

  Not applicable.

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?

  Not applicable.

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?

  Not applicable.

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?

  London, as the capital city, requires special arrangements for co-operation. However, those proposals should not be London-centric as to ignore the consequences to the Home Counties, etc, and the Districts within. Proposals will need to be amended to dovetail with immediate neighbouring authorities. This should provide a basis for justifying the appropriate level of resourcing to support London resilience. Such resourcing must cover information sharing, training and exercises as well as the more obvious ones of capacity building.


 
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