Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence


Memorandum from Tees Valley Chief Executives Group (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Councils)

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?

  It is considered that the definition should be tightened. As proposed, it is so wide that it can conceivably cover virtually any eventuality that one can bring to mind and thus is contrary to the statement in the consultation document (Chapter 2, point 7) that it establishes a clear minimum threshold. Being so wide could lead to the public having aspirations and expectations far above the nature of response that can reasonably and realistically be achieved.

  It is also strongly recommended that the government adopts its own definition of major emergency from "Dealing with Disaster" ie "an event . . . 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". Any definition in the new Civil Contingencies Bill must be compatible with the term "major emergency" as defined in "Dealing with Disaster".

  The term "serious threat" is woolly and therefore guidance is necessary to determine what would trigger an event that was considered to be a "serious threat". Without such guidance or stronger definition within the Bill, there may be inconsistency of approach across the country.

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?

  Duties imposed by or under the new legislation have the potential to improve operational effectiveness if they complement, build on and improve existing multi-agency arrangements and plans at a local level. However, the extent of the increase in operational effectiveness and financial efficiency in planning and response will be dependent upon the clarity and scope of the regulations yet to be announced. Best practice, close liaison and working practices between all Category 1 responders will need to be paramount to ensure that there is no duplication of effort.

Business Continuity

  It is acknowledged that a local authority needs to have in place business continuity plans to enable it to continue delivery of its functions, but this is irrespective of whether or not an emergency has occurred in the wider community. It is therefore considered that there is an unnecessary link created between business continuity and being able to continue delivery of functions during an "emergency" as defined in the draft Bill. The need for a local authority to invoke their business continuity plan, or part of it, could either be for the same emergency as defined in the Bill or one solely affecting the local authority. The response would be the same, notwithstanding which "emergency" had occurred. This ambiguity therefore must be addressed, with clearer definition given within the legislation or guidance.

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 considered that the following should be included as Category 2 responders:

    —  NHS PCT's (primary care trusts) and casualty receiving hospitals.

    —  Road Haulage Association and/or Highways Agency.

    —  Organisations which have an emergency response through national schemes ie NAIR (National Arrangements for Incidents Involving Radioactivity); RADSAFE and CHEMSAFE.

  Further, the consultation document states that Category 2 responders are "co-operating bodies" who are less likely to be involved in the heart of planning work but will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their sector. Therefore it is considered that major chemical and/or pipeline companies etc whose activities have the capacity to create an emergency or compound the effects of a pre-existing situation should become 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.

  Only examination of any Regulations issued and their detail will determine if the right balance has been struck. It is therefore particularly important that a proper consultation mechanism is put in place that allows for full consideration of the draft Regulations before their implementation.

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?

  Within the Tees Valley area, a Strategic Senior Co-ordinating Group, chaired by the Chief Constable, already exists with the aim of ensuring consistent arrangements for multi-agency working, planning and response to major incidents. This arrangement functions effectively and can be identified as best practice in order that others can use it as a model. To allow uniformity across the country, such groups could be renamed "Local Resilience Forum".

  Further, an Officer Working Group currently exists that brings together those agencies, identified as category 1 and 2 responders within the draft legislation. Such a group generally meets the requirements set out in the consultation document and again should be seen as best practice.

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 Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) does not reflect fully the costs arising from the Bills proposals in respect of local authorities. It is considered that the cost cannot be adequately assessed until the Bill is enacted and details of the Regulations known. It is however clear that the new definition of emergency takes civil protection far beyond what is currently expected to be in place and this is highly likely to have cost implications. Furthermore, the draft Bill raises the overall aspirations for improved resilience, together with raises public expectations, without recognising the costs that this is likely to involve.

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 our belief that a greater level of funding will ultimately be needed for emergency planning.

  It is acknowledged that the funding for local authorities will be transferred to revenue support grant. Therefore local authorities will need to ensure appropriate funding is made available to the emergency planning service for it to effectively meet the new and significant civil protection duties being placed on local authorities, combined with the proposals for "robust" performance management. However, Emergency Planning Units will need to ensure funding bids in the future can be quantified and justified.

  The government must ensure that robust transitional arrangements are put in place during the change process.

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.

  It has been recognised by the Local Government Association that the current level of funding (£19 million Civil Defence Grant) is nationally insufficient to support the current level of local authority civil protection activities and we support that view. Locally, our local authorities already supplement the grant in order to fulfil their emergency planning responsibilities. Accordingly, on a national basis, a large increase in funding will be necessary to support the duties and responsibilities for local authorities that flow from the draft Bill.

  Increases in costs are likely to flow from the new and additional duties arising from:

    —  Greater emphasis on risk assessment work;

    —  Preventing emergencies from occurring;

    —  Warning and informing the public;

    —  Participation in initiatives arising from the new Regional tier of resilience.

  It is clear that as a result of this legislation there will be a greater public awareness of emergency planning and civil contingencies, together with higher public expectations and quicker condemnation if their expectations are not met. It will be irrelevant to them, if what is expected, is beyond the capability of local authorities to plan for with current resources and in the absence of stockpiles of resources.

  It is also likely that the introduction of standards and a monitoring process will generate a much greater level of planning and training activities than is currently the case.

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

  It is acknowledged that performance should be managed and audited through both existing internal procedures and the comprehensive performance assessment process carried out by the Audit Commission.

  We would be against any form of auditing being performed by the Regional Resilience Team.

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?

  This role is necessary during a regional crisis to ensure that the communications links between central government and local multi-agency commands are in place and the crisis is being managed and led appropriately.

  However, there is concern over the intention to select this person dependant upon their specialist knowledge for the type of emergency occurring, rather than leadership skills and crisis management knowledge. We strongly believe that whilst specialist knowledge is required, it should be in an advisory role in support of the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator. It is considered that a cadre of pre-selected RNC's, based upon leadership skills and strategic management and crisis management experience should be identified.

  Further, clarification is needed regarding funding of any requirements set by the RNC. The tasking of resources at the point of delivery must be met by appropriate funding. If the RNC declares certain action should be taken that is beyond the local resource level, even given partnership working, there must be funding available, either through a new version of the Bellwin Scheme or from central government.

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

  It is clear that there is a need to be able to apply "special legislative measures" in certain circumstances and to a particular region(s).

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.

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.

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

  Yes.

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.

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?

  Yes, providing there is proper accountability and the lack of royal proclamation is notified to all parties, in writing, at the time the Secretary of State makes the order.

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.

  No comment.

Questions 18 to 23.

  These questions relate to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London and we are not in a position to comment.


 
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Prepared 28 November 2003