Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Emergency Planning Society

INTRODUCTION

  The Emergency Planning Society appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill. We welcome the Bill, and the Government's stated commitment to bring in legislation to strengthen civil protection arrangements in the UK. However, we believe that the draft Bill, and other documentation and statements made by Government officials, show that, in spite of everything that has happened both before and after the events of 11 September 2001, there is still reluctance amongst Government to give a serious commitment to the service. Specifically, it has to be said that funding levels remain demonstrably inadequate.

  Our response to the publication of the draft Bill is in two parts. The first part consists of general comments, which perhaps do not fit very well in reply to any of the specific questions asked by the consultation document; the second part consists of our answers to the specific questions which the Government asks.

PART ONE—GENERAL COMMENTS

THE CONSULTATION PROCESS

  The Society agrees with the House of Commons Defence Select Committee that, in only allowing a time of 12 weeks over the summer holiday, there has been insufficient time for this part of the consultation process. The absence of any indication of the scope and notice of the regulations that will follow makes the consultation process somewhat superficial. We are concerned that this haste may be repeated when the Government consults on future draft regulations in support of the Bill, and we seek assurances from the Cabinet Office that a full and proper consultation process will take place before regulations are introduced.

COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP ROLE FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  Previous related documentation included a community leadership role for local authorities, which is not reflected in the draft Bill. We believe that greater consideration should be given to the issue of leadership in relation to the planning and risk assessment aspects of the Bill, as opposed to the response dimension where this is already clear.

RESPONSIBILITY FOR WARNING AND INFORMING THE PUBLIC

  Previous documentation has indicated that the Police would normally take the lead role in warning the public about a potential emergency. The Society seeks clarification that this is indeed the case.

RISK MANAGEMENT

  It is important that the extent of local responders' "risk asssessment" and "risk management" duties is made clear. In our view, emergency risk management is a systematic process that produces a range of measures that contribute to the well being of communities and the environment. It includes: context definition; risk identification; risk analysis; risk evaluation; risk treatment; monitoring and reviewing; and communicating and consulting. The Government should not try to adopt or encompass the wider risk management agenda under the banner of civil protection.

ACCESS TO CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION

  The Society is concerned that the Bill does not adequately address the issue of access to confidential information. Emergency planning officers should have access to all relevant information to enable them to write emergency plans.

FUNDING

  In our view, the current funding for emergency planning for local responders is completely inadequate to cover existing responsibilities and requires a substantial increase to meet both these and additional challenges posed by proposed new duties. An impartial comprehensive funding review should be set up to consider resource needs in all sectors affected by the duty.

  We believe that government should finance the full range of responsibilities deriving from the Bill, as opposed to making a "contribution", in order to ensure that all the duties can be properly implemented rather than so-called "new burdens". If the Government is serious about the development of "resilience", then substantial additional new resources need to be invested, particularly in terms of emergency resources and supplies, 24-hour callout arrangements for staff of all Category 1 responders, training and exercising, risk assessment and "prevention", business continuity management, finance to underpin the role of voluntary organisations, and informing the public. In terms of local authority funding, the Local Government Association and House of Commons Defence Select Committee have recently confirmed the Society's view that this is wholly inadequate.

  The Society is dismayed that shire districts are to be denied direct funding, even though the draft Bill seems to increase their role and responsibilities. We are concerned that, rather than address the issue of local authority funding with any degree of seriousness, the Government prefers to blur the delegation of responsibilities between shire and district councils.

  It is also of concern that the Government is not proposing to introduce a new system of capital grants which could be used to implement an infrastructure appropriate to an effective emergency response in the twenty-first century. This would imply that the costs associated with the development of control centres, radio systems, forward control vehicles and so forth would have to be borne by the authorities directly. We find it surprising that the new "CBRN Guidance for Local Authorities" states that local authorities should consider having backup emergency control centres when previous government advice has been that there is no funding available for one such centre, let alone two.

  We are disappointed that the Bill also does not propose to encompass the Bellwin Scheme for compensating local authorities post-disasters, which again seems to militate against this framework becoming a "single framework for civil protection". We believe that there should be a statutory central contingency fund to replace the discretionary Bellwin Scheme.

PART TWO—ANSWERS TO SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

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 Society is in broad agreement with the definition, with three exceptions as follows:

    1.  We believe that the definition should include reference to a trigger point at which an event may be considered to be a "serious threat"; and we suggest that the Government should adapt its own phrase 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".

    2.  We believe that there needs to be a caveat that, in respect of 1(1)(c) "the political, administrative, or economic stability of a place in England and Wales", this should relate only to those instances where there is also a threat to human welfare.

    3.  In 1 (1) (a-d) ". . . in/of a place . . ." needs to be clearly defined, particularly in relation to UK waters. Clarification should be sought that, in law, "water" includes seawater. If it does not, then an appropriate definition needs to be included. There may also be a need to clarify how far out to sea any duty applies, although this may be covered by other legislation, or could be clarified in regulations.

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? If not, how should these obligations be increased or reduced?

  There can be no doubt that duties imposed on both Category 1 and Category 2 responders by or under the new framework 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, further definition of Category 1 responders, particularly in two tier areas would clarify the functions of each tier with respect to their involvement.

  Chapter three is entitled: CHAPTER 3—CLEAR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT THE LOCAL LEVEL. There is however some confusion which suggests that roles and responsibilities are not clear. The confusion concerns the inclusion of both County Councils and Shire District Councils as Category 1 responders, yet with the provision that under subsection (2) may, in particular permit or require a county council to perform a duty under subsection (1) on behalf of a district council within the area of the county council.

  This is further explained in the guidance under Membership of Categories 1 and 2.

    10.   Although shire districts have been placed within Category 1 it is proposed that, for the time being, county councils will take full responsibility for local authority civil protection planning in their area. This is a continuation of the current arrangement under the 1948 Civil Defence Act. The draft Bill provides for regulations to be made which will allow county councils to plan on the basis of the full range of local authority functions in their area, including those of the districts.

  Whilst this will generally maintain current arrangements it should be recognised that in many cases the county councils do not plan on the basis of the full range of local authority functions in their area, including those of the districts, but on the basis of their own functions and co-ordinating these with the district functions. And considering Part 1 subsection (3) Regulations under subsection (2) may, in particular: (e) permit or require a county council to perform a duty under subsection (1) on behalf of a district council within the area of the county council.

  In terms of response, a District Council clearly co-ordinates the immediate joint response if it falls within its area, and will deal with medium and long-term responses that naturally fall to it, while the County Council mobilises the wider or multi-District area, and more strategic long-term responses and recovery, where necessary and appropriate.

  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 to be announced and on adequate funding to carry out the duties.

  It is difficult to determine the extent of the implications on the local level other than to ingrain best practice until the Government provides more detail on the proposed content of the regulations to be made under the draft Bill. As there is scope for duplication of effort, we believe that the Government should state how local authorities in two-tier areas are supposed to work together. It is our expectation that this will be fully covered in supporting regulations.

  The move towards robust and fair performance management of civil protection is welcome, although this should build on National Standards of preparedness and performance and must have a consistent and recognised framework of operation. The highest of standards must be encouraged through local, regional and national benchmarking, with recognition and promotion of examples of best practice and national guidance. This will be assisted by the requirement to publish plans and procedures where appropriate.

  The requirements for Category 1 and Category 2 organisations to work closer together will ensure consistency and improved communication between the key private and public sector co-operating bodies. However, there needs to be more clarity regarding the relationship between the two categories of responders, including the requirements for Category 2 responders to work with Category 1.

  There is no inclusion of the roles and responsibilities of national government in the draft bill. Whilst we understand that it is perhaps unusual in English Law for statutory responsibilities to be placed on central government departments, we believe that history has shown that the lead government department concept has not worked in practice and that civil protection is too important an area of public life for statutory responsibilities not to be imposed on any of the agencies which have key roles in contributing to creating a robust culture of resilience in the United Kingdom.

  With reference to Part 1, subsection 3(a), we are also concerned that the definition of fuel oil is too specific. This is enabling legislation, so it is our view that the wording of this subsection should be more general. This would ensure that all potential contaminants, including any future materials, could be properly covered. Any need to include, or exclude, specific contaminants could then be dealt with by way of regulation. We would therefore suggest the following change:

  Subsection 3(a) should be reworded as: "contamination of land, water or air with substances, materials or articles that are harmful to human, animal or plant life".

  The Society also welcomes that business continuity planning is recognised in the Bill as a valid and necessary part of the civil protection process. However we would wish to point out the following:

  Contained in clause 2(1) are responsibilities for Category 1 responders. In subsection (c) there is a requirement to:

  "maintain plans for the purpose of ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, that if an emergency occurs the body or person is able to continue to perform his or its functions"

  Although not using the term "Business Continuity" the guidance and consultation information make it clear that this is what is meant.

  The issue that arises is that only Category 1 responders are required to comply with this function. It is suggested that this requirement, and only the requirement of subsection (c), should also be made of Category 2 responders.

  Chapter 3 part 8 of the consultation document outlines the reason for the creation of Category 2 responders as ". . . co-operating bodies . . . which are less likely to be involved in the heart of planning work but will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their sector." These responders are major infrastructure organisations. If they fail, either by industry/service groups or geographical area or other shared commonality, this could lead to an emergency or compound the effects of a pre-existing situation.

  Their involvement in an incident will be affected by the impact of an incident upon themselves. In order to ensure the maximisation of their involvement it is crucial that they have the ability to function in response to an incident.

  It is difficult to see why this would be expected of Category 1 responders and not Category 2 responders. Without this requirement being extended to Category 2 responders it is doubtful that the "practical benefits" referred to in paragraph 8 will be fully achieved.

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

GOVERNMENT

  The Society is convinced that both the central and regional arms of government should be subjected (with notable exceptions) to specific statutory duties. This is particularly of concern in light of the Consultation Document's claim that the Bill's purpose is to "deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom" and the absence of any compelling reasons given by the CCS to justify this omission. We believe this should be reconsidered as, in our view, the main impetus for the original Emergency Planning Review stemmed from the shortcomings in the arrangements of Central and Regional Government. Although we remain convinced that the Lead Government Department concept is fundmentally flawed, we would like to see Lead Government Departments, together with the Regional Resilience functions, included in Category 1 as a minimum. We also believe that the central and regional tiers should be subject to the same range of performance criteria as local responders.

  We would suggest that Primary Care Trusts, Health Protection Agency, Strategic Health Authorities and Hospital Trusts are all included in Category 1, given that all now have a role in emergency planning and response.

  We are concerned that the utilities and major transport providers have been consigned to Category 2 on the basis that this "reflects the importance that these organisations have in terms of potentially being the cause of an emergency situation and in aiding response and recovery". This does not seem an accurate depiction of reality given the public's dependence on utility supplies. In our view utilities and major transport providers should also be placed into Category 1 so that these organisations also have a duty to assess the risk of emergencies arising, maintain emergency and BCP plans and so forth. It appears clear to us that existing regulations for these sectors are insufficient as evidenced by: (1) the recent poor performance of electricity supply companies in reconnecting large numbers of customers following storms in October 2002; (2) the apparent lack of a budget for running exercises within individual Network Rail Major Stations; (3) the lack of a regulatory requirement by the CAA for airport exercises airside to extend to the terminal side; (4) the recent major power failure in North America effecting 50 million people which could easily happen to us, and (5) the power cuts in London of August 2003.

  In addition, we would strongly suggest that all major airlines, all rail freight companies (including EWS, Freightliner), passenger transport executives, and British Waterways are also covered by the legislation as Category 1 responders.

  We believe that there is a strong case to be made for the inclusion of major bus companies (eg First Bus, Stagecoach) in the Bill, possibly as Category 2 responders, given their potential role in assisting in major evacuations or transportation to rest centres.

REGULATORS AND SAFETY SCHEMES

  From a regulatory perspective, we consider that it would be appropriate for the Coal Authority, the Met Office and agencies involved in the NAIR/RADSAFE/CHEMSAFE schemes to be included in the Bill 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.

  There is a general acceptance of the balance. However, because of the pivotal role given to Regulations in the Bill it is important that a proper consultation mechanism is put in place, which allows for full consideration of the draft Regulations before their implementation. Although not specifically referred to in the consultation, the same point is made regarding Orders (Clause 5) and Guidance (Clause 3).

  Time for full consultation is vital.

Q5.   Do you agree that consistent arrangements for multi-agency working should be established, through the creation of Local Resilience Forums? If you, how else should consistency be established?

  There is no doubt that inter-agency co-operation is the key to effective civil contingency planning. Plans developed on an inter-agency basis are essential to an effective response as they provide the foundation for the emergency services, local authorities, health service, utilities, voluntary agencies, central government and other responding bodies to build on, no matter what the type of emergency involved.

  The revised third edition of "Dealing with Disaster" states that "Civil contingency planning arrangements need to be integrated both within and between organisations. They should be an integral part of departmental and organisational planning."

  The requirement under Section 5 of the draft Bill, for both Category 1 and Category 2 responders to share information and to co-operate with each other, goes some way to fulfil the statutory requirement.

  Most areas of the country now have in place voluntary arrangements to ensure integration of both contingency plans and the combined response to a major incident. Some of these include a Strategic Co-ordinating Group, usually chaired by the Chief Constable, which will meet in the case of emergencies that require a combined response. It is felt that where these arrangements are found to be functioning effectively they should identified as best practice in order that others can use them as a model.

  Where joint working arrangements exist they should be encouraged to continue. Where a central emergency planning team, set up under joint arrangements and based on a host authority, is in place it is felt that consideration should be given to extending that team to include representatives from all the Category 1 responders. This would lead to true interagency working and allow for the complete fulfilment of the requirements as they are currently proposed under Section 5 of the draft Bill. This is not a completely revolutionary approach as at least one area of the country has already trialled this method. Funding should be made available in the next financial year to introduce further trials across the country in order to enable a fair assessment to be made.

  There will be difficulties experienced in the arrangements outlined above, not least of which will be funding, but the benefits will by far outweigh these and they should not be used as an excuse to prevent its introduction.

  The use of the term "Local Resilience Forums" may well cause confusion especially where local arrangements have already been in place for some years with their own local, and well known, nomenclature. If there is to be a change in order to bring uniformity across the country then it will need to be clearly stated in either the Act or, more probably, the Regulations made under that Act.

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 and benefits arising from the Bill proposals.

  The RIA seeks to quantify new burdens arising from improving the local capacity to detect, reduce and handle risks through enhanced co-ordination and clarity of roles and planning assumptions.

  We believe that resource requirements should be assessed following a thoroughly investigated funding review which takes account of the fact that the definition of emergency takes civil protection far beyond what is currently expected to be in place.

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?

  NO. The Society believes that funding for Emergency Planning in all sectors should be easily identifiable, and we do not believe that this is possible unde the Revenue Support Grant system. The government is quite rightly trying to change the way in which the service is managed, and whilst the small Civil Defence Grant should be disposed of, the Government should provide a direct specific grant to local authorities and other public sector agencies, which adequately funds the service.

  It is our expectation that a much greater level of funding should be allocated to emergency planning than that which is currently the case. We also expect that a vigourous process will be introduced.

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 (£19 million Civil Defence Grant) is woefully insufficient to support even the current level of local authority civil protection activities. More particularly, it does not take account of new and additional burdens to be imposed by the Civil Contingencies Bill. Furthermore, the draft Bill raises the overall aspirations for improved resilience (and raises public expectations) without recognising the costs that this will involve.

  Accordingly, a very large increase in funding is necessary to support the basic responsibilities for local authorities that flow from the forthcoming Bill.

  The government has long insisted that the Civil Defence Grant is only a contribution to local emergency planning, and that local authorities are expected to supplement the grant in order to fulfil their emergency planning duties. Consequently local authorities have had to use money that would otherwise have been spent on Education or other local services in order to ensure emergency planning is adequately resourced. In truth, therefore, the actual cost of current arrangements greatly exceeds the current level of central government funding.

  The new and additional burdens flowing from the forthcoming Bill, which require additional funding, arises from:

    (a)  Promoting Business Continuity Management;

    (b)  Greater emphasis on risk assessment work;

    (c)  Preventing emergencies from occurring;

    (d)  Warning and informing the public;

    (e)  Participation in initiatives arising from the new Regional tier of resilience.

  In addition, it is relevant to note that public expectation of how they will be looked after during an emergency is rising all the time. Is it reasonable, for example, to assume that people evacuated from the homes in an emergency will be content with the basic provision of shelter and sustenance provided for in most Rest Centre Plan? Is it not more reasonable to expect the public to demand more substantial and comfortable accommodation, which is beyond the capability of local authorities to plan for with current resources and in the absence of regional stockpiles of resources?

  Funding of other category 1 responders should also be significantly higher than at present, particularly as in order to comply with the new Bill, all responder organisations will have to employ new or additional staff. It is also obvious 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 mechanisms would you like to see established?

  Yes, where auditing mechanisms already exist. In the Consultation Document, chapter 3, paragraph 37 deals with "Performance Management". It is suggested that performance could be monitored by existing bodies such as the Audit Commission, the emergency services' inspectorates and utility regulators.

  In terms of local authorities we would expect the Audit Commission to audit the service under the Comprehensive Performance Assessment process. We are, however, concerned that if auditing takes place under the existing Comprehensive Performance Assessment that the weighting for, what would be modest expenditure by local authority standards, would mean that there would be only a little incentive to improve emergency planning performance. We would therefore expect that the weighting attached to civil protection should also take into account the absolutely huge costs to local authorities of responding to emergencies and the potentially huge costs that will occur if local authorities are not adequately prepared.

  There is also concern that existing audit processes may not address the qualitative issues that need to be addressed in emergency planning. There needs to be an audit regime that is able to measure capacity and competence that is not readily quantified. We would therefore expect to see personnel performing audits on behalf of the existing bodies to include appropriately qualified or experienced staff.

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?

  Yes. In principal, the ESP welcomes the appointment of a RNC during a regional crisis. It will, firstly, ensure that the communications link between central government and local multi-agency commands is greatly improved, and, secondly, provide the embracing leadership necessary for regional emergencies.

  However, while we understand the Government's wish to mirror central arrangements for crisis management, ie different lead Government Departments for different types of emergency, we echo the Select Defence Committee's concerns that the RNC will be selected with a greater emphasis upon specialist knowledge rather than leadership skills and crisis management experience. We agree that specialist knowledge is required, but it should be in an advisory role to the RNC.

  Lessons from FMD and the fuel crisis demand that any individual appointed has real authority, and is a respected, respectable and credible lead individual. The EPS would like to see a cadre of pre-selected RNCs, based upon leadership skills, strategic management, and crisis management, experience. The EPS believes that this would provide the leadership, guidance, and flexibility required to respond to, and recover from, a regional crisis.

  In addition, the consultation document states that the RNC will be formally appointed, only when special legislative measures have been addressed, ie Level 3. However, the document also states that, "At Level 2, RCCC would be chaired by the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator." The EPS would welcome clarification on this point, as it seems impossible for the RNC to chair the aforementioned meetings, when they would not yet have been appointed.

  We would also point out that the tasking of resources at the point of delivery, must be met by appropriate funding. How does this relate to Bellwin? If the RNC declares certain action should be taken that is beyond the local resource level, even given partnership working, is there an implied guarantee that Bellwin—or something else—will follow?

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

  Yes we agree that, clearly, there is a need to be able to apply "special legislative measures" in certain circumstances. The reasons for repealing the Emergency Powers Act 1920 etc and replacing and enlarging those powers with something more relevant are understood. We also welcome the government's thinking on this issue as it relects the situation in other developed countries.

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?

  No. This would give rise to a major constitutional change which we do not believe is necessary for this Bill to work.

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 question as framed, and the consultation document, fails to identify the implications that needs to be fully explored, to give an answer that shows how human rights should be addressed by legislation.

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?

  The Emergency Planning Society agrees that the arrangements proposed for Scotalnd are appropriate. It is clear that the Scottish Parliament has a right to assess and consult on any proposed legislation for civil protection in Scotland. However, as has been the case with the Emergency Powers aspects of the Bill, the Society would encourage the government to continue the close working that has taken place so far between the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Executive to ensure that, ultimately, Scotland "enjoys the same degree of civil protection as the rest of the UK".

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 Society asks that attention be paid to the way the service would be funded. Under devolved Government secondary legislation would have to be introduced, to reflect that the Welsh Assembly Government was funding the Emergency Planning Service, while responsibility for it still sat with the Cabinet Office. If this was to change then clear regulations would have to be drafted, to show where the funding was going to ensure it would not be lost.

Q20.   Do yo 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 different structure of central and local government and legislative framework in Northern Ireland would dictate that a specific approach is required to the application of the part of the local response issues dealt with in Part 1 of the Bill.

  Although it is considered that legislative controls on such arrangements should continue to be the responsibility of the devolved administrations, if consistency is to be achieved, then minimum standards and timescales should be set on a national level and the Cabinet Office should have an overseeing role. The process of introducing the legislation should be joined-up to prevent disparities in the degree of protection and also delays in implementation.

  In Northern Ireland, account also needs to be taken of the fact that the current legislative framework is somewhat different as are the traditional roles and responsibilities of the various departments and agencies involved. For example, civil defence arrangements have been handled centrally in the past and although District Councils have, over the last number of years, been developing local response arrangements, they do not enjoy the same powers as their GB counterparts (for example, the power of community leadership, as contained in the GB Local government Act 2000).

  Therefore, it is considered that the application of appropriate civil protection powers and duties to Northern Ireland needs to go further than those described in the consultative document. In particular, the statutory responsibilities should apply to all departments, district councils and agencies (except the voluntary sector) involved in emergency planning in Northern Ireland. District Councils will also need to be afforded similar general powers to their GB counterparts.

  There needs to be a recognition that new powers would be conferred on these organisations and appropriate funding would need to be made available. In Northern Ireland, as in England, District Councils have received no funding for emergency planning in the past, making it difficult to perform their role effectively.

  At present, the consultation document issued by the Central Emergency Planning Unit (CEPU) in Northern Ireland is somewhat lacking in that it does not address multi-agency working (such as Local Resilience Forums) co-ordination, joint working between the central and local response, or performance management arrangements. There is also no mention of what would constitute a regional planning tier for Northern Ireland or the possibility of appointing a Regional Co-ordinator. In Northern Ireland, there is currently a lack of clarity in respect of emergency planning and response structures at a regional level and there is inadequate co-ordination between the regional and local levels. Hence the inclusion of such arrangements is considered necessary.

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 Emergency Planning Society would suggest that the role and accountabilities of the Emergency Co-ordinator should be well established and consistent regardless of the type of emergency. The flexibility should lie in the nomination of the most appropriate officer to undertake the role.

  As an example—Emergency Planning Officer roles/responsibilities and authority on a day-to-day basis change significantly in an emergency situation. In a well-prepared organisation the emergency response role is clearly stated within emergency procedures outlining the framework within which officers operate during emergency situations.

  The effectiveness of the Emergency Co-ordinator is dependent on having these clearly defined operating parameters, combined with the training and development of officers likely to be nominated as the Emergency Co-ordinator, to ensure that they have the skills, confidence and capabilities to undertake the role.

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 view of the Emergency Planning Society is that it is essential for devolved administrations to be able to declare special legislative measures. This will ensure that there is an effective and pro-actively managed response to the crisis by the devolved administration based on local knowledge, assessment and understanding of the situation and its implications. This proposal would appear to be appropriate, particularly for Northern Ireland (once the devolved administration is restored) given its physical separation from the mainland and also as it has borders with the Republic of Ireland.

LONDON

Q.23  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 make up of local government in London demands that the local authority arrangements be different. The London Resilience Forum is an established body and seems to function efficiently. The question of local resilience forums needs more clarification. Each London borough currently meets with its own emergency services and NHS Trusts and plans for local resilience. In order to include the utilities and others in Category 2 use should be made of the existing five Mutual Aid Groups in London. It is believed that if the Groups were put on to a legal footing they would provide a practical solution, allowing the co-operation envisaged in the Bill.

Patrick Cunningham

Chair, Local Authorities Professional Issues Group

1 September 2003





 
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