Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association

GENERAL

  1.  CACFOA supports the general thrust by Government to improve and sustain national, regional and local resilience. New civil contingencies legislation is an integral part of this and the Association welcomes the proposals and its involvement in discussions as to the content of the draft bill.

  2.  We have three underlying concerns with the Draft Bill:

    (a)  Firstly, the role of FCDA's regarding their current responsibilities under PSR (1996), COMAH (1999) and REPPIR (2001), is not made clear. We understand consultation is shortly to take place on this matter and we would anticipate that CACFOA will be involved in such discussions at an early stage.

    (b)  Secondly, under current Civil Defence regulations in some areas of the UK, local councils have arranged for FCDA's and CFA's to undertake the council's responsibilities for civil contingency arrangements. The draft Bill and its explanatory notes are not clear as to future arrangements in this regard. Section 101 of the 1972 Local Government Act states, "Subject to any express provision contained in this Act or any Act passed after this Act, a local authority may arrange for the discharge of any of their functions. . . . . . . .(b) by any other local authority". If FCDA's and CFA's are not deemed currently to be local authorities, CACFOA believes that it is essential for this legal loophole to be closed to enable a local council, should it wish, to contract out some or all of its proposed duties under the new Bill. This would be entirely consistent with Government's thinking on "joined-up" working, collaboration and partnership arrangements to deliver local services as expressed in Local Government Acts of 2000 and 2001. In the case of FCDA and CFA activity on behalf of local councils, current arrangements clearly work and there would appear to be no obvious benefit in precluding similar arrangements in the future.

    (c)  Thirdly, there is an issue regarding resourcing adequately the proposed fire and rescue service involvement in civil contingency planning. CACFOA would argue that, whilst the service is engaged significantly in contingency planning at present, the proposed role as a Category 1 responder is at a level of intensity and extensiveness beyond that currently undertaken. As emphasised in Chapter 3 of the consultation document, it is proposed that Category 1 responders will be given a broad range of civil protection duties within a framework for assessment, prevention and planning for emergency response and business continuity. The Bill, outlines through regulations, an intention to seek to clarify the extent of the duties to be imposed on Category 1 responders and the relationship between Category 1 and Category 2 responders. The likelihood leads CACFOA to conclude an increased involvement for the Fire & Rescue Service and commitment to civil contingency planning which we welcome but it must be appropriately reflected in terms of resource requirements.

        However, it is not easy to quantify increased activity given the nature of the Civil Contingency Bill but it is clear that the Fire Service cannot satisfy the new proposals without an increase in resource.

3.  SUMMARY OF CONSULTATION QUESTIONS

  The consultation questions are answered in the remainder of the submission.

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?

  CACFOA supports the principle of a common definition of emergency, and the one provided in the consultation document is comprehensive and clear. Whilst we can work with this definition it may be worthy of further consideration as regards the proposed use of the term "serious threat", which can be open to differing interpretations and is difficult to quantify, compared with the definition of emergency provided in the document "Dealing with Disaster" which focuses upon capacity and resilience to respond effectively to emergencies and is familiar with planners and responders alike.

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?

  CACFOA welcomes the inclusiveness of the Fire & Rescue Service as a Category 1 responder. On balance, we agree with the obligations imposed upon Category 1 and 2 responders in the knowledge that similar arrangements and structures are already in place in many areas albeit not operating at the same level of resilience required in the draft Bill.

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

  Health Service representation does not appear to reflect the contribution that "acute" and "primary" care trusts in particular can make and there may also be a role for the Strategic Health Authority and the Health Protection Agency. The same applies to the military who, we suggest, can also add value to the planning process.

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, generally, although the proposed arrangements for regional resilience are not entirely clear and this is dealt with in the responses to Questions 10 and 11.

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 concept of Local Resilience Forums (LRF's) is sound as it builds upon effective existing arrangements.

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 focuses almost exclusively upon business impact and we support the conclusions of that analysis. However, as regards the providers of civil contingency planning, there has been no robust impact assessment and that is a major shortcoming in the consultation exercise.

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?

  Civil Contingency Planning should be recognised as a fundamental and essential part of normal work for local authorities and emergency services. Hence, funding arrangements should reflect appropriately the civil contingency planning needs of each through revenue support grant.

Q8.   Do you agree that the level of funding to support the Bill is sufficient? If not, please explain which you believe it to be too high or too low.

  The level of funding for the Fire & Rescue Service is insufficient to meet the civil contingency planning and response requirements set out in the Draft Bill. The current threats to the security of the UK and the economic, environment and social sustainability of our communities require a degree of risk management significantly beyond that currently undertaken by most organisations at local, regional and national levels. From a Fire & Rescue Service perspective, additional funds will be necessary to complete intensive risk assessment in extended areas to secure the appropriate risk control and mitigation measures necessary to bolster existing resilience. Inevitably this will have a "knock-on" effect as regards the scale of response in terms of new or upgraded plant and machinery which, in turn, demand greater levels of training to ensure competence.

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

  CACFOA believes that robust performance audit of civil contingency planning arrangements can, and should, be fulfilled through existing mechanisms.

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?

  It is acknowledged that a regional dimension for the co-ordinator of civil contingency planning and response is necessary but it would appear that the lack of a Regional Assembly structure in England has led to some confusion as regards the role of the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator and how he or she will interface with central government and local responders in a time of crisis and a lack of clarity as to what they are to do and what specific skills and expertise they should provide.

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

  Yes, but in applying special measures it needs to be recognised that emergencies tend to ignore administrative boundaries and that the planning arrangements need to address incidents of pan region and sub region dimensions.

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, unequivocally.

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. It is necessary for emergency powers legislation to provide for a wide range of disruptive challenges, natural or deliberate, which we face today.

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

  Yes. Please refer to answer regarding 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?

  Clearly this is a contentious issue and one which has a direct bearing upon the devolved administrations. From a practical perspective CACFOA would wish to see a single mechanism applied across the UK whether that should remain with the Queen, the Prime Minister or the First Minister, or its equivalent, in the devolved administrations.

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?

  If the process of making a Royal Proclamation could cause a serious delay which adversely affected a response to an emergency, thereby increasing the risk in dealing with the threats outlined in the definition of an emergency, then alternative arrangements as set out in the answer to Question 15 should be instigated.

Q17.   Do you agree that the emergency regulations should be treated as primary legislation for the purpose of the Human Rights Act? If not, please explain why.

  Yes.

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?

  We support arrangements and measures to secure UK resilience and wish to see consistency in the application of such across nations and regions. We note as regards Scotland that the local responders' part of the Draft Bill does not apply. We anticipate that the Scottish Executive will provide consistency in this regard at local (32 unitary councils), regional (8 Joint Emergency Co-ordination arrangements) and national (Scottish Emergency Co-ordination Committee) levels.

  As regards special legislative measures in the devolved administrations, we support the proposal to ensure consistency of operation.

  Finally, regarding the question of special legislative measures declared by the UK Government, we welcome the fact that the Government is also considering whether each of the devolved administrations should be able to make such a declaration, and to take measures so far as they are within their competence.

  The Association's members in Scotland would prefer to see a single line of accountability via the Scottish Parliament.

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?

  Consistent with our response to Question 18 regarding Scotland, we support arrangements and measures to secure UK resilience and wish to see consistency applied across nations and regions. We note that the local reponders' part of the Bill will apply to Wales and we believe this will need to reflect the different administrative arrangements which prevail.

  The Emergency Powers part of the Bill will apply to Wales as will the delivery of the proposed framework for civil contingency planning. However, the proposals in the consultation are not clear as to whether UK Government or the Welsh Assembly Government will be responsible for delivering these measures. CACFOA believes further discussions on these matters are essential and our Association's members in Wales would prefer to see a single line of accountability to the Welsh Assembly Government.

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?

  CACFOA supports a consistent application of measures to secure UK resilience and wish to see that extended across nations and regions. We note that the local responders' part of the Draft Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland and we anticipate that the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will provide consistency in this regard.

  The Emergency Powers part of the Bill apply to Northern Ireland and we would wish to see a consistent application of declaration to apply across all devolved administrations within their respective competencies to enforce such special legislative measures.

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 Association believes that the Emergency Co-ordination in a devolved country should be accountable to the devolved administration via their Civil Contingencies Committee (or equivalent).

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.

  We believe that consistency of application is an important issue to UK resilience. We see no obvious reason why devolved administrations should not be permitted under this proposed legislation to declare an emergency and take whatever legislative measures are necessary to deal with it within its competency so to do.

LONDON

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?

  The arrangements established in London regarding co-operation are in our view entirely relevant and appropriate. Indeed, given London's strong track record in both preventing and dealing with the consequences of emergencies and, in particular, the efficient manner in which the local authorities and emergency services have co-operated, we are surprised and disappointed to note that the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority is proposed to be the only Fire & Civil Defence Authority to retain a responsibility for supporting metropolitan boroughs and, subject to further consultation, for retaining the responsibility for control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations, the Pipeline Safety Regulations (PSR), and the Radiological (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations (REPPIR).





 
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