Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from County Durham and Darlington Strategic Coordination Group


  This paper is the joint response to the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill of the following organisations:

  Durham Constabulary.

  County Durham Fire & Rescue Brigade.

  North East Ambulance Service.

  County Durham Department of Health.

  Environment Agency—Northern Area Office.

  Chester Le Street District Council.

  Derwentside District Council.

  District of Easington.

  Darlington Borough Council.

  Durham City Council.

  Durham County Council.

  Sedgefield Borough Council.

  Teesdale District Council.

  Wear Valley District Council.

  County Durham and Darlington Emergency Planning Unit.

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?

  We are 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.


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 a 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.

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

  There is a need to include NHS Hospital Trusts who have an important role to play in responding to a major incident either as a receiving or supporting hospital. This is especially important when dealing with a CBRN Incident as every Accident and Emergency Unit now has the capabilities and facilities to undertake decontamination of casualties.

  Primary Care Trust have a statutory duty to co-ordinate health responses with their operational area these would appear to have a place as a Category 1 responder.

  In addition there is a need to ensure the Health Protection Agency (HPA) are Category 1 responders on equal footing with other agencies. The Bill is intended to promote resilience in the process of public protection (health protection). The HPA and its support mechanisms must be part of the process of planning and response.

  At a regional level (Regional Resilience Forum) the Regional Director of Public Health is the health representative on this forum within the North East. There is need to ensure that if a regional emergency/incident occurs the HPA are primary responders in support of the RDPH and must be seen by other agencies/organisations as an agency which is available 24/7 to give specific health advice on a range of subjects ie radiation.

  If you require consistency of health protection advice across the country then the role of the HPA must be recognised and incorporated in any planning for resilience.

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 not, 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 be 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 inter-agency 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.

  We believe that the government needs to re-examine the issue of contingency funding arrangements which currently does not adequately reflect demands imposed today. Current arrangements for planning and indeed for response (including the Bellwin Scheme) are archaic and in need of updating.

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 expectation that a much greater level of funding should be allocated to emergency planning than that which is currently the case. We also believe that emergency planning should be viewed as a mainstream local authority service.

  We also believe that the government is right to make significant changes in the way the emergency planning service is managed, and we believe that significant changes also need to be made to the way in which the service is funded. We believe that central, transparent and specific funding should be made available for all Category 1 responders.

  It would therefore be of great concern should funding for emergency planning for local authorities be transferred to revenue support grant, as this is likely to result in the service continuing to be inadequately funded. It would also create the very real danger that funding for emergency planning could be lost to other services in many local authorities around the country.

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) for local authorities 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 Housing or other local services in order to ensure emergency planning is adequately resourced. In County Durham and Darlington the central emergency planning team is currently funded by contributions from the nine local authorities to an additional £175,000. There is also expenditure incurred by the local authorities themselves in fulfilling functions such as providing Emergency Control Centres and staff training. 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.

  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 probably 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 mechanism would you like to see established?

  Yes, where auditing mechanisms already exist. In the Consultation Document, chapter three, 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.


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 principle, we welcome 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.

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 reflects the situation in other developed countries.


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.


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, with whom should it sit?


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.

  Further clarification as to what is meant by this question is required, as the implications are not entirely clear.


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.


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?

  Not applicable.

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