Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
9 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q80 Chairman: Good afternoon. We
are not being televised. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
There is no need for any opening statements. The submissions are
fairly comprehensive and we have seen them.
Ms Lowton: I am Alison Lowton.
I am borough solicitor for the London Borough of Camden. I am
not an emergency planning professional but I manage and am responsible
for the emergency planning services in Camden.
Mr Cunningham: I am Patrick Cunningham.
I am the chief emergency planning officer for County Durham in
Mr Davies: I am Richard Davies.
I am the principal emergency planning officer at Leeds City Council.
Q81 Chairman: Can I open the proceedings
by asking you whether you think the new legislation dealing with
emergencies is necessary?
Mr Cunningham: Without a doubt.
The new legislation is absolutely imperative. I think it is true
to say that everybody does their best as things stand at the moment
but unfortunately national, regional and local responders are
not geared up to deal with the types of emergencies which affect
the modern world. We do not have the statutory authority; we do
not have the necessary clarity of responsibilities; we do not
have the guidance and we do not have the funding to be able to
deal with emergencies in a satisfactory way, so new legislation
is very much a step in the right direction.
Mr Davies: I think Patrick has
put the case very eloquently. We need to have this put into place
as soon as possible. I think we are all aware that there are a
number of things we would like to see changed. Certainly from
our perspective in Leeds we would like to see some of the duties,
which are quite well thought out for the most part, extended to
regional and national government as well so that we do have an
over-arching, single framework for civil protection.
Q82 Chairman: In that case, could
you give an example of how and when the draft Bill, had it been
enacted, could have helped you tackle an emergency?
Mr Cunningham: I could give many
examples but I will just stick with one. A few years ago in the
north east we had 60-odd evacuees from Montserrat arriving in
our part of the world. They did not have any possessions apart
from the clothes that they stood up in. There was a great willingness
locally to help these people but we were hampered by a lack of
clarity about first of all whether or not this was an emergency,
about which central government department was going to take the
lead in helping us to deal with the emergency. We were hampered
by the inability of regional government to give us any help at
all and it also took some considerable time, time that was valuable,
for the local authorities and the other local agencies to be convinced
that it was their place to be the ones to help. People wanted
to help but they were unsure of their own authority. There was
nothing which gave them the authority to help. They were unsure
about whether or not they could commit funding. Statutory powers
give people direction and focus and they do give people an authority.
I think we could have dealt with that situation and others in
a much better way if we had had a statutory duty.
Mr Davies: I would agree wholeheartedly
with that. It is really in the area-wide incidents where we would
probably have a more telling difference. There are a number of
cases. The fuel crisis and foot and mouth were another couple
of instances where there was not sufficient clarity and the response
was hampered. It was not as quick and effective as it might have
been if clear duties had been set in place prior to that.
Ms Lowton: That is right. I think
it could also help at a more localised level. The two examples
that I could give you for situations in Camden were in relation
to two relatively small emergencies. One was a compromised building
structure, where there was a disagreement between the contractor
and the local authority about who should take responsibility and
I do think that is an issue that we need to think about, about
private contractors who are carrying out local authority type
functions and their role in relation to emergencies. Another incident
was when there was flooding in the northern part of the borough
last year. It was nothing like the floods that got the national
attention. There was inadequate information flow between Thames
Water and the local authority. I am conscious that the water companies
are category two responders in the proposed Bill and there might
be issues there because we had a scrutiny investigation and there
was clear confusion about who should have been taking responsibility
for dealing with that issue, which was primarily not a local authority
issue but a Thames Water issue.
Q83 Earl of Shrewsbury: Do you believe
that the draft Bill's definition of emergency is the correct one?
Should it be drawn more narrowly or more widely or incorporate
a level of scale?
Mr Cunningham: I personally believe
that is a very good definition. Perhaps the only thing that I
would like to see added would be a reference to trigger points
for certain types of emergency. For example, it would be useful
to have a trigger point, first of all, for a local, serious threat
and then a trigger point for a wide area emergency, a trigger
for a major incident and also a trigger for the user of emergency
powers. Perhaps that is something that could be better served
by being in guidance rather than in the definition of the Bill.
That would be my view.
Mr Davies: I think trigger points
are essential components within this. I would definitely like
to see some sort of elucidation of what is implied by "a
serious threat". That can mean many different things to different
people. I am also concerned that there are the issues of stability
and security brought within the definition. I think that is fine,
but from an emergency planning perspective I would like to see
that more closely tied to issues of human welfare so that we do
not get drawn too far into the political sphere. That would be
one concern I might have.
Ms Lowton: I would agree that
we need some triggers for different levels because different agencies
will have different levels of responsibility, depending on the
nature of the serious threat.
Q84 Earl of Shrewsbury: Do you believe
that there are sufficient checks and balances on the use of emergency
powers in the draft Bill?
Mr Davies: In some senses it is
an awkward question for the likes of emergency planning officers
to answer. Possibly there are people in a better position to judge
this, but I think there are a lot of allusions in the consultation
document to safeguards. I am not aware that the safeguards"the
triple lock" as they are termedhave been built into
the legislation. If they are there, let us see them more explicit
in the Act. I think that would be more of a personal view.
Mr Cunningham: I must admit I
felt a lot better after I read the Commons Defence Select Committee
report which talked about the triple lock. That does give a level
Ms Lowton: I would concur.
Q85 Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall:
If there was a national emergency and you were rung up by the
Secretary of State to say that he had issued regulations and you
were immediately to hand over all your powers to a colonel who
was coming out from the local Army base and, no, Parliament had
not been informed and, no, the Queen had not been involved, would
you be happy? If not, what sort of safeguards would you want in
Mr Davies: I must admit this is
an area that the Bill probably does not explore in too much detail.
I would have grave concerns about being directed at a moment's
notice to undertake certain activities. We consider it to be good
practice to base our plans and response arrangements on a
proper hazard identification and risk assessment process. I think
that is how the best plans and procedures fall out. There may
be circumstances where something happens at a moment's notice
which cannot be foreseen. I think it depends very much on the
nature of that particular scenario, but we need some form of consultation
and some safeguards to prevent us being put into an awkward situation.
Mr Cunningham: From my point of
view, in normal, every day life we do tend to run things in a
very democratic way. Decisions are taken after a committee has
had a chance to discuss them but sometimes in emergency situations
you do just have to have somebody take the lead in making difficult
decisions. We sometimes have not the time to have a big debate
on some of the issues. I would not be too worried about it personally
if someone from the military came in because the military have
shown in the past that they are very good at dealing with these
sorts of situations. We would have to support them.
Ms Lowton: I think it goes back
to what we were saying earlier about trigger points and criteria
for triggering emergency powers. The reality is that whenever
there is a situation that involves a terrorist threat or a bomb
alert of any significant degree the military lead it in any event,
regardless of what our plans might say.
Q86 David Wright: Can I touch on
the area of regulations? The statutory duty on local authorities
includes a provision for central government to direct what contingencies
they should plan for. Do you think that is preferable to the current
system where you are basically making judgments yourselves about
what you plan for?
Mr Cunningham: My understanding
is that local authorities will plan for contingencies that arise
both from local risk assessments and also from direction by central
government. I think there have been times in the recent past where
we have cried out for some direction from central government.
I am thinking particularly of the fuel shortage and the foot and
mouth crisis. To my mind, the proposal is more preferable to the
current system. I still think that the main part of it will probably
come from local determination about risks but there is also a
need for direction from central government.
Mr Davies: I would go back to
my previous answer, subject to the caveat that if government intervenes
it has to demonstrate that it is necessary. There need to be appropriate
checks and balances in place, but as my colleague said there are
going to be occasions where central government's guidance is called
Q87 David Wright: You feel the balance
in the Bill is about right?
Mr Davies: Again, for lay persons,
it is very difficult sometimes to judge these things, particularly
given the language that is used in drafting bills. I get the sense
that the safeguards that were talked about as being implied in
the legislation have not been built in as effectively as they
might have been, but that could be a misinterpretation on my part.
Ms Lowton: From our point of view,
our preference generally speaking, in relation to most of the
functions that we perform, is that we would rather have the local
decisions made locally; in this instance about the sort of contingencies
that we should plan for, but there obviously has to be some capacity
for government to intervene and direct if it feels there are contingencies
which have not been planned for. On balance, I think we would
rather have guidance on the sort of contingencies that we should
be planning for with the ability for government to intervene as
and when it is necessary.
Q88 David Wright: How far are local
authorities able to comment on the government's draft emergency
regulations at present? Should there be a legal requirement for
the GLA and local authorities to be consulted on the regulations
drafted under the draft Bill? Would an obligation to be consulted
cause you any particular difficulties?
Mr Cunningham: Unfortunately,
we are not able to comment at all at the moment on the regulations
as obviously we have yet to see them. I think we would very much
like to be consulted as we do have some expertise in the area.
I can see many more difficulties if we are not consulted.
Mr Davies: I would agree with
that. I think the regulations that would arise from consultation
would be better for the consultation as well.
Ms Lowton: I think that is absolutely
Q89 David Cairns: Are the new duties
required of local authorities in this measure appropriate and
practical and how do they differ from what you already do?
Mr Cunningham: First of all, they
are certainly appropriate but unfortunately I do not think that
they are practical, given current funding levels. More finance
will have to be allocated to civil protection for all the work,
in my view. Part of our current problem is that there is a severe
lack of funds for civil protection. I would say it is a desperate
lack of funds. I think there is a world of difference between
what local authorities do now and what the Bill is asking them
to do. The activities that are completely new are those of warning
the public, promoting business continuity management in the community,
taking action to prevent emergencies from occurring, participation
in the new local resilience fora, participation in the initiatives
arising from the new resilience fora, undertaking activities as
directed by central government, as has just been mentioned, and
also providing ongoing information to the public. I have deliberately
separated out warning the public and providing information to
the public because I think those two separate activities are often
lumped together as if they do go hand in hand and I personally
do not think they do. There are seven completely new activities
in addition to the need, given the statutory duty, for all local
authorities to enhance their current activities in five areas.
I think those five areas are risk assessment, plan preparation,
exercising and training, business continuity management and the
implied duty in the Bill to respond to emergencies. Those last
five are done to a greater or lesser degree by local authorities
just depending upon which local authority is doing them. In addition
to those I have already outlined, I think the Bill does place
a new burden of responsibility on local authorities to perform
the activities that they current do in such a way that they will
stand up to the scrutiny of government, of the public and the
law. Make no mistake about it: the Bill does mean a world of difference
in the activities of local authorities.
Mr Davies: I could not disagree
with anything there. I would probably like to focus on a couple
of particular aspects which possibly are not as appropriate as
may be thought. I do not think anyone is going to quibble too
much about issues such as risk assessment and so on, but they
will pose new burdens. There are a couple of the duties though
that I think a lot of people in local authorities are distinctly
nervous about. "Prevention" is one word that jumps out
very clearly from the text. In some senses, there appears to be
an implication that many emergencies can be prevented. "Mitigation"
has always been a word that has loomed large in emergency planning.
We develop plans, we undertake exercises and training and so on
with a view to mitigating what happens. The use of the phrase
"horizon scanning" by government has muddied the waters
a little here. It might be that possible disputes with trade unions
can be foreseen and maybe there needs to be some sort of action
undertaken there, but if we are talking about train crashes or
weather related events, that is "the bread and butter of
emergency planning", there is no way that we can foresee
these things. So, we have to have plans and procedures in place
to be able to address these when they come up. I think I would
like to see more of a focus on the term "mitigation"
than "prevention". I do not doubt that if we were to
undertake more rigorous risk assessments we could pick up items
that could give rise to emergencies that we have not picked up
in the past. Then maybe we need to undertake some sort of preventative
or mitigatory action. Again, that poses a whole new set of burdens
which I really do not think the Bill even hints at, to be honest.
Also, Patrick touched upon this conflation of informing and warning
the public. Warning the public has never really been a role that
the local authorities have led on. I do not know how the regulation
will finally be drawn, but I would hope that perhaps the burden
for that would fall on the police, as has been the case before,
and other bodies that have a particular interest, industrial hazard
sites and so on. I do believe though that we are light years behind
many other countries in informing the public about what they can
do to prepare themselves. I would like to see a greater focus
not just on resilient infrastructure, but also on resilient communities.
There is a lot that communities can do for themselves to prepare
themselves for known hazards that are in their backyard. Sometimes
they are just not aware that they are there. Local authorities,
as community leaders, can bring together a lot of this information,
put it out in the public domain and say, "This is what you
could be doing to help yourselves." That diminishes perhaps
the call on our resources when an incident actually kicks off.
I am not sure this whole issue of community education has really
been addressed here and I think there is a massive amount of investment
that needs to go in here. That requires a lot more thought. I
think central government should take the lead on this. It should
provide a framework for us to drive out at each local level.
Ms Lowton: I could not agree more
with that last point about community education. From our point
of view, the duties are appropriate. From the local authority
perspective, they should enable us to be more proactive rather
than reactive. I know we have the emergency planning function
at the moment but in reality a lot of the way we approach emergency
planning is essentially reactive. I think there is a lot that
we could do on the mitigation point that this would assist us
with doing. It is seen very much as a one-dimensional activity
and a very constrained activity within a lot of local authorities
and certainly my own. With a greater emphasis on preparatory and
assessment functions, I think that should give us a broader perspective
and raise the profile of both emergency planning and business
continuity, in which to my mind the local authority is as important,
if not more so. I think the other thing that the new duties should
do is to assist in some consistency because one of the problems
at the moment is that there is a huge difference in the way that
local authorities approach emergency planning and therefore in
the sort of service they are able to provide. Particularly in
somewhere like London, where you are reliant on 33I know
there is the London Resilience ForumLondon boroughs potentially
picking up in a very serious incident, there is a huge need for
consistency which I would hope the duties set out in this Bill
will help. What is not clear to meand it may become clear
in the regulationsis whether each of the responders have
different sets of duties, because it is clear that they do have
different lots of responsibilities and different functions. For
us all to have exactly the same duty does not seem to me necessarily
to always be appropriate because we will respond in different
ways. It is clear the local authority is not going to be able
to be in the same position as the blue light services in terms
of relating to emergencies, so I think there needs to be some
consideration of whether there does need to be a differentiation.
It may be that it goes back to the trigger levels that we talked
about earlier, so that it is clear which agencies are engaged
at what level.
Q90 Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am
sorry if I am going back a question but one of your answers to
an earlier question set me wondering. I am not clear whether the
regulations that you are talking about are intended to be put
in place as soon as the statute is on the statute book, to deal
with general duties, or whether most of them are intended to be
put in place after the event which has given rise to the emergency
and everybody is scampering around trying to sort things out.
I have just looked at clause 21 which says that regulations may
be made to make provision for controlling or mitigating a serious
aspect or serious effect of the emergency specified in the proclamation
or order. That is the power basically or the scope of the regulations.
That seems to envisage, does it not, that the regulations will
be made when there is already an emergency, when the event has
happened? If that is so, all you have been saying about consultation
may provide a problem.
Mr Cunningham: I must admit that
my understanding is different from your own but, from the part
of the document you have read, out I would certainly have to agree
with what you said.
Ms Lowton: I think we are talking
about two different lots of regulations here. We have been responding
in relation to the general regulations to be produced under the
Bill. The question was directed specifically at the emergency
regulations under part two of the Bill and obviously that might
present some consultation difficulties but if there was a way
of consulting then obviously we would welcome it. We accept that
in an emergency of course you cannot always do that.
Q91 Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale:
You mentioned business continuity. As you know, there is quite
a lot of concern in the private sector about the fact that on
the whole not all but some big international companies have gone
into business continuity planning, especially after 9/11. There
is great concern that SMEs do not seem to really have thought
this was necessary at all. It is interesting that you said you
thought this was very much a local authority area. Would you like
to see this spelt out a bit more?
Ms Lowton: I think there are two
issues. We use business continuity in the local authority context
for the continuity of our own business. There is that business
continuity and then there is the business continuity within the
commercial sector. I think you are absolutely right. SMEs have
not by and large done very much, if any, contingency planning
for emergencies. I am not quite sure how else it could be picked
up in the Bill other than the local authority providing advice,
which I think is in there in any event.
Mr Davies: I think it is a tremendously
interesting and important part of our work. Leeds City Council
piloted a forum for the private sector three years ago and
we have been running it ever since. Unfortunately, as with any
forum, you can only have so many members of it to be effective.
We have about 70 or 80 fairly substantial organisations. The criterion
we use is that the company has to have a minimum of around 400
employees so we try and get to as many people that way as possible.
Then there are also umbrella groups represented who can filter
the message out. The amount of work that we have had to invest
in this just to make this viable has been tremendous. You could
employ one person full time in a city like Leeds on something
like this. I do not think, again, this has necessarily been thought
through in terms of its implications. It is not just a case of
us going to these people and they act as passive recipients of
information. They come back thinking and saying, "Your arrangements
do not reflect what your message is. We want you to go away and
come back with something else." One of the first things we
became very clear about was that we were not getting messages
through to the business sector to get them to react sensibly with
regard to their own staff. Sometimes they were having to `second-guess'
the police or the local authority. When they ring the police in
the middle of an incident, the police would say, "We are
in the middle of responding to this." You can understand
why they diverted away from giving any response there, but we
tried to some up with a system that could enable them to be kept
informed and make sensible decisions during an incident. I think
that has worked relatively well, but I can see a tremendous amount
of work coming out of this. How you then go down to the smaller
companies with 10 or 20 employees is a serious challenge.
Q92 Kali Mountford: Richard, from
your remarks about public awareness and community involvement,
can I draw out quite how far, particularly in your position as
local authorities working continually with communities, we can
take public education and at what point do we have to differentiate
between education and a warning so that we get the balance right
between helping people prevent things happening to themselves
and raising a level of fear that makes a community impossible
to run anyway?
Mr Davies: On the latter point,
I think it is a very difficult thing to determine at what point
the public get concerned about the message that you are putting
out. To be honest, we are only starting to explore a lot of these
things now. I think there are a number of practical things that
can be done at a national level. For example, I was a little disappointed
to see a business continuity promotion document produced by London
Resilience or London First, totally based on London and not put
out to the national community. That message was equally appropriate
to Leeds, to Durham, to anywhere else in the UK, but London is
seen as different. I do not see that at all personally and I hope
that is something that is well received here. I think a local
authority can, on the basis of the types of hazards that it has
identified locally, put together literature that would explain
to the community what sort of problems they might encounter and
what they can do to deal with them. Some people think that you
need to get to the community at the earliest stage possible. I
had my attention drawn recently to an initiative that apparently
is in place in a number of parts of the UK, that of "Crucial
Crews", where you effectively get a roadshow which might
comprise police officers, fire officers, the Environment Agency,
all going round, drawing attention to these types of things and
just offering sensible advice that may be inculcated in to children
and passed on to the adults. All of these things need to be taken
together. I do not think there is any one panacea for all the
problems. Clearly, the local authority by itself cannot do everything.
If we sit down, maybe through the LGA, and discuss with government
who can do what most effectively I am sure we can come up with
a sensible strategy. I do not think the public is as daft as we
might think in some ways.
Ms Lowton: The question raises
the fact that emergency planning in that very broad sense links
to community cohesion and that community resilience is a lot to
do with community cohesion. For example after 11 September we
put a lot of time and energy into putting in support for the Muslim
community and reassuring them, giving them contacts in case there
was a backlash on our local Muslim community. That is building
a resilience and is also, in a sense, a form of emergency planning.
There was a risk of a local emergency on that level. One of the
advantages I would see of mainstreaming emergency planning in
the way which this Bill does is to make it much more part of what
we do as a whole on the community leadership role, rather than
categorising it in a small area somewhere else.
Q93 David Cairns: On mainstreaming
in terms of activity, the Bill proposes mainstreaming the funding
by abolishing the civil defence grant and mainstreaming it through
the revenue support grant. I wondered how you felt about that.
It is not an exact science but I was wondering if you could quantify
the order of magnitude you are talking about for additional financial
outlay for the additional responsibilities that you went through
the list of earlier.
Mr Cunningham: I can certainly
try to quantify it for you. Personally, I do not think that the
transfer of the funding for emergency planning into the revenue
support grant would be a good thing. I think it will be difficult.
What will happen is that the funding for civil protection will
not be as transparent as it currently is. I think that emergency
planning officers up and down the United Kingdom may have difficulty
in getting the local politicians to put the right amount of funding
into civil protection when they obviously have other priorities.
If I may explain a little about how we are funded in County Durham
and Darlington, that may help to answer the quantification part
of the question. We have a central emergency planning unit which
provides a service to the nine local authorities in County Durham
and Darlington. We have a unitary authority, a shire county council
and seven district councils. The unit is funded by a combination
of the civil defence grant and also contributions from each of
the nine authorities. The unit's budget is made up of £277,000
in grant and £178,000 in contributions from the authorities
themselves, making a total of £455,000. The contribution
that we get from the local authorities themselves is funds which
they have diverted from other essential services because they
have recognised that the civil defence grant as it stands at the
moment is far too low for the central emergency planning unit
to make any meaningful impression on the workloads that currently
exist in emergency planning. I think those figures are just half
of the story because as well as the funding of the central unit
each of the authorities has costs which are hidden in other budget
heads. That would include moneys for maintenance of emergency
control centres, supplies of equipment and also the input into
the planning process of expertise from other local government
departments. I personally think that if the civil defence grant
is to go, which it must if the Civil Defence Act is to go, there
should still be a very specific, direct grant for civil protection,
certainly for local authorities. I would suggest that if you looked
at the picture nationally, if you more or less doubled the amount
of the 19 million to the 38 million, spread nationally across
the country, that would certainly be a good start. If you look
at it from the Durham perspective, what I am talking about there
is an extra £20,000 for each of the nine authorities, bringing
our total to £635,000.
Ms Lowton: In terms of whether
or not there should be a specific grant, Camden has long campaigned
to end specific grants, full stop, so I am hardly going to come
to this Committee and say that it should be retained for civil
defence. We do not believe that it should be retained, contrary
to Patrick Cunningham. We believe it would be more effective if
not retained and in reality we get £75,000 as our civil defence
grant, which is one post and maybe a few add-ons, but that is
all it is. There are lots of hidden costs which we do not account
for in terms of calling them emergency planning. A lot of the
work that is done in the different departments which are their
local emergency responses is part of the general management function,
but if we are to take on the duties that are in the draft Bill
we would struggle enormously on the level of funding that we currently
receive. We have not done an assessment of how much it would cost,
but we could not cover it with £75,000.
Mr Davies: I have less concern
about the loss of the civil defence grant and the money being
placed within the revenue support grant. As long as there is some
sort of transparency and the money is clearly there for civil
protection purposes, that would be very helpful. I am, like my
colleagues, concerned about the levels of funding. We are very
fortunate in Leeds in that we have been very generously supported
by the local authority itself. I do not think that is necessarily
the norm. You may find that other local authorities in a similar
position to us, in other metropolitan districts for example, might
play this differently. It might be in their interests to keep
a ring fence available. I would like to see a situation where
central government pays for 100% of the emergency planning costs.
Currently, our total budget for Leeds is around £290,000
and the authority has to put in £100,000 of that. That is
down on what government used to put in. In 1999-2000, we were
spending £181,000 and we got £35,000 from central government.
This additional money has only come about because of the judicial
review that was put in place a couple of years ago. As Alison
pointed out as well, this does not include all the senior officer
time, all of the exercises we run with other people, so the amount
involved would be tremendous. If we took the new duties literally,
I could see at least another £100,000 being required just
to cover the officer cost alone. That does not even begin to touch
upon the emergency resources, having an acceptable quality of
a resource such as blankets, for example, beds and so on. There
is a whole host of resources that we need to have. They could
be possibly placed in certain circumstances at the regional or
county level. I do not say that every local authority needs that,
but a lot of the metropolitan districts also do not have dedicated
control centres. This is something we are exploring at the moment
and the figure that we have come back with is £350,000. I
do not see any provision here for capital grants. To have an emergency
planning service fit for the 21st century, the government is going
to have to dig deep to fund these things. For a city like Leeds,
which is the second biggest metropolitan district in the country,
we would like to see also some consideration being given to its
regional importance. It is not just a city in its own right. If
you start losing the financial or legal sectors in Leeds, it affects
the whole of Yorkshire and beyond. Again, this ties in I suppose
with the whole London argument. There are resilience issues beyond
London that need to be taken on board.
Q94 Mr Jones: Having been a local
councillor myself, emergency planning even when we have had events
like 11 September is not very high on the radar screen, is it,
of most local councillors? I am sure if you have the annual budget
round and you are deciding between keeping nursery schools open
or your local community centre and cutting back emergency planning,
I can imagine there are not many people who will vote for emergency
planning. Is not ring fencing it going to mean that money is going
to get diverted and, in terms of the cooperation that works in
Durham and Tyne and Wear quite well between different authorities,
is it going to make it harder to make local authorities work together
and, in terms of Durham and Tyne and Wear, get more effect for
the money they have put in because they work together? Trying
to get, for example, in Durham nine local authorities to each
put in a separate amount of money to coordinate those budgets,
if it is not ring fenced, will be very difficult.
Mr Cunningham: That is certainly
my fear and I think that is reflected by a great number of emergency
planning officers throughout the country.
Ms Lowton: If it is going to be
subject to inspection and audit, the local authority is going
to have to be carrying out the function. If it is going to be
a duty, the local authority is going to have to be carrying out
the function. A specific grant no more guarantees a good service
than not having it. Our view is very much that we want that local
flexibility. Any half-way decent authority would be providing
a good emergency planning service because it must be in their
Q95 Kali Mountford: Do you think
the list of category one and category two responders is as complete
as it might be and, bearing in mind some of the comments you have
already made about who should be taking the lead in certain situations,
who overall do you think should be taking the lead for the coordination
of planning for emergencies? Can you touch on who is missing first?
Mr Davies: Yes. In some senses
the list is very good, but there are some clear omissions which
I think were slightly unintentional. Something as big as the NHS
was an oversight. I am quite concerned that all of the new agencies
that have been created in the NHS restructuring are covered by
category one, whether they be primary care trusts, whether they
be the Health Protection Agency, which has a big role in the national
response, whether it be the hospital trusts. They obviously have
their plans as normal. The strategic health authorities that I
was led to believe were just going to be performance management
agencies, all of a sudden have a great interest in emergency planning,
so I would argue that they should be brought under category one
as well. Probably the biggest concern I had related to the utilities
sector. There was a rather interesting comment in the consultation
document which suggested that utilities had been consigned to
category two because 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. I think the blackout in London
rather undercut that. I do not buy it at all. There have been
a number of quite serious emergency incidents, particularly winter
storms, where we have had the power to large numbers of people
knocked out in specific areas, whether in the Midlands or in East
Anglia, and those people probably would take a very dim view of
some of the comments here. I think they would like to see the
utilities forced to undertake risk assessment, to have business
continuity plans, to have emergency plans. We appreciate that
some of these agencies are spread very thinly. Yorkshire Electricity,
for example, covers a much wider area than Leeds and West Yorkshire,
but you do not have to have them attending every local resilience
forum meeting. I think the framework could be created in a flexible
manner such that they could come along to one in every four meetings.
Certainly that is how we operate already within West Yorkshire.
I was also quite concerned that some of the key transport companies
were not brought into the framework. Rail freight companies were
studiously ignored. If you think about some of the hazardous materials
that they carry, I think they need to be brought under the aegis
of the Bill. There were one or two other organisations, various
regulators like the Coal Authority, which in parts of the north
are very important, and we would like to see them involved. I
suppose the key one is going to be central and regional government.
We would really like to see those brought in to make sure we did
have a seamless, top to bottom structure.
Q96 Kali Mountford: You have not
really touched on who should take the lead role. In some of your
answers you started to talk about who takes the lead in a certain
circumstance or for a certain event, but if we are looking at
the planning contingencies overall do you think somebody should
have that specific role permanently and, if so, who?
Mr Cunningham: From my point of
view, I think it should be the local authority that would take
the planning role overall but in terms of a response, as you quite
rightly say, it would depend upon the nature of the emergency.
Q97 Kali Mountford: Do you think
the statutory requirements placed on the local level ought to
be extended to regional and then central government as well?
Mr Davies: We are saying the same
duties apply. In terms of the local authority, I would really
like to see the community leadership thing spelt out more clearly
in terms of bringing together agencies in the planning phase.
More often than not the police are clearly going to be in the
lead with the response. We know as a local authority that once
the overall response is over and we are into the recovery phase
local authorities will again pick it up, but I do not think enough
work has been done on how people are brought together. Good practice,
certainly in recent years, has been that the local authority has
convened the players and brought together the various elements.
It has worked very well for us. I do not see why that cannot be
rolled out as best practice elsewhere.
Q98 Kali Mountford: I would quite
like to learn from the experience of local authorities who have
become very good at partnership arrangements in all sorts of areas
of social policy. What could we learn for the purposes of this
Bill, if we are going to take on board bringing together some
regional tier and central government tier organisations that have
their own ethos and cultures? From your experience of organising
new partnerships in local authorities, what could we do in this
Bill to make sure that bringing people together in that way could
be successful without too many enmities between fiefdoms?
Mr Cunningham: I think there is
a natural culture unfortunately between central government departments
that there is a lack of willingness to share information. There
have been occasions in the past when central government departments,
rather than go to other government departments for help and assistance
during an emergency, try to deal with it under their own resources
because they do not like to feel as if their department looks
bad compared to other departments. I personally think that Defra
just happened to be unlucky during foot and mouth and during the
fuel shortage. It could just as easily have been the Department
of Trade and Industry that was embarrassed if that had gone on
for much longer. I think local authorities do have the ability
to get organisations around the table, to get them to share information
and to get them to agree courses of action. That would be great
if it could happen between central government departments and
between central government departments and local authorities.
For example, I was made aware yesterday that there are some new
national emergency plans in existence, but I did not know about
it until yesterday and I only found out about it by chance. Apparently,
there is a new national foot and mouth plan in existence. When
I queried why I had not seen it, I was told, "It is on the
Defra website." That is fine but I should not have to go
looking for it because obviously we have procedures in County
Durham and Darlington to do with foot and mouth and we want to
make sure that they gel with the central government department
ones. There is an educational and perhaps a culture change issue
for central government departments which possibly local authorities
would be able to help with. We would be more than happy to try.
Ms Lowton: I wanted to go back
to thinking about it as a local level partnership. One of the
things we have learned is that we have too many local partnerships
at the moment. Local authorities have lots of requirements to
enter into partnerships for a whole range of things. By and large,
the same people come to the different partnership meetings. We
cannot plan for an emergency at a local level within our separate
agencies. We have to plan for it with all the other agencies,
obviously. We would be reluctant to see the Bill placing a duty
on us to set up yet another partnership with agencies with whom
we already work very well. For example, we currently have a crime
and disorder or community safety partnership which this could
sit with, or the local strategic partnership which it could also
sit with. In considering how we could have the partnership arrangements
that are necessary in emergency planning terms, it would be more
helpful if local authorities could be a bit more imaginative or
central government could be more imaginative about using existing
arrangements rather than creating a new one, because it will be
many of the same usual suspects turning up to a different meeting
in the same place on a different day. I wanted also to go back
to the list of responders, if I could, and also who should take
the lead. I think the list is very comprehensive but consideration
should also be given to the Food Standards Agency in some particular
emergencies, and also if emergencies are to extend to potential
civil disruption, which of course they may do, some consideration
needs to be given to the role of the courts system in any immediate
response. I would like to stress again the point about utilities
and transport. Certainly in the local flooding we had where the
flooding was caused by the inadequacies of the gullies to take
the rain waterand obviously that was not exactly a fault
because they were not designed to take that level of floodingthe
primary responsibility for resolving it and, in fact, for dealing
with the immediate emergency was Thames Water. However, the local
authority had to take the lead in terms of evacuating people and
that sort of assistance but could not get access to the infrastructure
to try and resolve the problem.
Q99 Mr Allan: I wanted to focus in
on this issue of risk assessment which has come up a few times,
which is one of the new duties the Bill proposes will fall on
category 1 responders. To what extent do you feel category 1 responders
are able to carry out risk assessment as the Bill proposes?
Mr Davies: I suppose you can look
at risk assessment in a number of ways. Firstly, there is the
risk assessment in terms of looking at what is out there, identifying
hazards and then making, hopefully, an informed decision on what
sort of things you need to plan for, and each organisation could
undertake usefully this particular responsibility. Obviously each
organisation is also going to have to look at the risks of there
being a deployment from their organisation to a particular response
from a health and safety point of view. I suppose the thing that
I feel most strongly about is the role of the local authority
in drawing all of this information together so they can be a conduit
to the community in terms of letting them know what are the primary
risks out there and also letting them know we are planning for
these potential scenarios so they can have some degree of confidence
in our capabilities. Again this cuts back very neatly to this
idea of community leadership. I do not think it would be sensible
for the police to take a view on all of these things and then
do that in isolation from the Fire Service, the Environment Agency
and so on and so on. Certainly again this is something we have
done in Leeds and we co-operate very well with our partner agencies
and hopefully draw together a fairly holistic picture of what
could happen and how we work together to respond to these sort
of things. I think there are some good things coming out there,
but local authorities need to be given this responsibility clearly
in the same way that they will get potentially the duty to promote
business continuity. It is exactly the same sort of responsibility.