Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  Q100  Mr Allan: In terms of who is best placed to carry out the risk assessment we had an interesting submission from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames which said (and if anyone is from Richmond this may make them nervous) the borough does not employ anyone with the expertise or experience to be able to judge the probability of a problem on the Heathrow flight path which goes over Richmond on any particular day at any time of year and they suggested that the duty should be on the category 2 responders in respect of the transport infrastructure to perform the detailed risk assessments which they would then share with the category 1 responders for their local plans. I think that is probably a similar point to the one you made about utilities. You do not know the threats to the National Grid but the National Grid could do a detailed risk assessment which they give to you. Does that sort of model seem sensible to you?

  Mr Davies: I do think that you need to draw on the expertise of others. I would not claim to be an expert on flight paths, for example, or anything like that, and if we do not draw together all the various strands then you will not have the fullest possible picture. Again, this is a fairly time-consuming process and currently we are in the second edition of our own hazard identification and risk assessment and this takes a long, long time to do properly. You draw on everyone's best advice, to be honest.

  Q101  Mr Allan: In the context of legislation then in a sense we should be seeking to impose some of the risk assessment duty on the category 2 providers rather than expecting, for example, the local authority to compute the probability of a plane falling out of the air on any particular day?

  Mr Davies: Absolutely, but in my view the organisations currently identified as category 2 responders should automatically be category 1 and then they would get that duty anyway—utilities, for example. I would strongly advocate that.

  Q102  Mr Allan: You would wish to extend all the statutory duties in the Bill to the ones currently defined as category 2?

  Mr Davies: And beyond.

  Q103  Mr Allan: Is that a general view of local authorities?

  Ms Lowton: Yes, well it is our view anyway.

  Q104  Mr Allan: That is the next question. Can I move on again in the local authority context to the relationship with the private sector and whether you think you have got sufficient power. Sitting here I can think of immediate examples where services are now in the private sector that did not used to be in the private sector. If you wanted to use a school for  emergency accommodation—a not untypical scenario—and that school is a PFI school and therefore you do not have complete control over it, is that something that is of concern to you? Do you believe, again, that the Bill has sufficient powers to enable you to require a private sector partner to co-operate with you in your emergency planning?

  Ms Lowton: I think there are all sorts of other arrangements that we need to ensure and they are boring things like we need to ensure that in all our contracts with private providers there are clauses to deal with emergency situations, and we not always consistent and good at doing that. That would certainly be the case, say, in a PFI school where you would want access in an emergency. I think that there are very complex arrangements now with local authorities and the private sector. For example, as well as being borough solicitor for Camden I am also the legal advisor to the North London Waste Authority which is not on the list of authorities that are proposed to be covered by the Bill but we are involved in a joint venture company that runs the Edmonton B waste incinerator. None of those organisations is included anywhere in category 1 or category 2 responders and London Waste, which is the joint venture company, is a private sector company and, yes, it is about treating those companies who are carrying out public sector functions in a similar way. I think we need to find some mechanism for drawing them into the process.

  Q105  Mr Allan: A final question in this section. The Government hopes to achieve "consistency of activity across the local response", do you believe that the measures contained in the Bill will create this consistency in terms of resources, capability and efficacy?

  Mr Cunningham: In terms of activities the Bill certainly creates consistency in that all responders will actually know what they are supposed to do, but I think that in terms of resources and capabilities the Bill does not actually address these at all. What the Bill does do is set out a framework for how each of the organisations named in the Bill can achieve resilience and I think the Bill does that very well. I think it is also very important to remember that the framework should be supported by the four cornerstones of regulations, guidance, political will and funding, and if any one of those four corners is not there then the framework will topple down and all the hard work of the Government and everyone else will come to nothing.

  Mr Davies: Again eloquently put. There are anomalies still contained within the draft Bill. From a metropolitan district point of view I would very much like to see the responsibilities under other related regulations (COMAH for example—the Control of Major Accident Hazards) and the duties given back to the metropolitan districts and the London boroughs. I do not understand why this anomaly is not as clearly addressed as it could be. I only hope that through the consultation process this is picked up.

  Ms Lowton: We need to be sure that when we talk about consistency of activity we do not edge toward uniformity of activity because obviously the issues that we face in Camden, with significant transport links, with a significant increase in population during the day (our daytime population is three times our night-time population) and with a large non-English speaking population, obviously the responses that we would have and the kind of activity that we would be undertaking would not be the same as in a large rural authority, so there has to be some level of consistency but there also has to be a recognition that local authorities are very different beasts and have very different areas in which they operate.

  Chairman: We had the first half of the questions on funding but Elfyn Llwyd wanted to follow up on some of the points.

  Q106  Mr Llwyd: On the question of audits in general how would you say one would judge the adequacy of civil contingency planning? How would that be measured and audited and how could the joint preparedness be tested and audited?

  Mr Davies: I think there are a number of processes already under way which can lead us to come up with appropriate measurement techniques. I know that the Audit Commission is already looking at the development of some performance indicators for local authorities and I know that a lot of these things are already in place for a lot of other sectors, fire and the police. My concern is really how these sort of things get linked. The Dealing with Disaster guidance that was issued some years ago talks of the founding principle of emergency planning as integrated emergency management. If we have the audits taking place separately I would like to know how we would ensure that there is a seamless response at the local level, and that is one of the things that I am most concerned about. There are various ways in which the assessment might be done. One suggestion has been self-assessment. To be honest, if we are trying to raise the profile of emergency planning not only at the local level but also at a higher level I think we need very much more than that. I very much welcome not only the likes of the Audit Commission and maybe similar agencies coming in, but also the process of peer reviews. I think we can learn a lot more from other practitioners coming in and saying what are the problems you have been dealing with, how did you go about doing this? Certainly that is the experience that we have.

  Mr Cunningham: The only thing I would like to add to that is just to reiterate that when all this takes place and good practice is found there should be a mechanism to distribute that good practice nationally because that could help other people.

  Q107  Mr Llwyd: On the question of the inter-relationship between the central tier and regional tier of government, how do you say that co-ordination of emergency planning will be undertaken? What added value do you think the proposed role of regional and emergency co-ordinators might bring? Are the specific duties of local and regional and central government clear? Although we need co-ordination, are those duties clear in fact? Are there any duties in particular that you think a regional tier ought to undertake?

  Mr Cunningham: I think it is important that there is a regional tier, particularly when we have those emergencies that do cross current administrative boundaries. We have got a very new regional level set-up at the moment and I do not think it is clear what the role of the regional level is and it is certainly not consistent throughout the United Kingdom. Different regional government offices seem to be approaching the task in different ways, and that is something that we hoped would not happen, in all honesty. I think that the main role for the regions is that of co-ordination and there are some fears amongst local authority practitioners that there may be additional workloads falling on the local authority practitioners because of any influence or demands that the regional bodies might be making, without perhaps as much thought being given to it as there should be.

  Mr Davies: I think the key role is co-ordination and making sure that there is an appropriate flow of information from the local to national level and back down again. The arrangements that I have seen slowly put into place I am broadly happy with, although there are differences. I am surprised that there is not the consistency we expected, and Patrick has certainly touched upon that. Our experience has been fairly good within Yorkshire and the Humber. We have had a lot more information and they have been very forthcoming with us, and that is perhaps an experience that is not replicated in the North East. They have also gone for a fairly light touch approach. They are not trying to force us to do things that are not our responsibility, so I am fairly happy on that front, everything seems to be worked out. Again it is slightly remarkable that duties at the regional level have not been set out in the Bill because it would make a lot more sense. It is all there, it is just a case of adding it to the Bill as far as we are concerned.

  Q108  Lord Roper: Could I go back to two questions, one on funding and one on finance. First of all on funding, do you see a workable alternative to the Bellwin scheme?

  Mr Cunningham: Definitely. I do not think that the Bellwin scheme works particularly well at the moment. I do not think it has ever really worked. In my view there should be a reserve contingency fund to give local responders the confidence, if you like, to make financial decisions during emergencies that are not going to cripple their ability to provide other services. I would be in favour of a reserve contingency fund rather than the Bellwin scheme, which is a very discretionary and very bureaucratic process to go through at the moment.

  Mr Davies: Because of the size of our authority we would have to spend an inordinate amount of money to be able to claim under the scheme. I think the contingency fund idea is very workable but would need to be explored. The thing about Bellwin that is most interesting, with reference to today, is the fact that again it has not been brought under the aegis of the Bill and again if we talk about having a single framework for civil protection why not have a particular aspect within the Bill that covers that. We talk a lot about one-stop shops these days and it seems the perfect opportunity to put that in and get the thing right for the first time.

  Q109  Lord Roper: On a second point, which is a rather technical one, the draft Bill does allow the government to either requisition property or allow for the destruction of property, animal or plant life with or without compensation. Do you believe that it ought to be clear that normally compensation should be given?

  Ms Lowton: Yes, there cannot be any question about that. For it to be left in doubt is far too problematic.

  Mr Cunningham: I would agree with that.

  Chairman: Excellent, I like certainty.

  Q110  Lord Condon: I would like to ask about the regional nominated co-ordinators. In identifying, training and preparing them, what should the balance be between selecting people who are very much experts on the subject matter of an emergency and more generic leaders who are identified for their crisis management skills who would draw on experts? Where do you think the balance should lie? Should the co-ordinator be a very tight, specific expert or a more generic leader?

  Mr Cunningham: I personally believe that it should be a more generic leader. I think there was a very good example of that during the foot-and-mouth crisis in the North East region when there were a vast array of organisations responding to that. As well as the people from Defra, the military were there, there were lots of central and local agencies involved and the person who led the local response was the Director of the Regional Government Office, who is sadly retired now but I thought that he did an excellent job. He listened to all sides, he took on the advice from all of the agencies and then he made a decision, and I thought he did very well.

  Mr Davies: I think that is absolutely right. It gives the opportunity to the identified person to build up their expertise through various methods. I think it also mirrors best practice at the local level. You would not have this sort of position within the police or within local authorities in terms of their emergency response. It would be the same people regardless of the incident and you would draw in the experts to inform the response. I find it quite strange that people should be chosen to lead on the basis of some sort of specific qualification.

  Q111  Lord Condon: Even if it was a very specific health issue, a pandemic around health, you do not think that would push you towards saying the health expert should be the regional co-ordinator?

  Mr Davies: I think it would just mean in terms of the constituency of the response team you would have more of a health slant, but that they can be getting on doing things. A non-health person might be able to see the bigger picture a lot better and a health person might just get immersed in the detail. Personally I think that particular aspect is very badly thought out.

  Q112  Lord Condon: Could I then move on to a related but slightly different issue—the role of the military in local resilience regionally and perhaps even nationally. Are you comfortable with just the allusions to this? Do you feel there should be more on the face of the Bill on issues around military involvement in any or all of these issues?

  Mr Davies: I must admit I do not have a great deal of experience of dealing with the military and maybe that is a reflection of a metropolitan district. If we had a large local military contingent we might work with them more closely. My understanding is that there are issues around having the availability of troops because of commitments abroad and so on and that might make it more problematic. If we had the duty placed upon central government departments more clearly that might take the focus away from the military and place it more squarely on the Ministry of Defence. I do not have a problem either way, to be honest, it is not something we rely on tremendously because we have a very large number of other resources, but rural local authorities might feel a lot more strongly about that sort of thing.

  Mr Cunningham: The military do tend to be represented on the equivalent of the local resilience forums that exist at the moment but it is very difficult for military personnel to give a commitment to a certain amount of resources to local response because they never know what they are going to be doing at the same time.

  Ms Lowton: At a local level we do not have that relationship with the military and from what my colleagues have both said I think it would be very difficult. There may be a role at the London Resilience level but the reality is that if it is the sort of situation where the military come in, then they will take over and the emergency plans do operate but not in the same way once the military is engaged.

  Q113  Mr Jones: All those answers intrigue me in the sense that the MoD announced last year that they were going to set up 500 volunteers in each area in the military to help with such emergencies. In effect, it is a news release that has gone nowhere if it has not actually been enacted. I thought of it at the time as being quite an important step forward for military emergency planning integration at a regional level but it does not seem to be working.

  Mr Davies: I think it was a step in the right direction and I do not think I would want to be critical of it, but it is quite clear because of the nature of the troops (they were territorials for example) that they could not be mobilised very quickly. Certainly that is the understanding I was given, that they could not respond. I think we were talking about a minimum lead time of 18 to 24 hours and possibly longer to try to get the levels of resources deployed and I think we were talking about 500 or 600 troops in our area. Again, it is not something that we feel we have to depend on particularly for most forms of incidents, but it is a nice back-up.

  Q114  Mr Jones: It is not that, the thing that concerns me is that there is a resource there, to come back to the point you were making about this Bill trying to be an all-singing all-dancing Bill about emergency planning, so surely the military has got to be part of that? If we had an announcement last year on that, I am intrigued why that does not seem to be fitting into your plans or anybody else's plans.

  Mr Cunningham: I think that is a very good point.

  Mr Davies: We cannot fault the logic.

  Q115  Mr Jones: I am not blaming you.

  Mr Cunningham: To be perfectly honest about it, I do not think the initiative that you have just described has been promoted as well as it could have been. I do not think that people are as aware of it as perhaps they should be.

  Q116  Mr Jones: So would it be helpful if it were integrated into part of this Bill?

  Mr Cunningham: I think it would be helpful personally. When the military have got involved in emergencies they have performed in an excellent manner, in my view, so it would be nice to be able to rely on them. I just go back to my earlier statement that the advice from the military themselves seems to be that we cannot rely on them as a guarantee to be there.

  Q117  Chairman: Can you just expand on this. Is it not the case that this is a situation that we have not been in before, this is a new thing, having the units in every area. Is part of resilience not that you will look at possible roles for groups like this and work them into your local planning? If you are going to be resilient surely that would be one of the main things you are looking to do, which is to look outside your own box and see how you can use the other resources at your disposal?

  Mr Cunningham: I think that is completely correct. We would like to be able to count on that as a resource but the military themselves are saying that we cannot.

  Chairman: Not until they are trained of course. They have got to know what they are going to be trained for.

  Q118  Mr Jones: Can I ask one other question about regional co-ordinators and about their role, which I raised this morning. With the idea of co-ordinators clearly individuals are going to have a lot of influence. Have you got concerns that on the Bill their role is not spelt out and we could have situation, if we are not careful, where we get conflict between the regional figure and practitioners like yourself on the ground? Would it be helpful if the roles of the regional co-ordinator were spelt out and the limitations possibly of the regional co-ordinator were spelt out on the Bill so that we do not get conflicts between organisations like local councils that are democratically accountable and possibly this figure, he or she, who really answers to no-one?

  Mr Cunningham: Certainly it would not do any harm to spell them out. It would certainly make things clear in the planning phase as well as the response phase. I think we would certainly be in favour of that.

  Ms Lowton: It goes back to not spelling out the duties of the regional tier and I think that the two are linked and they need to be spelt out and go together if the regional tier is going to be helpful and not another layer of bureaucracy.

  Q119  Lord Roper: Just on that point, you fit in in a region in which there is a regional tier of government, which is rather different from the other two. Do you think therefore that one would have to have a rather different pattern for Greater London and perhaps Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales which had got some sort of structure and another for other regions where there was not that level of government?

  Ms Lowton: Insofar as in London the Greater London Authority in the form of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority needs to be involved and needs to take some form of lead in terms of the region. I think obviously where you have not got a regional assembly that is not an issue, but we could not not involve the GLA in that regional tier, and I think that is the difference. Obviously then there may be an issue in those areas, particularly in London, as to whether it is the GLA or the Government Office that leads the regional tier but at the moment it is GOL (Government Office of London).

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