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Mr. Foster: That is absolutely right. One reason why we will seek to amend the Bill and delay the implementation of the new arrangements is to give each authority an opportunity to make it clearer to Ministers than they have been able to do so far the significant pressures that they are under and why there must be improvements in the level of funding rather than cuts, if cuts are to be made.
To illustrate how concerned I am, I shall refer to the work of Bath and North East Somerset council's civil emergency planning unit. It has a Government budget of £51,000 to cover all its work. That is clearly inadequate, so the council adds another £74,000 from its own coffers, making the total amount of money available to the unit £125,000, the majority of which is not provided by the Government.
I accept the Minister's point that that is not the only amount of money that is available to be spent when an emergency occurs. I fully accept that the Government have made additional sums of money available to local councils through the Bellwin fund, which, I acknowledge, will be changed. However, before my council can even get its hands on the Bellwin money, it must spend up to £340,000 of its own money. Major emergencies therefore draw heavily on the council tax payers in the area.
The Minister will acknowledgeindeed, he already has done, given the way in which he introduced the Billthat the money the Government make available through the civil defence grant budget is intended to cover a wide range of activities that relate to the planning, preparation and co-ordination of the likely activities of the various emergency services. It covers staff salaries, training activities, and so on.
My local authority has £125,000 to spend on those activities. In the past 12 months, it has had to deal with floods and the effect of foot and mouth in the area. It has had to prepare for the possibility of plane crashes, terrorist threats and, most recently, it has had to consider how it might handle possible anthrax or chemical attacks. My constituency is particularly vulnerable because it has a significant Ministry of Defence presence, although it receives no additional money for that.
Out of that £125,000, £98,000 goes on salaries. The remaining budget, to be spent on training, high-tech communications, IT equipment, emergency planning preparation, community schemesincluding public meetings and community educationis a mere £27,000. Because of everything that has happened, the demands placed on the unit are at an all-time high.
The Minister mentioned training in the list of items for which the unit should have responsibility. Out of this huge amount of £27,000, my local unit is allocated £1,300 for training. Like all the other units, the only specialist training it can get is in north Yorkshire, and although the cost of that is subsidised, more than £1,000 would have to be provided for two members of staff to go on training courses. That now leaves only £300 to pay for the Virgin train fares and nothing for other courses during the rest of the year.
The unit and all units are expected to have high- standard communications equipment. Until recently, the Government advised my unit to invest in the Dolphin project for its communication system. It spent a lot of money but, unfortunately, the Dolphin system went bust. The unit, like other units, is now being advised to make arrangements to link into the police and the Home Office's airwaves project. That will cost £10,000 of the unit's money but, given the budget that I have just described, it does not have £10,000. Therefore, it cannot link into that huge communications system.
I have given a number of examples that show that the current level of funding is totally inadequate for the range of activities for which a unit, such as the one run by my local council, is responsible. The Government recently advised it to try to get involved in a business continuity scheme to enable local economies to weather the storm of an emergency, but it cannot afford to do that. It wants to set up a flood warden scheme so that local people can advise other local people about floods. It also wants to set up other schemes, but it simply does not have the money to do so.
Funding is a big issue for the unit in my area and for others throughout the country. That is why so many people have raised so many times the issue of the sums of money to be made available. They desperately want a much clearer answer from the Minister than we have heard so far.
The Minister is right to say that the current arrangements are based on the Civil Defence Act 1948 and the amendments to it that have followed. As he acknowledged, the Act is obsolete and new legislation is desperately needed to put civil defence on to a footing fit for the 21st century. However, I was somewhat surprised by what he said about how the planning for the future was going. In December 2000, following the Leeds castle meeting, we were told that there would be a review of civil defence legislation. However, he has told us today that the consultation did not begin until August this year, with the consultation period ending in October. Will he explain why there was such a long delay between the promise made in December 2000 and the start of the consultation in August? Perhaps more importantly, when might we expect new legislation to be introduced? He merely told us today that that depends on when priorities will allow.
In the meantime, many things could be done that do not require further legislation. Since 11 September, a great deal of information has been sent by a variety of civil servants to civil defence units around the country. The units have received information from the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, health authorities, Government offices of the regions and many others. Clearly, in many cases, that information is welcome, but I hope that the Minister is aware that complaints are often made that the information provided by the different organisations has been contradictory. There is, therefore, a need for much greater co-ordination of the communication between the Departments and the units.
I understand that that point was raised with the Minister when he met representatives of the Local Government Association on 15 September. I am told that at that meeting he undertook to find ways of improving the means of communication between Departments and local
In the Minister's response to the many questions about finance, he has stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that the Bill is not about the amount of money involved, but about establishing a formula for the distribution of grants to the various bodies. I understand entirely that that is the Bill's purpose. However, if that is what it is meant to be about, I fail to understand why, as clause 1 makes clear, the new section 3(3) of the 1948 Act will state:
(a) may use different formulae or other criteria in making determinations for different authorities".
Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman is on to an extremely important point. In response to the Minister's point about trying to provide certainty for local authorities, he will notice that the new section 3B says that the grant should
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman must have good eyesight, because he has read the next part of my speech. I was about to make that very point. Not only is the Home Secretary able to use as many different formulae as he wants, but he will have the power to pay whatever money the formulae decide is appropriate whenever he chooses. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that hardly helps local authorities to plan their activities efficiently.
Mr. Leslie: Now that we are dealing with the provisions of the Bill itself it is important to reiterate what I said about how the establishment of the formula replicatesbut not exactlyprovisions in other standard local government grant arrangements. The provision is simply a form of words that exists in other local government finance legislation. It will give Ministers the flexibility to examine specific projects or initiatives in an