Examination of Witnesses (Questions 644
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
(Mr Hoult) Chairman, would it be of benefit
to the Committee if I were to introduce my colleagues and myself?
(Mr Hoult) On my left is Mr Mike Parker. Mike is Hon.
Membership Secretary of the Emergency Planning Society and he
is also the Emergency Planning Officer for Severn Trent Water.
On my right is Mr Patrick Cunningham. Patrick is County Emergency
Planning Officer for County Durham and Darlington and he is also
Chair of the Society's Local Authorities' Issues Group. My name
is Ian Hoult. I am the Hon. General Secretary of the Emergency
Planning Society and the County Emergency Planning Officer for
645. Thank you for coming. I am sorry that we
kept you waiting. As I said, maybe before you came, you may find
yourselves rather surprised to be questioned by the Defence Committee
but in some ways our intervention I think is helpful because we
do not have the same institutional prejudices to preserve because
the MoD is not marginal to the process but is not central to the
process that we are talking about and maybe coming from the outside
is quite helpful. I would encourage you, like one of your colleagues
a few moments ago, to be very forthright. We have enough diplomats
coming in and avoiding answering questions, so I would totally
encourage you to tell it as it is as opposed to how others would
try to portray it to us.
(Mr Hoult) We will try to do that without sounding
too much like cynics-r-us.
Chairman: There are not any television cameras
and the radio is not operating and the one journalist from a national
newspaper has gone so you can be freer.
646. For starters, can you explain what you
understand the role of emergency planning to be and what areas
need further clarification?
(Mr Cunningham) The Emergency Planning Society believes
that it is the responsibility of all public agencies to have in
place systems, training programmes, resources and plans so that
whatever type of emergency should befall either themselves or
the local communities they are able to quickly assist those local
communities. We believe that is a responsibility on all public
agencies and not just on local authorities. We think that there
is a misconception in this country that because local authorities
employ more emergency planning officers than anybody else that
it is primarily a local authority responsibility. Local authorities
cannot do it without their partner agencies and it is essential,
in our view, that the roles of central government departments,
the emergency services, the utilities, the health service, the
army and all the rest are very clearly defined and at the moment
they are not clearly defined. If I can use the example of an emergency
occurring, say a localised flooding in an area, it is not entirely
clear what is the responsibility of the local authority and what
is the responsibility of the Environment Agency in helping the
population to recover. That is something which we would like to
see clarified both in legislation and support and guidance.
647. In response to the consultation paper The
Future of Emergency Planning in England and Wales, you offered
a definition which talks of "any extraordinary incident which
has a significant detrimental impact upon the population or the
environment". That is a pretty wide definition. It occurred
to me that you could almost apply that to the death of Lady Diana
in the sense that it was an extraordinary incident and it had
a detrimental impact upon the population. Should we take it from
this that you believe that the same principles and responsibilities
apply to managing the whole spectrum of possible emergencies from
a small industrial chemical spill, for example, into a river to
an incident like September 11?
(Mr Hoult) The definition is on purpose that wide
and that broad. As emergency planning officers, as practitioners,
we get involved in all manner of extraordinary events. Indeed,
you used the example of Princess Diana's death and whilst that
did not cause any need for reaction by emergency planning officers,
if that accident had happened in this country and people had gone
to the site where it had happened and people had gathered in mass
crowds then there would have been a need for emergency planning
officers. Our remit is to be involved in anything that is beyond
our normal day-to-day activity. I know full well that my chief
executive will ring me and ask me to be personally involved in
anything which is beyond the norm.
648. What about the principles and responsibilities?
Do they run right across? Do you think that you can apply the
same system and rules to any of these incidents regardless?
(Mr Hoult) No, probably not. There are different things
for different circumstances, different needs for different circumstances.
Each occurrence will have its own needs and necessary responses
and the response to every occurrence varies and the response will
fit the needs of that occurrence.
649. You made the point that there was no need
in an incident like the death of Lady Diana for an emergency planning
officer to get involved
(Mr Hoult) There may have been.
650. Where exactly would you draw the line?
Could you define that?
(Mr Cunningham) I think that our definition encapsulates
what it is that professional emergency planners do on a day-to-day
basis. I accept that it is a wide basis and people may have some
concerns about that. To be honest with you, that is the reality
of the situation. In the debate early this morning I believe the
LGA were talking about unforeseeable occurrences, I think now
we have had the September 11 disaster it is very difficult to
think of anything that could be worse than that that could be
unforeseeable. If I could perhaps break the definition down for
you it may help a little bit. We talk about those activities,
that includes the risk assessment, the research, the problem solving
and the formulation of the planning process. It includes the consultation,
the liaison process with a multitude of people in quite a lot
of different types of organisations. It includes the training
programmes that support the plans and whatever you have agreed
in the consultation and it also includes the operational activities
which all organisations get involved in once an emergency occurs.
Extraordinary incidents, we felt that potential emergencies do
include flooding, they do include transport accidents, incidents
at chemical and nuclear sites, crowd related disasters, outbreaks
of human and animal disease, shortages of food, water, fuel and
other essential commodities, the influx of foreign evacuees, acts
of terrorism. It is a very, very wide spectrum and I am sure I
could add more to that list for you. The effects of those incidents
are even more wide ranging. We believe they include death and
injury, they include environmental pollution, sudden large scale
homelessness, breakdown in communications, economic consequences
for both government and the public, intense media scrutiny and
also something which I think we should all be aware of, the potential
loss of faith in both central and local government if we do not
perform well. I think there have been instances in the last 12
months when weas in the public services as a wholecould
have performed much better.
651. In addition to that formidable list my
local emergency planner, excellent person, is also in charge of
closed circuit television.
(Mr Hoult) Yes.
Chairman: A small number of officers, not only
do they have to deal with seemingly everything but the council
can impose extraneous tasks upon them. I can certainly see the
problem you face.
652. I noticed you were in the room during most
of the last session so you heard the questions. I am interested
in this point about quantifiable objectives and how you judge
what is realistic and what is not and what you can deliver and
what you cannot. What rights do the public have to know what is
going on? One of your colleagues representing a London borough
right at the end of the last evidence session said he did not
want to be party to any secrets, he wanted to share as much information
as possible. What are your views on that?
(Mr Hoult) Yes. I would reiterate what David said,
and that is right. Certainly we do not go out to hide things and
we try where we can to flag issues up and shortcomings. The point
was made to me post September 11, for example, that the burns
unit capability of one hospital in New York, St Nicholas's, outstrips
the entire UK's burns unit capability. We do not hide facts like
that, we try and bring them into the open although there is little
that we as emergency planning practitioners can do about those.
We do flag these up where it is appropriate to do so and where
we have an audience which will listen to us making those points.
653. What about the plan itself? Do you think
it should tie in targets and indications of what you can and what
you cannot deliver?
(Mr Cunningham) Could I add to that? I think the point
you make is a very, very good one. Personally I think the plan
should contain those types of targets. The Emergency Planning
Society has met with the Home Office, as it then was, Emergency
Planning Division to try to get them to agree to national performance
indicators. Indeed, at one two day meeting that I attended, at
which there were Local Government Association representatives
as well, we did agree a list of some 13 targets similar to the
ones that you are talking about. These targets were then taken
away and they were going to be the discussion point of a further
meeting which unfortunately never materialised. I think the point
you are making is a good one. We have yet to see an emergency
plan which could not be improved. We are always trying to improve
them. A lot of the difficulty we have is that we have not got
the resource capability, for example, to deal with extensive flooding
incidents, we have not got enough boats, we have not got enough
protective clothing for our staff, we have not got enough pumps
and emergency planning officers throughout the country are trying,
through different means, to try to bring that to the attention
of the Government. It just seems to us that over the last 12 years
or so, after Lockerbie, after Dunblane, after Hillsborough, local
authority emergency planning budgets were actually cut by more
than 50 per cent. Then after the fuel crisis and after the latest
flooding our funding did go up from 14.1 million to 18.6 million
but it seemed to us to be a begrudged increase brought about by
a legal challenge which one local authority actually brought upon
the Home Office. As you have already heard this morning whilst
the level of funding for this year remains the same it is in fact
a cut in real terms and some local authorities are very much going
to face cuts of 10 per cent. That makes it all the more difficult
for the local emergency planning officers to ensure that the things
that they would like to see in the plans to protect the public
are actually there.
654. I would be interested to know, Ian, you
are emergency planning officer for one of the biggest local authorities
in the country, one of the biggest budgets, how did you get on
with your budget this year?
(Mr Hoult) My budget for 2001-02 was £285,000,
my budget for 2002-03 will be £296,000 so I have seen an
655. Could I come back to you on that. You will
have seen this report in Friday's Journal that you in particular
are suffering a drop of 10 per cent, you are down. What does that
mean to you?
(Mr Cunningham) Effectively it means that we will
not be able to provide the same level of training provision to
our colleagues in other local government departments as we would
like to do. There is just no way that we will have the materials.
There is no way that the staff will have the time to deal with
that. The priorities on our end at the moment are the aftermath
of the foot and mouth crisis. I have to say that over the last
12 months, there are seven emergency planning officers in County
Durham in Darlington, four of those officers were involved on
a seven day week helping DEFRA with the foot and mouth crisis.
Whilst they were doing that then other aspects of our work were
not getting done. I am very fortunate in that I have got some
very good emergency planning officers in County Durham, in Darlington.
I am very fortunate in that the chief executives of the nine local
authorities are very supportive of the function. Because it was
such a late decision to cut our funding it will be very difficult
for those nine local authorities to now give me some of that money
back although I am optimistic as the months go on they may be
able to do so.
656. If I can go on from the publication of
the emergency plan. Does your Society think the emergency plans
for areas ought to contain the battle plan for how you are going
to deal with various issues but also to flag up where there are
significant crisis points like not enough hospital beds, not enough
sheltered accommodation, not enough transport available, not a
robust communications network? Do you think that should be part
of the role of the emergency planning unit to flag those things
up in a publicly available document?
(Mr Cunningham) Whether or not the document should
be publicly available I am not so sure but certainly the weaknesses
in the systems and in the lack of resources will be flagged up
privately between the public agencies involved. Whether or not
it is a good idea to let the public know of those weaknesses I
am not so sure because we would not want to alarm the public.
Having said that, perhaps that is the only way forward to get
people to take emergency planning seriously as a local government
function, to flag up the fact that we are under-resourced and
that we may not be able to help the local community as much as
we would like to.
657. During the time that I was Leader of Ian's
local authority I was given a copy of the emergency plan for Hampshire.
I had my car stolen and the plan was actually in my car. The embarrassing
thing was at that stage there was only one copy of the plan and
I had it in my car and my car was stolen. The emergency planning
officer had dual responsibilities because he was the emergency
planning officer and he was a former Lieutenant Colonel and he
spent the majority of his working week as batman for the Chief
Executive who had been a National Service NCO and spent a lot
of his time looking after the Chief Executive rather than the
emergency planning. The interesting thing was once it got about
that I had lost this plan journalists started to ask questions
about it and they were asking all of the sort of questions that
I am sure the public would have wanted to know. I could not understand
why that plan was not a public document. Why is it not?
(Mr Hoult) The plan is a public document.
658. Not for every local authority.
(Mr Hoult) We lodge ours in all the libraries. Not
every local authority. The principal reason is one of the major
things within an emergency plan is a contact list of people you
need to get hold of in an emergency with private telephone numbers
and for that reason, if you are making the document public, you
need to withdraw those pages or you do not make it a public document
659. Is there not a real danger, taking the
other view, that publishing details could be used by an enemy,
especially after 11 September, in a way that would be devastating?
Not least the fuel protesters, if they knew how you could plan
to offset what they are doing, they would change their tactics
to try and outdo you. It is more serious with terrorists. Is there
a limit as to what you say and do not say?
(Mr Hoult) Some of our plans we do not publish. As
you are aware, we have a statutory duty to prepare plans for pipelines
carrying hazardous substances over certain pressures under the
ground. We do not publish those plans because obviously we do
not want terrorists to find out where these high pressure pipes
carrying hazardous substances are.