Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
680. Would you accept that in the absence of
the adequate finance that we were asked about and got answers
about earlier on, the agency would probably have marginal effect?
You need money to make all this work, do you not?
(Mr Hoult) We do, absolutely, it is one of our major
problems, the lack of funding. There is obviously money for this
type of work available. The fire services have just been awarded
£53 million brand new money for this year to buy equipment
for CBRN, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, and
that is going to be followed up by £13 million afterwards.
There is obviously new money available for this type of work.
681. One last question, have you any indication
that Government is taking you seriously? I know they asked the
question or at least the CCS asked the question and you answered
it but do you think they are taking it seriously? If you do not
know say so.
(Mr Hoult) We have concerns that they are not, it
is fair to say that. We know there is an awful lot of work going
on. One of the major problems we have is the lack of close working
relationships between local government and central government.
The Emergency Planning Society has tried very, very hard to foster
and develop relationships. We sit with the Home Office Emergency
Planning Division and now with the CCS. It is not always easy
to promulgate those relationships and to move them forward.
(Mr Cunningham) I have to say that I have concerns
that the CCS are not taking the subject seriously enough. I think
the biggest indication of that is the fact that some local authorities
have had a cut in grant this year following the terrible events
of foot and mouth and the fact that we have been asked to make
sure that our plans are more robust following September 11. I
think that if the CCS were taking that seriously they would have
been able to make a much better case to the Treasury than they
obviously have bidding for increased funding for local authority
emergency planning particularly when the fire service have, quite
rightly in my view, been given this figure of £53 million
because that was deemed to be important by another Government
department. I would have much more confidence in the CCS if they
gave us a sign which actually meant something as opposed to what
we are getting at the moment which is a lot of talk but nothing
tangible. At the end of the day we are still having to do the
job without the resources.
Mr Cran: Chairman, just one more sharp question.
Chairman: A sharp question, not one more.
682. Why do you think the CCS asked the question?
What has changed between the time that they asked the question,
got you to answer it and countless others and now they do not
take it seriously in your view, what has changed?
(Mr Cunningham) The question about the new national
683. The new agency, yes?
(Mr Cunningham) I think that what has changed is that
the CCS have had a golden opportunity in my view to raise the
profile of the emergency planning following foot and mouth, following
September 11 and yet we are still faced with a cut in funding.
It does not seem to be serious to me that we are faced with a
cut in funding after we are being asked to undertake a lot of
extra work and after we have told them that we have not got the
capacity to do it.
684. As a Society do you meet senior civil servants?
Do ministers speak at your conferences?
(Mr Hoult) Yes.
(Mr Cunningham) Yes, ministers have spoken at our
last two annual conferences and certainly the Society is now invited
to a quarterly meeting with the head of the CCS. We have met once,
the second meeting is actually at the end of April. At that meeting
SOLACE and the LGA are also represented.
685. Gentlemen, still on the role of central
government. In response to the consultation document The Future
of Emergency Planning in England and Wales, the Society of
Emergency Planners state that the role of the Cabinet Office should
be "providing drive and leadership". Are you concerned
that particular form of leadership might become "direction"
and that an increasingly prescriptive central government will
limit the ability of local authorities to respond to local circumstances?
Or should central government limit its involvement to planning
against major incidents?
(Mr Cunningham) I do not think it is a concern of
ours that it will lead to direction from the centre. However,
there is a need for the CCS to become more involved when there
are wide area emergencies such as the fuel crisis or the foot
and mouth crisis. I honestly do not think there is any danger
that this will become direction, the danger is more that the CCS
do not want to take the responsibility to drive, indeed they keep
using this word sponsorship which quite frankly in our view does
not mean anything except not providing the leadership that we
want them to provide. In other words, providing the national standards,
providing the national guidance and making sure that all the organisations
which are involved in the process actually do what they should
be doing. That is part of the problem now. Emergency planning
in this country is very much a patchwork quilt. In some areas
of the country it is very good, some organisations are very good
and in other areas it is not very good at all. It tends to be
personality driven, it is driven by whether a particular area
of the country has actually had the unfortunate experience of
a disaster to live with. It seems a great shame to us that people
have to wait until they have had a disaster before they start
to take this whole subject area seriously.
686. A provocative question: are local authorities
up to it? You are saying there should not be direction.
(Mr Hoult) Absolutely.
687. There should not be any hit teams coming
in in a major crisis. Can you give us a degree of confidence?
(Mr Hoult) I think you only have to look historically
at the types of incident which have happened in this country in
recent years and the way that local authorities have very ably
responded in every instance to those to prove it works. We constantly
get tremendous praise from our own political leaders within our
own authorities and there have been a number of debates in this
House about the marvellous work done by local authorities' emergency
planning officers and the emergency planning officers in other
regions of life. I would say absolutely categorically yes we are
up to the job, yes.
688. If we could look at major incidents such
as a terrorist attack which hopefully will never happen. Clearly
that is a major incident with mass casualties which will exhaust
and stretch the resources of local authorities to cope. Should
the central government play a more active role in providing capabilities
such as mortuaries and personnel in these circumstances?
(Mr Hoult) Absolutely, categorically yes.
689. Where would you see them getting that from?
Would they have an emergency organisation ready to be parachuted
in at any time?
(Mr Hoult) I have to be frank, speaking personally
I do not have enough knowledge about what central government,
what Cabinet Office, what CCS, what resources it has at its control,
what it could get hold of, what it could offer, but I imagine
if it looked around there are quite a wide variety and large number
of things it could access and provide. Many of my colleagues were
disappointed by the response of the CCS per September 11 at Heathrow
Airport. There was contacts with one of my colleagues who said
"can you provide facilities to put up a large number of people
stuck here who cannot fly out" and the call was put into
the CCS and the question asked "can you help with this"
and there was a categoric flat "no, not our responsibility,
nothing to do with us, governor".
Syd Rapson: A very worrying aspect.
690. Last time one of Mr Parker's rivers got
out of control in Newark the cry went up "where is the Army?"
and they got there eventually. Foot and mouth was exactly the
same, "where is the Army? Where are the forces?" We
have heard evidence from the Ministry of Defence about the role
of the armed forces in civil emergencies. Clearly it is not as
simple as that, you do not just say and they come, and we covered
that earlier on today. Do you believe that the role that the armed
forces can play in emergency response is properly understood?
(Mr Hoult) I could not answer that question with 100
per cent certainty. I guess the majority of my colleagues would
say yes, they do understand the role, but whether that reflects
the reality of what can be provided or not is a completely different
matter. We do recognise the added value that bringing in the military
can bring in response to an emergency. We saw the benefit that
they brought into the Lockerbie disaster and the work that they
did there in body recovery, trawling the hillside looking for
wreckage and other things, and what they did in West Sussex when
it suffered the flooding in 1993-94 when basically the city was
cut off and they built bailey bridges and reopened the city to
traffic and reopened it for business. We know that they are an
effective force that can be brought in. What they perpetually
tell us, of course, is we cannot rely upon them because they may
be deployed elsewhere and not available to us. The other unfortunate
thing with the military is the scale of charges. Whilst they are
more than willing to come and help, if it is life saving then
they will come free of charge but if it is anything other than
that they come at a very exorbitant rate which most local authorities
will not be able to afford.
691. We were somewhat alarmed to see the pamphlet
that the armed forces use, Military Aid to the Civil Community.
(Mr Hoult) The 1989 document?
692. Exactly that. You pre-empt my next question.
We were delighted, having been alarmed, to see that it was being
rewritten. Have you been consulted on the rewriting of that document?
(Mr Hoult) I did not know it was being rewritten,
if that answers your question.
693. Moving on. We have had some fairly brief
answers before on this particular question. The new chapter for
the Strategic Defence Review, which you will appreciate
has come out as part of a public discussion paper called Strategic
Defence Review: A New Chapter, the deadline for that was 15
March, have you contributed to that?
(Mr Hoult) No.
694. Have you heard of it?
(Mr Hoult) No.
Chairman: I am not casting any doubts on your
competence but not many people have specifically outside the defence
695. Moving on again to communications. We talked
about sensitive areas in emergency planning, terrorism, etc, but
do you believe that central government is prepared to share with
you sensitive or classified information that you really need for
your emergency plans? Do you think that they would?
(Mr Hoult) Experience has taught us not. They tell
us they have these plans but we have not seen them yet. The plan
for London, we understand, is going to be shown to the London
authorities later this month, we wait to see what is within that
when that comes out. At this moment in time there is no sharing
of its planning arrangements by central government with local
government or with other partners as far as I am aware.
696. Or even the sensitive information you require
to plan ahead if something is going to happen?
(Mr Hoult) No, we do not get that.
697. I did not think so. There is an example
here. What involvement have LGA officials had in the exercises
run by central government and the blue light services since September
11? Has there been any involvement at all of the LGA officials
in exercises run by central government?
(Mr Hoult) LGA officials I would not know.
Jim Knight: Do you mean LGA?
698. You would not know? Not to your knowledge?
(Mr Hoult) No.
699. If there is sensitive information that
needs to be transmitted to local authorities, are there people
in place who would be security cleared to the level required?
(Mr Hoult) I was thinking about this question when
you asked it to the previous people giving evidence. Mr Clark,
adviser to the Committee, and I, we sit on the same military liaison
panel covering our area of the South of England. I am in this
curious position that I go to the meetings and everybody around
the table has the papers in front of them except me and I am not
allowed to have them in front of me because I am not security
cleared but everybody else has them and it is quite an extraordinary
position. I asked back at county council would it be possible
to get security clearance and was told "Well no, you cannot
have security clearance" because of course the chief executive
or the leader of the authority or any of the politicians could
quite rightly ask for that information and I would have to show
it to them.