Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Local authorities are not involved in that.
  (Mr Granatt) Yes, they are.

  41. You are saying if the telephone system was down — I was the leader of the largest local authority in the country and we never had a system where the fire brigade could speak to the police let alone the local authority could speak to the police, fire and ambulance, without going through the phone system. I am interested that you are now saying that there is a system that local authorities can communicate by radio or another method to on the spot police facilities.
  (Mr Granatt) The Emergency Communication Network has been in place for some time and I am surprised, I think, that you are not aware of it. It provides extensions through a system which is outside the public switched network into local authorities.

  42. I am talking about a fire engine on the road, the control is out of contact, the police control is out of action and you have to communicate to those fire engines and to those police officers and to those ambulances out in the field and try and co-ordinate from one centre. Is there a system which allows that to happen in any single local authority in Britain? The answer is no.
  (Mr Granatt) To be frank, I think—


  43. You can drop us a note on that.[1]

  (Mr Granatt) Okay.

  Chairman: I think that would be really helpful. We are certainly coming to more on local authorities in a moment. We are now coming on to the United States. James Cran.

Mr Cran

  44. We will indeed come on to the United States but before I do that I wonder if you would comment on something that one of our advisers has said to us. You do not have it in front of you so let me just quote it. It is a general statement which says that "Civil contingency planning in the UK leaves much to be desired. It is a reactive problem solving process and this is reflected in its loose organisational structure. There is no co-ordination or standardisation of procedures or adequate measures and mechanisms for sharing good practice". Is that something which resonates with you?
  (Mr Granatt) I think what resonates with me, certainly, is the fact that it has been essentially a reactive system. As I indicated at the beginning what we are trying to do is put into place systems which are there for the prevention and pre-emption of crisis. That means pulling people together. I think it means in the longer term that we would like to look at developing standards for resilience firstly among Government departments and then spreading it more widely, perhaps with an open standard which was capable of being tested with an audit system; not an audit system which is simply a tick in the box audit system but an iterative process which allows an organisation with others to look at what they have in place and to examine how it meets the needs of that particular moment. We are looking at a world which is evolving into greater complexity as time passes and there is a need to keep reviewing preparations that one has in place and, of course, a need to make sure that you meet a standard that meets other people's. I would agree, one of the reasons we were set up was to encourage greater commonality, greater co-operation and to look for standards.

  Mr Cran: Without being sensational and censorious, you have a man sized job in front of you in order to correct—


  45. Will you rephrase that please and make it politically correct. A major task in front of you.
  (Mr Granatt) I think one has to recognise we start with a good base. I think it is easy just to look at the criticisms.

Mr Cran

  46. Yes.
  (Mr Granatt) A great deal of work goes on out there among all the partners concerned to make sure that things are as good as they could be. I think September 11 changed the overall assumption and gave a stress to the need for commonality and greater co-operation than was there, perhaps, in the past. Yes, it is a large job. It is a job with which we want to engage a lot of partners, it is not just us. It is a matter, I think, in some ways of culture.

  47. What surprises me is simply this. If I am correct you said earlier on that in fact you would have a staff of around 100. Now I am quite well aware there are staff elsewhere who will be roped into the exercise but in order to correct the culture and all the rest of the things that you say are deficient, it just seems to me a hundred staff is pretty minimal, is that fair?
  (Mr Granatt) I have people who walk around and say to me "What do all these people do", it depends where you are sitting. If we need more staff to do this job then I will look for more resources. I think the major way in which we do this job and approach this task is to engage other people in partnership because if we sat there and did it all ourselves or pretended to be the fount of all knowledge, and the basis of all best practice, we would fail. We need to engage lots of other organisations and to get them working with us. We have had some forced and considerable experience of this on the work that has come after September 11. I think the work which Ian alluded to, for instance in London particularly where there has been a great coming together of organisations involved in London's resilience—both the local government arrangements, central government arrangements, private organisations, utilities—has shown that people have an appetite now in particular to be engaged in this. Our job is to stimulate that appetite, to make sure that the work is productive, it does not need a huge staff. You are quite right, if we needed more resources I would look for it.

  48. You are not going to be resource constrained?
  (Mr Granatt) I will always be resource constrained because it is public money and I will have to justify it. I hope that my case for it would be well made and I would get what I need, but beyond that what can I say?

  49. Against all that background, it is the responsibility of this Committee to decide whether the structure which has been set up, as you set out in the memorandum that you gave to us, is the correct one or not. What we would be quite interested to know is is there anybody, perhaps you, looking at what is going on in other countries, how they have solved this? For instance, we have been advised that the United States is way ahead of us in its ability to react to disasters we are talking about. Are you looking at this?
  (Mr Granatt) We are looking at lessons from everywhere. One of my colleagues has already been to the United States on a visit with Mr Leslie, to look at the arrangements they have. I think one has to consider very carefully in these comparisons the differences in geography, the differences in constitutional arrangements, the differences in national standards. We are perhaps fortunate in having compact geography, in having organisations like the police, fire service, ambulance service who train to national standards, who are equipped to national standards and for whom mutual co-operation and mutual aid is a way of life. One can compare that with the thousands of different jurisdictions in a country geographically the size of the United States and with its federated structure. I come back to the point which I made before. I think it is the outcome that we look for here and I think the outcome that we get from our current arrangements is a very good base on which to build. I think looking at, for example, a comparison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, given the differences in the scale of the countries, given the differences in constitutional arrangements, is not a simple one.

  50. I am with you if you are saying that to me because of the differences in the political systems in the two countries. For instance, I would not take the view that a home front director could be transferred to the United Kingdom but I have an open mind on the proposition which says that we should look at structures which are in place in other countries. Indeed, you mentioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency, now are you positively telling us that ministers or yourself are not looking at that structure and saying "This is something we could import into the United Kingdom"?
  (Mr Granatt) No. I would not say that at all. I would say we are looking at what lessons can be seen and learnt from what other countries do and relating it to what we have. There is a great deal of difference between having a Federal Agency which parachutes in on to local arrangements and having a system which we have employed well in the past where central government's role is to make sure that the local arrangements are well supported and government is ready to row in behind them. Because the people on the ground here know what the problems are and across the nation they have a good common understanding of what they are likely to be, whereas in a country the size of the United States the need for the centre to provide more resources with central knowledge of what might be happening and of national impact is rather different. I would never rule out learning from other people and certainly we are not going not to listen and I am not ruling out that there are lessons to learn from there and elsewhere.

  51. What is the time frame for this gathering of best practice throughout the international community and where are you going? Are you going everywhere? Are you just concentrating on the United States, Western Europe?
  (Mr Granatt) We have not put a fixed programme in place yet. We have been concentrating on post September 11th work. I hope over the next year to put a programme in place, to arrange visits and we have seen, indeed, people from other countries come to us because they admire some of our system, so we use that opportunity as well. I think over the next 12 months we will put that programme in place and get it working. I do not have an end time for that but I would hope we would learn lessons as we go through and not wait for some particular moment to do it.

Mr Howarth

  52. If you are not in favour of the kind of system they have in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would you describe yourselves as a central disaster management agency, Mr Granatt?
  (Mr Granatt) We are not a disaster management agency because we are not staffed to that level. We are there to co-ordinate and to make sure that the agencies which do manage disasters have the best chance of doing it. If I was setting up a central agency to manage disasters we would be a rather different organisation. Our job is to co-ordinate, our job is to facilitate. Our job is to make sure that what we have in place—the UK has a very great number of resources in place—is employed to its very best effect.

  53. It does seem to me this kind of co-ordination you talk about is in itself in a sense a management role. Do you not think the public might be more reassured if they felt you were sitting there, admittedly calling on the resources and devolving power to individual local authorities, making sure that those authorities were working to common standards, that they were achieving the level of preparedness which the public expects? Perhaps that is your role.
  (Mr Granatt) I think the outcome of the Emergency Planning Review points in that direction where a legislative framework would ensure that those things happened and that Government was in a position to make sure they were happening. Kevin, would you like to comment?
  (Mr Wallace) I think that is absolutely right. There is a danger with a national organisation that parachutes in, in other than federal circumstances, because you have a problem with triggers. When does an incident become big enough? I think the way the UK operates where central government starts to run alongside a local problem has much to benefit the outcome because there is never a dilemma: "Well, this incident is not big enough for you to come in centrally and this one is too big for me to handle locally". You do not have that where you have central and local resources running alongside one another.


  54. In the case of foot and mouth, the crisis proceeded at a fairly slow pace and then we realised at a point in time that the structures were inadequate and changes were made. Fine. A few million animals died in the meantime but I suppose we got it right eventually. Now if something happens really swiftly there is not going to be a great deal of time to reflect, I know we would be satisfied in being informed that the centre would have the capacity to supplement existing resources if, perhaps, that local authority or regional authority really has not reached the point of where there is a certification system. We need to be satisfied there is the expertise in the same way as there is in other Government departments where local authorities fail and people can go in to help. In your case it could happen at 12 o'clock today and you would need the structures set up for 12.30. You do not have much time to try people out to see if they are up to the job.
  (Mr Granatt) That is a very fair point. What I would say is this. We are building our relationships, picking up our relationships with local authorities and working to make sure that we can understand what their needs might be in a range of contingencies and letting them know what we can offer them. If something happened at 12 o'clock today and it had that sort of impact, we would immediately start to put our arrangements together, we would immediately take steps to make sure we knew what was happening and I think if it was an impact of a national nature we would be gathering departments together first officially and perhaps ministerially to take a view and make decisions on how that could be reinforced. The first response would be at local level and we would be working to get information from the local level via the organisations concerned, and perhaps via, for instance, the Government Regional Offices, to make sure that we are in a position to help as effectively as we can. That I suppose is one way of parachuting in help. The alternative, dropping an agency on top of it, may not be the most effective way of doing it. You would still have to go through the process of finding out what was going on, ensuring that you understood the local conditions and marshalling the resources. It is the outcome we are seeking to deliver. If there are lessons to learn about a national agency then we are open minded, we are not fixing ourselves into a particular response to these problems. We are looking for the best practice that we can put in place given the circumstances and the resources of the United Kingdom.

Rachel Squire

  55. Listening very carefully, certainly accepting your comments about the substantial differences between this country and a country like the United States, concerns about how parachuting in might not provide the best assistance available, I am nevertheless interested in whether you think it would be useful to set up an available pool of people who do have real experience in dealing with major incidents on a reserve or standby basis so that if a major incident happens and the call comes from the local level of "we need this, that or the other assistance", you have immediate access to some kind of pool of people, resources, to deal with that. What is your view on that kind of reserve standby arrangement?
  (Mr Granatt) I think that capability is an important one and it is one that we are attempting in the first instance to put into place for central government, which is one of my first priorities, but it has application at local level. Let me explain, for central government we are looking—and perhaps Ian Abbott would like to comment further, it is his area—to put together knowledge bases which tell us where people are, where resources might be gained, where experience can be drawn upon. I think certainly that has application at local level as well. How do we arrange that I think is perhaps the subsidiary question. Who should arrange that and where should it be done? The Government Regional Offices may have a role here. They have been used in the last few major emergencies to help resolve some problems. I think, and so do my colleagues who work there, that they have a particularly interesting location. They are out there with staff, they are in close contact, and their ability to perhaps become a focus for the sort of planning that would allow for the resources to be identified locally and for the support to be deployed in support of a lead authority or a lead emergency service is something that I think has great merit to it. Do you want to comment further, Ian?
  (Brigadier Abbott) If I may. Having parachuted, can I just clarify one thing. This idea of parachuting into something. In many ways we may consider that military aid to the civil community or to authorities in this case is parachuting something in. What we are saying, and we have certainly seen before and after the 11 September, whether it be foot and mouth or whether it be some terrorist driven event, is that there are only certain things that a local authority can actually achieve nowadays before it runs out of capability and, therefore, it looks left and right to see whether it can get mutual aid. It needs to work with the police in terms of the boundaries and I think Mike Granatt's point about the potential for Government Regional Offices for this was shown both in recent events and that there is utility in this approach. Knowing what is available, trying to get rid of any obfuscation that is there or insight I think is crucial. This is where I feel that one of the best tools that we can establish is something like the knowledge network where individuals will know this is where the main base police station is, this is where the A&E is, if there is a plume. We have certain models that have been worked up which are portable on computers which allow you to react in the field so that you can say "If there is an incident this is the downward hazard area". Allowing that to be put on to a web, so consequently local planning authorities and their emergency planning officers can gain access to this using a password control mechanism. That is the sort of tool which we think is useful. That is the insight to data, location and orientation which I feel would be a useful way forward. Those are two strands of the work that we are taking forward now.

  56. Following up certainly with your mention of military assistance, can I ask you for your views on the idea that in this country we should consider establishing some new force along the lines of the US National Guard which could be brought in to deal with civil contingencies or, indeed, some kind of major terrorist incident. Can I ask what your thinking is on that?
  (Brigadier Abbott) Again, one knows that the MoD are considering this as part of their work on the new chapter in the Strategic Defence Review. I will not speak for them, I will speak for myself. I look at the national organisations in this country and in America and say I think there are different approaches. You may well say that surely there is a parallel between the Territorial Army in this respect and the reserve forces which are there and also the National Guard. Effectively they are national elements which top up on the in place capability that we have at the moment. If somebody said to me "Would it not be great to have a bespoke orientated emergency contingency force in this country" I would say that sounds like a great idea. We all know that there are resources and there are limits, I think we know also that it is about society reacting to crisis. I would say that probably the people who wrote this manual and assisted them are our bespoke forces. They are the police, the fire service and the ambulance service which are out there at the moment. They do a 24 by seven operation and they are the instant responses. I think once you have put that and then the structure of delegated authorities in place, we are left with local authorities dealing with the incident. From one's own experience, we do not want a chateau general to start running the incident on the ground. The boys who are on the ground are the ones who know what ground truth is. What we think might be useful is for those who are on the ground to know where to ask for help because my own experience, having done this work, whether it be emptying dustbins in Glasgow or running fire stations or serving petrol, has been local authorities want to know what help can they get and where to go and ask for it. The police want you to get in there quickly with a command and control organisation, with its own communication system and start doing the reason you have gone in there, whether it be driving this truck, delivering this or emptying that. That is what they want you for. What we want out of it is to be assisted. I think we want liaison, I certainly want co-operation, I would want the keyholder, I would want to know what my legal statute requirements are. One of the problems that I know the Americans face and we face is legislation. One of the biggest problems that we have nowadays, and I have seen this from my own experience, is that in the 1970s and 1980s I understood where I was in terms of my responsibility to my soldiers. I now have a duty of care, I now have to adhere to European laws whilst I am in the Balkans because it is within that area. Consequently, having someone from the legal side, someone from the police side, knowing what the rules of engagement are, are really key fundamental tools which I can assist, or the MoD can assist, if it was to give this force. I think we already have a standing force. You may therefore question whether or not the police, the fire brigade and the ambulance services are as resourced as they should be or could be in the light of the 11 September. We have a contingency mechanism which is military aid to civil authorities which has three priority systems. It has a payment and refunding system, it has in addition to military aid to the civil powers and military aid to the Government departments, it has the opportunity to give logistic and training resources to the police and a way of capturing and accounting for that. I think that is the structure that we have at the moment. Has that structure been found wanting post 11 September, I do not think so.

  Mr Hancock: It has not been tested.

Patrick Mercer

  57. It has not been tested.
  (Brigadier Abbott) You may well say that we were not attacked, that we have not been attacked.

  Chairman: We could have been. Who was there standing outside Sellafield or, indeed, standing outside all sorts of nuclear establishments or Government departments? The fact there was no attack was good fortune but that is no reason why we should not have adequate forces, it could be an element of our key infrastructure site. It might have been a role during the Cold War but a lot was jettisoned during the Cold War because, as the Ministry of Defence said in their SDR, for the first time in a generation: "There is no threat to the UK homeland". We will give the MoD good notice of this. This will be quite an interesting area for us to explore. Our resident ex soldier, Colonel Mercer, would like to come in now.

Patrick Mercer

  58. Former colonel. That is the point, surely, we are not talking about serving petrol or getting rid of dustbins, my constituents came to me as a former soldier and said "Who is going to reassure, we have a series of power stations here in the Trent Valley which are vulnerable . . ." in their eyes only, but that is beside the point. We have got the National Guard flying combat air patrol over the centre of cities in America. The few territorial units which remain in my constituency after the last round of butchering said "Why are we not being involved? Why are we not being used? Why are we not deterring? Why are we not reassuring?" Surely we have moved into a different scale of emergency here and I do not want to tread into counter-terrorism but there is a deterrence role.
  (Brigadier Abbott) I think there is. May I just make three points very quickly. You will be pleased to know that in terms of military expression, the campaign plan was constructed at the beginning of all the work post 11 September. The campaign plan is effectively what strands of work we do What is it? What is the outcome, not the output, the outcome? The centre of gravity for me is public confidence and if we do not do anything that changes or affects that, then we are not doing the right thing. It has to be public confidence that is the point that we wish to reinforce. Secondly, the aspect of explaining where I was before in making the statement, was I think we need to differentiate between the processes that we have at the moment and the decision. Now I would argue that the processes were not found wanting. You may well say they were not tested but the processes are there and I did not see a great differential between the processes that we had in place before we stood down the structures effectively by 1993 and what we have now. The elements are still there. Therefore, it comes to the third area which is one over the perception of threat. That to me is outside of the CCS's responsibility. Whether or not the Government should or should not have done something relies on the threat estimate, the reaction of the Government to that and then for us to articulate that in terms of action. Given that the CCS is about civil contingency matters. It is about pump priming, about getting the fly wheel up to speed, then stripping off power from the fly wheel. It is a decision which would want to be taken in this case, but it is a decision that is outside of the CCS's remit. I do not know whether Mike would like to give a better position from that in terms of Central Government's role but I think it is fundamentally threat driven.
  (Mr Granatt) I think Ian is right, it is outside our remit. We are looking at the mitigation or management of consequences. The issues you have raised are not ones that we address, although a number of organisations we deal with do address them so I do not really feel able to add to what Ian says. I think he is right about our position on that. I would say that a very great deal of thought has gone into this, I am aware of that, on all the issues that you have raised.

Mr Howarth

  59. Can I press you further on the point which Rachel Square mentioned about this pool of reserve resources in terms of expertise. What you have been saying to us is it is more of the other way process, you are relying on the people on the ground to have the information and they are going to be in a better position to judge things than you are at the centre. What is of concern here is something like a chemical or biological attack. We are not talking here about an ordinary natural disaster, we are talking about some kind of terrorist attack. If it happens in my local authority, if there is a chemical attack there or in Dorset or in Nottinghamshire or Dunfermline, you have already admitted to us that the local authorities cannot cover the whole of the water front. There has to be a system by which those emergency authorities can go straight to you and you then deploy the team of people who are going to deal with what we are now faced with which we were not faced with before, that surely is the issue, is it not?
  (Mr Granatt) I do not know where you are. Clearly the first responders are the people who have to deal with it first, stating the blindingly obvious. The police have put into place a centre of excellence to train a large number of police officers to handle these sorts of incidents in the first instance. I have not got the figures precisely but I am sure we can get you some up to date figures. The fire service are also training their staff to deal with this and, of course, many chemical hazards that arise from industrial accidents are similar in nature in terms of precautions and decontamination as some chemical incidents that might arise because of deliberate action. Of course they would turn to Central Government for help and resources instantly. There are mechanisms in place through us or through the Home Office to make sure that we can assist them and weigh in with the resources necessary as soon as possible.

  Chairman: That is another area we will have to look at in more detail. Moving on to the role of local authorities in slightly more detail, Syd Rapson.

  Syd Rapson: Yes. Can I say that I have a cynical attitude having been in a local authority for 28 years, I do appreciate the role you are playing, Mr Granatt, in that. Can I pose three questions. The first main question is since 11 September what has the Civil Contingencies Committee or your Secretariat done to provide local authorities with extra guidance on threats and responses? That is the first question, what actually have you done? I have a feeling very little but hopefully you can change that view. The second one is that I understand you have instigated quarterly meetings with the Local Government Association and the Emergency Planning Society and, for our help, could you provide a minute of the last meeting to the Committee afterwards of that body. The final one is about reassurance. The longstanding memory of the disaster in America is Mayor Guilliani's reassurance to the public as a local elected official as such, a representative of the people. Whilst in London we have got Ken Livingston, and if there was a disaster he would be on the television reassuring people, probably very well, in the local authorities no elected person is involved to any great extent at all, if any, apart from, say, the leader. It is nearly always in the hands of paid officials and MPs in particular are not in the loop. I am clearly not a member of Portsmouth City Council now and I am alien to what they do. They do not tell me. When the feeding frenzy of the press comes if there is a disaster, the local MP or MPs are drawn in to give reassurance to the public. Surely in the future planning should involve the MPs as elected representatives of the people as well. I do not know if you can answer the three levels of question in that respect.

  Chairman: I must say I would not like to be the person choosing whether that spokesman should be Syd Rapson or Mr Hancock, that would be worse than the original threat.

  Mr Hancock: We would probably have to do it together.

1   Note from witness: It is usual for the "blue-light" services to provide local authority control rooms with the means to communicate with their control rooms. In addition, there is also the public telephone network and the Emergency Communications Network, the use of which is described in paragraph 2.22 of "Dealing with Disaster". In addition, County Emergency Planning Officers (CEPOs) and Emergency Planning Officers (EPOs) are able to use the following two radio systems: 1. Local Authorities are increasingly purchasing their own local personal radio network for use by park rangers, parking enforcement staff etc. These can be re-deployed in an emergency. 2. The local police can provide a police personal radio on loan for direct contact between Chief Emergency Planning Officer/Emergency Planning Officer and police station control room. Back

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