Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association (15 February 2002)


  1.  The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice for local communities, speaking for nearly 500 local authorities in England and Wales representing over 50 million people and spending £65 billion a year on local services. It represents all individual authorities in England and Wales and the diverse communities they serve. This includes the 178 authorities and fire and civil defence authorities in receipt of Civil Defence Grant in England and Wales.

  2.  The Association welcomes the opportunity to give written evidence to the Committee's enquiry. The events of 11 September 2001 serve as a reminder for the need for effective planning and preparedness by public authorities to deal with the threat of terrorism. Our evidence responds to those issues raised by the Committee which are relevant to the role and contribution of local government and emergency planning.


  3.  The Local Government Association (LGA) welcomes the commitment of government to changes in the legislative basis for emergency planning in England and Wales. The LGA has, for a number of years, advocated the introduction of legislation to put emergency planning by local authorities onto a clear statutory basis, based on the need to plan for peacetime emergencies rather than for Civil Defence.

  4.  The LGA would endorse the proposals for new legislation outlined in the discussion document "The Future of Emergency Planning in England Wales" as follows:

    —  New legislation to cover county councils, shire district councils, unitary authorities including metropolitan districts and London boroughs and all purpose authorities.

    —  Local authorities to be expected to perform a community leadership role in developing emergency planning arrangements with partner agencies.

    —  The duty to share in partnership arrangements to fall on the appropriate bodies including local authorities, emergency services, health authorities, Environment Agency, privatised utilities, transport operators and government departments.

  5.  The purpose of the new legislation would be:

    (a)  to provide local authorities with the responsibility:

      —  to undertake hazard assessments which identify the main hazards in their areas; and

      —  to prepare, or co-operate in the preparation of, emergency plans which address and cover those hazards;

    (b)  to require local authorities to take the initiative in bringing together partner agencies to prepare plans;

    (c)  to require partner agencies to co-operate in the preparation of plans;

    (d)  to ensure that all local authority chief executives and departments attach a proper priority to the preparation and maintenance of plans, to training staff and exercising those plans, and to responding effectively to disasters;

    (e)  to provide a statutory basis for the preparation of national guidance which will:

      —  help local authorities fulfil their responsibilities;

      —  support the development of performance standards;

      —  help achieve greater consistency in emergency planning practice across the county.

  6.  The LGA is not convinced that legislation should specify duties in respect of prevention. This would lead to unrealistic expectations and probably litigation. Local authorities are, however, involved in mitigation of the effects of an emergency. Any role in the prevention of disasters is also likely to require new powers, and raises the question of the role of local authorities vis-á-vis major regulators in the transport, industrial, commercial and food sectors, as well as the central government and its executive agencies.

  7.  The LGA also believes that a general duty of response is too difficult to define. Local authorities are not set up as emergency services and including this in legislation might also lead to unreal expectations.

  8.  The LGA feels that there may be some value in incorporating powers for local authorities to lead or direct recovery operations and the recovery phase in the aftermath of a disaster. This would be to clarify the responsibilities and duties of agencies when the response phase is concluded and/or the emergency services involvement winds-down.

  9.  The LGA would, however, wish to see the duties conferred under the new legislation applied to all types of authorities (including Fire authorities and FCDAs) recognising the range of responsibilities each discharges including, for example shire district's, environmental health and housing functions.

  10.  The LGA would also wish to see the duty applied to Combined Fire Authorities and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities. It is noted that, in the past, Government has not felt it appropriate to include them in the definition of local authorities for some non-fire legislation (such as the Local Government Act 2000). This has, on occasion, resulted in duties and powers being given to county fire services that other categories of fire authority did not enjoy.

  11.  The primary legislation would not benefit by containing too many provisions in respect of the detail of the system. The LGA suggests that the primary legislation should be an enabling Act, analogous to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, under which Regulations may be made from time to time to address particular issues.

  12.  This would allow for the introduction of, for example, European-derived civil protection measures in a manner compatible with the broader emergency planning system. The primary legislation should be used to bring the UK into line with the requirements of Europe.

  13.  The LGA suggests that, should this approach be adopted, there would be no need for separate legislation in respect of wartime planning, which could be the subject of regulations particular to that scenario, which could be amended in the light of changing assessments of risk.

  14.  The ability to deal with particular subject areas in respect of emergency planning and response by means of statutory instruments could be exploited, where there was a demonstrable need, to specify who should be responsible for dealing with particular types of emergency. In this context, the responsibilities of local authorities, and others, in dealing with maritime pollution or veterinary emergencies, etc, and associated funding and technical issues, might be clarified.

  15.  The definition of "emergency planning" needs to be explicit. The LGA believes that the definition contained in the Home Office publication "Dealing with Disaster" forms an appropriate starting point:

    "In the context of civil protection a useful working definition of a disaster is any event (happening with or without warning) causing or threatening death or injury, damage to property or to the environment or disruption to the community, which because of the scale of its effects cannot be dealt with by the emergency services and local authorities as part of their day-to-day activities".

[Dealing with Disaster, 3rd edition, Home Office 2000. paragraph 1.3 (Web version)]

  16.  Such a definition would include the full range of emergencies to which local government has been expected to respond in recent years—fuel crises, foot and mouth, Y2K etc. Emergency planning, by extension, is the process by which plans are made for the response to a disaster.

  17.  The LGA does not believe that the legislation should impose a duty in respect of "hazard assessment". This term has a number of interpretations depending on context, some of which are highly technical. A simple duty to plan for "reasonably foreseeable" disasters should be sufficient.


  18.  The current funding for emergency planning is approximately £19 million to which local authorities add discretionary expenditure of £9.9 million (from their SSA allocation). However, this is the minimum amount of additional funding from local authorities from initial calculations. The real cost, for all local authorities, will be much greater than this figure. After much debate it now appears that the Government will continue to fund emergency planning by providing a similar amount of grant aid for the financial year 2002-2003.

  19.  However, the LGA believes that emergency planning is seriously underfunded and has submitted a bid for additional funding of £26.76 million revenue and £17.08 million capital for England only. These figures take account of work undertaken during, and since the series of major emergencies including flooding, fuel crisis, foot and mouth, etc together with the preparations for the Millennium. The public increasingly expect local authorities to play a leading role in dealing promptly and effectively with these type of crises. The events of 11 September 2001 added significantly to the workloads of local authorities in answering public and press enquiries, preparing CBRN protocols and reviewing their emergency plans. Additional information has been required by Government from local authorities.

  20.  All chief executives are to receive a letter requesting information for the Vital Human Services Working Group.


  21.  Local authorities usually co-ordinate the preparation of appropriate emergency plans, arranging training and exercises.

  22.  In most areas multi-agency groups have been established at strategic and tactical level. Military liaison officers are involved in all appropriate groups in each local authority area.

  23.  The role of local authorities in an emergency is to support the emergency services by providing personnel, premises, plant, equipment, expertise etc. This support role is in the immediate response phase. However, in some types of emergency the local authority co-ordinate the response eg severe weather emergencies such as flooding.

  24.  The local authorities support the emergency services during the immediate response phase which may be over a short time span. However, when this phase is complete the local authority will then be responsible for co-ordinating the recovery phase which may be much more protracted (months or years).


  25.  The liaison arrangements with the Military are generally good. For instance, local authorities adjacent Aldermaston have:

    —  an excellent working relationship;

    —  inclusive integrated planning;

    —  first class liaison.

  26.  The LGA support this type of working relationship with the Military and would encourage this in all local authority areas.

  27.  The support received by local authorities from the armed forces in many emergencies has been invaluable. Local authorities and affected communities have found the assistance during the floods invaluable.

  28.  Local authorities, however, consider that there should be no charge for this assistance as the personnel, equipment and resources are paid for out of public money. Local authorities do not receive any Government assistance for the costs of their response to emergencies until they reach their "Bellwin" thresholds which can be around £1 million for larger authorities. Only 85 per cent of the costs above these thresholds are reimbursed by Government.


  29.  Local authorities and other response agencies work within the agreed command structure: Strategy (Gold); Tactics (Silver) and Operations (Bronze).

  30.  The standard of emergency controls varies across the country. The LGA consider that there should be purpose built multi agency controls in all police authority areas that can be used in any emergency eg foot and mouth, without having to develop these facilities during such emergencies.

  31.  The emergency services are currently working towards replacing their radio communications. There should be compatible facilities available for all response agencies.


  32.  Extensive joint training and exercise programmes are developed by the multi agency groups in each local authority area.

  33.  The Ministry of Defence is now seeking to involve local authorities in joint exercises. This is welcomed by the LGA.


  34.  There is a need for a national warning system for warning the public in any emergency. This would require a major initiative and investment. The work of the National Steering Committee on Public Warning is supported by the LGA. The work of this Committee in developing a video to educate school children near to hazardous sites under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations should be developed into a countrywide public education programme.

  35.  The recent decisions by the police not to guarantee to inform the public needs to be reviewed.


  36.  The concept of the lead Government department needs to be clarified following the changes in Deptal responsibilities last year. There should be of full list of emergency responsibilities of each Government department.

  37.  It is understood that "Dealing with Disaster" is being reviewed and revised. This includes information of the "Lead Government Department".

  38.  The LGA should be involved, as should the Military and other response agencies, to ensure that the revised document is comprehensive.

  39.  It is hoped that the new Civil Contingency Secretariat will co-ordinate Government response to any emergency to provide a clear line of communication for the local response agencies.

  40.  The LGA is also concerned about the role of Regional Government offices in an emergency and would wish to be involved in the discussions in this area.


  41.  There is a need to consider all threats including international software and hardware corruption. IT and communications should be hardened against these threats.

  42.  There has been additional work for local authorities since 11 September 2001. For example, all chief executives will be asked to provide information on their emergency planning arrangements by the Vital Human Services Working Group. Local authorities have been heavily involved in plans for mass casualties, evacuation, etc and reviewing all major incident plans. There has also been an increase in public and media enquiries and the need for additional training and exercises.

  43.  This additional work adds to increasing demands placed on the service following other major emergencies eg floods, fuel crises, foot and mouth etc. At the same time resources for emergency planning have not been increased (2002-2003 the service will have to absorb increased pay and price costs). Therefore, unless resources are increased to meet demand other emergency planning work will suffer to the detriment of public safety.

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