Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)



  560. You said, in response to my remark on a "team of heavies", that it was a questionable proposition. Did you mean that there is not a team available?
  (Mr Griffin) Yes, sir.
  (Councillor Phillips) Could I add to that? You mentioned a sort of unitary authority. I come from a county with districts and not unitary. There is a considerable measure of cooperation and liaison between all the districts which do not have the responsibility. The county has the main responsibility. We do have joint liaison committees, with chief executives and with other professional officers within the county that work together as a team, although the districts do not have any formal civil emergency planning element to it—and, of course, we are also fortunate that we have a very close link with the Ministry of Defence in my own county in Wiltshire because of the large number of defence establishments situated within our county. We are just on the point of holding an exercise at the present moment, with the brigade responsible from the Ministry of Defence of a joint emergency exercise. In our county we are very fortunate in that way, in that we already have the Ministry of Defence very much involved in our system.

Mr Hancock

  561. If that is the case, and you are suggesting that in certain events national government are taking responsibility—which is what I think you are leading up to suggesting—and they should set up the planning for dealing with major events like a terrorist attack, how would you think such an arrangement would work? How would the Government response be given? How would you be involved in that? What would your mechanism be for alerting them to a change from your issue to a national issue?
  (Mr Kerry) Chairman, the whole ethos of local authority emergency planning has for many, many years been enshrined in the document Dealing with Disaster which says, we believe quite rightly, that the emergency planning response should be prepared and made by the level delivering response to the emergency. That has worked very well for any disaster you may care to name that we have suffered in the last 10/15 years in this country. The change or shift in planning assumptions now since 11 September is to be: What if we are having to deal with something of such a magnitude that even our existing mutual aid arrangements and our liaison arrangements may be swamped by that? I think that perhaps is where the question comes in: Is there a team which could be "parachuted in" (as I have heard earlier) to support that or to take over? Certainly we would say there is not a role for another body to come in and take over. That is a recipe for disaster. We believe there is a role for resources to be accessed, for somewhere in government to cut across all departments to provide that single point of contact, so that at the level dealing with that disaster, whether it is the emergency services in a part of London or in a shire county, or whether it is the local authorities who are collectively supporting each other, if the resources required are greater than mutual aid arrangements locally can provide: Where do we go? The mechanism I think we are looking for is something altered from the existing lead government departments's principle, whereby, depending on the nature of the major incident or catastrophe, a different department may be providing the lead, with a different control room and a different set of officials, we would support the concept that perhaps there should be a central emergency operation centre somewhere in central government to which we can go and say, "This is our shopping list." We can manage the emergency because there are professionals in all of the emergency services and in local authorities who are capable of doing that. What we do not need is a separate tier that takes over and provides a disruption then to the actual management of the incident.

  562. Councillor Tony Phillips said that in his own particular area, because of the unique, particularly relevant defence interests in that area, there is a good liaison between his local authority and presumably the county council and the MoD in Wiltshire—as there is in my own, in Portsmouth in Hampshire—but that is not the case everywhere. A terrorist attack presumably would not be naturally directed towards a military target; it would be directed towards a civilian target. What has the LGA been saying to Government about who takes the responsibility for triggering all the things that need to be happening? If there was a major terrorist attack against a civilian target in a part of the country that did not have these "cosyish" relationships—and I use that word reservedly—with the MoD—because they do not always work and they do not always tell each other—are you satisfied that the Government is telling you enough about what they expect of you and what you can expect from them? Is there a line of management where an incident occurring could be transported from a local issue to a national issue?
  (Mr Kerry) I think at this point, probably, no, not to the degree we would certainly want and the evidence for that has been in recent emergencies such as the fuel crisis and, a while ago, foot and mouth. We have seen the delays in: What is a local emergency? What becomes a national matter? What are the mechanisms for bringing in that? Certainly the LGA and others have made representation to the Government that there needs to be some trigger mechanism. Again, I think, we get back to: Where is the central coordinating part of government departments where, depending on what the information is, it comes together to a body of people that can make that assessment?

  563. Are they listening to what local government is saying?
  (Mr Kerry) We are still awaiting some of the responses, I think, if it is fair to say that for my colleagues. We are certainly telling them.

  564. Eighteen months on from 11 September and you are still awaiting a response from them on clearly defining the role of local government in this sort of incident.
  (Mr Griffin) I think the role of local government is clearly defined. I think the relationship with central government and how central government responds is the issue which is still capable of improvement. I think it would be fair, however, to say that perhaps before 11 September or perhaps, more accurately, following other emergencies which have happened in the last 24 months, shall we say, central government has become more aware of the issues. I think things are generally improving. The establishment of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office is an improvement; there is more distance to go.
  (Councillor Phillips) I think I must emphasise, though, that from the local government point of view our role is, as Thomas said, specific. We are there afterwards to finish off everything. When the emergency services go away, that is very often not the end of the matter at all; there is a lot of follow-up work to do which local government always picks up and does. If it has assistance from central government, very good, but very often the emergency has gone over but there is still an aftermath which has to be dealt with and it is always local government that has picked that up and dealt with it—and I think, may I say, fairly effectively too.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) I think, in the emergency phase of any incident, the role of local government is usually, in an incident like September 11, to support the emergency services and provide resources and expertise to support them. In certain emergencies (flooding and foot and mouth), the local authority could actually be taking the lead, with the emergency services supporting the local authority in some areas. I think those are locally determined of when that happens. So that is clearly defined, but afterwards, obviously, as Councillor Phillips has said, in the recovery phases, the local authority takes the lead. That is our community role.

  Chairman: We will come back to this. As far as I am concerned I am sure almost every local authority with the appropriate resources could deal perfectly adequately with a crisis up to a point, but September 11 has revealed to us what we should have known, as many did know, that there is a point at which no existing arrangements would be adequate. You do not have the time, two or three days, to work out, "I am afraid existing arrangements are not satisfactory." It would have to be done very quickly. I think that is what we want to explore, the relationship between central government and local authorities. This morning's session will be a variation of that theme.

Jim Knight

  565. And this will be no exception. Your memorandum welcomed the notion of a change in the legislative framework in terms of the emergency planning in England and Wales, by which I think we are all referring to the new emergency planning duty, and it agrees that local authorities should have the lead in preparing emergency plans and that all other agencies should be under a duty to share in partnership arrangements. I just want to explore a little more this notion of partnership duties, both in relation to partnership across tiers of government and with the private sector. Could you just explain, first of all, what benefits a partnership duty would bring?
  (Mr Griffin) I think one needs to look at what is likely to need to happen. In any response and in any recovery phase a large number of agencies are likely to be involved and those agencies which are involved will need information about certain circumstances. Agencies will only effectively work together in an emergency situation if they understand each other's roles, responsibilities, structures, if they understand each other's culture. That is very much a point your Chairman made a moment ago. If that has got to be learned on the job at the time, it will be learned on the job at the time but not necessarily effectively. That kind of understanding needs to be built up, preferably in advance. We have got, as local authorities, a lot of experience of working in two tier areas, such as mine with the other tier, with the emergency services, with the voluntary sector. We are used to working together, planning together, training together, exercising together, so that we do understand each other's rules, responsibilities, structures, and we have a shared understanding of what is expected of us and what is expected of the other agencies. That needs, we think, to be enshrined and to be widened out; widened out to cover central government and widened out to cover organisations such as utilities and the utilities' regulators, for example. Once upon a time, the infrastructure of the country was relatively easy to understand. Utilities now have changed beyond all recognition. We may not necessarily understand the organisation or the facts about utilities within our area as well as we ought to. And other things change as well. We are used to working very closely with the health service. NHS involvement is always an element where there are casualties, but it may be a particular element if it should be a September 11 type event or, worse still, a chemical biological type event. The NHS is going through yet another of its periodic reorganisations and we are struggling to understand what the outcome of that will be, but the basic principle is that we need to be working in partnership with these other agencies in advance, understanding, planning, training, exercising together, so that there is a good chance that the response and recovery will be effective. Our experience generally is that organisations are willing to work together, but that is likely to be more strongly reinforced if there is a duty of partnership—and there are existing models, such as the Crime and Disorder Act and some of the health legislation, which impose duties of partnership, which, in my experience at least, work.

  566. Yes. Well, I could comment on that—which is not necessarily on my script.
  (Mr Griffin) Well, they work in some areas.

  567. I would say that in terms of youth offending teams, for example, crime and disorder partnerships and so on, there are very good examples of them working well.
  (Mr Griffin) Yes.

  568. I think in Wiltshire the youth offending team system works exceptionally well, but it is not necessarily consistent across the country. I guess that is part of the concern within this whole debate. Most of us accept local government taking a lead, but we are also looking for a consistent set of standards in how that is applied and how it works. Within that context, I am interested in what capabilities local authorities are bringing to the partnership and how that remains consistent. Councillor Phillips, I used to live in Wiltshire, as you may remember, and I am well aware that many people look to community leadership from their town council, from the town mayor. So local authorities have all sorts of definitions in all sorts of places. People look to them in different ways in different places. What are local authorities within that broad definition bringing to the table in terms of leadership and in terms of partnership?
  (Mr Griffin) I think we bring a number of things to the table. One is, I think, an existing community leadership role and an existing community leadership expectation, in that those of us who have experienced not the type of events we are talking about, but other incidents, know that the community will look to us for a response. More importantly, I think we bring experience, expertise and professional capability in terms of dealing with specific issues. Often the response involves providing shelter for those who have been evacuated: that is the business with which we are familiar. Or it is dealing with actual or potential or perceived pollution: that is business with which we are familiar. So we bring expertise, we bring experience. We also bring experience in working in partnership, increasingly, and in leading partnerships, bringing partnerships into being—not necessarily leading the product but leading in bringing them into being. So we have a lot to bring to the table.
  (Councillor Phillips) I will also add to that, of course, that one of the things local authorities can bring, both through officers and elected members, is of course local knowledge, which is absolutely key to the whole situation. If people do not have the local knowledge, they can be the most expert in the world but they cannot contribute what a local individual's knowledge is on that particular situation. That is absolutely fundamental.

  569. I fully accept that, so that ultimately we are looking for a marriage between that local knowledge and that professional expertise and an increasing amount of specialist knowledge that agencies can in turn bring to the table. They may be in the private sector, they may be in central government and they may be in the MoD as well. Given that level of specialism, given that there are local authorities, many of them, up and down the land and all addressing these issues and seeking to exercise their own capability, how do you coordinate that? How do you bring in those specialist agencies and their expertise and make that marriage work.
  (Mr Griffin) Can I just dig a little bit into that question?

  570. Yes. Please.
  (Mr Griffin) What exactly do you mean by how do you bring that about? Do you mean how structurally?

  571. You have agencies such as the Environment Agency, which, in my dealings with them, is a regional type structure. You might have utilities that have perhaps a national structure—certainly their regulators do. You are seeking to exercise—
  (Mr Griffin) I think I understand the point of the question. Thank you for that. Yes, I think perhaps that question steps off from one of the things I said earlier on about the importance of all agencies being involved. That does not mean to say that the only level of planning and preparation is, if you like, at the smallest local agency and that, if you have . . . I do not know how many district councils there are in England . . . 350 district councils, you have 350 different individual units. Clearly there has got to be a level of cooperation and coordination at an appropriate level. In the particular shire county where I live and work at the moment, the appropriate level I would suggest is at the county level, which is coterminous with the police and the fire level. There may be different answers in different areas, but, yes, there has to be a certain degree of cooperation and coordination. That is partly one of the reasons why the duty of partnership is important: the duty of partnership should also be a duty to ensure that cooperation and coordination arrangements are in place. If one chooses the appropriate level, which needs to be a balance between involving all the relevant agencies and retaining the local response because of points about local knowledge and soon, then I think that is the ideal solution.

  572. Does there come a point at which a regional lead should be taken?
  (Mr Griffin) I am much more sceptical about that, partly because some of the regions are relatively large and may start to suffer some of the diseconomies of scale, and they suffer some of the difficulties in understanding local circumstances. There may well be a regional dimension in terms of providing support, additional resource, assistance and, for that matter, perhaps liaison with central government, but I would not recommend the base level of cooperation or coordination being at a regional level.
  (Councillor Phillips) I think I would follow that with the fact that I was the independent member on the inquiry in the LGA into regional government and one of the problems that we had in some areas that would be regions is that they are very compact—Manchester/Liverpool/Birmingham, sort of thing—and in the south west there is 300 miles from one end of the region to the other. You can actually go to Glasgow in the same distance. Whether you would call Glasgow to help you in the south west . . . I mean, I am being stupid in that way but, nevertheless, it is true that the geographical set ups would inhibit certain regions from taking part in an organisation like that, but in other regions, where they are close-knit, then they may well be able to—and, as they are big centres of population, I think there is a very good reason for something being set up in that particular direction but it would only apply to those sort of areas in the country.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) I think the support role from the region would be vital, but, of course, you must remember emergencies may not reflect local authority boundaries and may not reflect regional government boundaries either. Foot and mouth in our area affected Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire. That was three government regional offices, so you are back to the same problem again.

Mr Hancock

  573. I would like to raise the issue about what is realistic in terms of objectives for emergency planning and how you would realistically set those objectives against the resources and capabilities that are available to you, either individually, as a group of local authorities, or collectively, bringing other agencies in, and how you express what those objectives are. I am interested to know whether or not you feel they ought to be properly quantified, in that there ought to be achievable targets, in that they in themselves ought to be public documents.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) I do think there should be objectives, and performance indicators perhaps (if you want to use that term), of our capabilities and our performance, of how we are meeting those objectives. They should be public. We are public authorities. A number of us have been through the best value review process and have produced locally determined performance indicators. There are no national performance indicators at the moment. Although we have seen draft documents produced over a year ago, those have not been produced, so nationally there are no performance indicators. There is no monitoring of our performance nationally. Our own performance indicators reflect some of our key areas of work: producing plans, how many plans we produce in the required timescales; how many people we train; how many exercises we hold; how many inter-agency liaison meetings we have; how many incidents we respond to within agreed timeframes; and overall satisfaction of some of our partners, if you like, with our performance. As I say, there are no national performance indicators, and we have to work against in any emergency as well: we have to respond to the emergency but we also have to keep other services running because the other services do not go away. So we have to try and balance the response and dealing with business as usual: social services still need to be working, education needs to go on. We can come up with performance indicators, but, again, they are not consistent at the moment.

  574. What does your committee within the LGA have in the way of self-imposed targets for you as local authorities to respond to, to be able, say, to evacuate and temporarily rehouse a certain number of people over a certain period of time, getting the basic services restored to an area, like water and sewage, communications and power? What sort of targets have the LGA started to address in saying, "We are an emergency planning organisation, we have the responsibility to provide a plan. These are the targets we are going to set ourselves. Are these achievable? (Yes or no.) Do we have the resources to support them? (Yes or no.)" I am interested to know what you have done within the LGA to see whether or not there is a consistent approach across local authorities about their responsibilities and whether you as an organisation are starting to set targets for local authorities to be able to say, "Our plan can meet the LGA's proposed targets."
  (Mr Shuttleworth) The LGA's role in this is actually to contribute to the Cabinet Office performance indicators when they were consulting with local authorities. The LGA has not set any performance targets for local authorities. I do not think that is within the remit of the LGA to do. The quantifiable objectives you mentioned, about how many people you can evacuate and shelter for a certain period of time, are very difficult to quantify. There are so many imponderables in there. I mentioned continuity of service. All local authorities will have identified premises that they can use for rest centres, to evacuate people to and shelter them. They will have identified agencies that would respond in the local authority and within the private and voluntary sector. The WRVS and Red Cross/St John come to mind. That is resource limited. You could not use all your rest centre accommodation at any one time because of the resource implications for the local authority.

  575. That beggars the question: How realistic is any local authority's emergency plan? Based on what you have just said, there is no benchmark to go by. You are not sure whether they are accurate in what they can deliver, the targets are not judged on any national guidelines, it is just your version of what ought to be done. How realistic is that? Do the public not have a right to know that you have an emergency plan which is flawed because it really does not stack up when it is open to scrutiny?
  (Councillor Phillips) In general terms, the plans that have been drawn have always been measured by local government. The LGA and the predecessor authorities such as the county council association have always been drawn on the basis of the best information locally. I think what you are saying, sir, to a certain extent is that because we are in a new scenario nationally in terms of September 11, for want of a better description, do our plans meet that circumstance?

  576. No, I am not talking about a specifically terrorist threat. My area was affected badly by flooding and our initial response was abysmal. It was absolutely abysmal: we could not get our hands on generators, we could not get people's homes cleared, the fire brigade could not cope. It was an abysmal first response. It got better but it only got better when other people from outside started to influence what was going on. It took some while to get that in process. So it is not about just a reaction to September 11, it is about what local authority plans are actually worth—you know: Do they really identify where the inadequacies are? There is insufficient temporary sheltered accommodation available to deal with the thousand people who might have to be evacuated for as long as a week, maybe. If those plans are worthless, why spend any time on them? Why have them? Why should the public have any confidence in local government and local governments plans? And I am talking as someone who has 32 years' experience in local government and is still a councillor, so I am concerned about this. I am interested to know what local governments' response to an emergency is worth.
  (Mr Griffin) I cannot comment on the particular response to flooding in your area.

  577. No, of course you cannot.
  (Mr Griffin) It would be wrong and presumptuous of me to try to do so, but I think it is inappropriate to suggest that local authorities' emergency plans are flawed and then to move from that pre-supposition to any conclusions. Can I just roll back to the issue of the Local Government Association. The LGA is a representative body. It does not set standards of performance or performance indicators for any activity. We have quite a number of other agencies setting standards and performance indicators on us as things stand at the present moment. There is an absence of nationally set indicators for emergency planning and it is probably appropriate, given increased recognition of the significance of emergency planning, that that is looked at. That will be looked at by central government or the Audit Commission, not by the Local Government Association. But I think the more important point is that Ian's comment about quantifiable targets has perhaps been slightly misunderstood. It is difficult to set quantifiable targets because one needs to look at the circumstances in which an event occurs and the resources which can be brought to bear. Yes, we can identify the resources which are available, but we cannot necessarily use all the resources ourselves at any given time, and for that reason it is important that authorities do work together with other agencies to bring those resources to bear. We have mutual aid arrangements with our neighbouring districts and neighbouring county, so that if we had to evacuate large numbers of people, more than we could look after—not more than we could accommodate but more than we could look after—then we could call on staff from neighbouring counties to help us on that. The issue, when you step up to something like September 11, is that mutual aid between local authorities could potentially be quite difficult because a number of them might be in the same boat and it is for that reason that I started to talk about the availability of additional resource from the centre.

  578. Is it then not your responsibility, in your emergency plan, clearly to identify where there are deficiencies? so that the people out there, the people in the end who will have to pay, the council tax payers or general tax payers, know that they will now have to foot an increased bill to give them not a great deal more but certainly a better chance of having an emergency plan that is robust and defensible. Should they not be told by local authorities: "We have a plan but it has got holes in it"?
  (Mr Griffin) It has not necessarily got holes in it. It has got a limit beyond which it can go. The capacity of an individual organisation to respond to an event is clearly a limiting factor on the plan, yes, of course.

  579. Let us cut the nonsense. Of the three of you in local government—
  (Mr Griffin) There are four of us actually.

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