Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
580. The three of you who are officers in local
government would say that there is a robust understanding of what
emergency planning means and what it should cost to your local
authorities. Are you happy that local authority members take seriously
enough the financial implications of delivering an emergency plan
which is actually deliverable? That is the truth of the matter,
is it not?
(Mr Griffin) Some do but I think a more important
question is: Does central government take that seriously?
(Councillor Phillips) Having just received cuts of
10 per cent, sir, in our budgets in my county, we are having to
resource the same emergency plans we have always understood would
be adequate in my particular case. (I cannot speak for other counties.)
We have always had a pretty good system in our own county. The
deficiencies could easily be recognised by me as an elected member
by saying to you, sir, "Over the county boundary we have
Hinkley Point Power Station. I cannot cater for the fact that
the wind may come from the south west and there would be a leak
at Hinkley Point, because how far does one authority or group
of authorities go to provide for that sort of incident which we
all pray will never happen. You know, could you say in my county's
plan that my emergency planning officer says, "Our plan is
inadequate because we are not catering for an incident that could
happen outside our territorial boundaries." Ian made the
point, I think quite rightly, that as far as a council is concerned
it can cater with a plan for its own area but it is not able to
resource that if it comes from somewhere else which is not at
any stage out of the control. That is where central government
come into the role, because they can look at the regional aspect
and the national aspect which we are not empowered on our tax
payers to be able to draw money from.
581. My view of local authorities is jaundiced
as I represent what is one of the worst local authorities, if
not in the universe in England.
(Councillor Phillips) I saw that on the minutes.
582. They have been take over almost as completely
as Germany and Japan after the Second World War. They are worst
at almost everything. Yet I hope that emergency planning is not
as bad as the rest of the services. I do not want to find out
after a disaster whether it is true. I am reasonably hopeful that
it is a cut above almost all the other departments, but it does
seem to meand I am not a local government specialistthat
it does seem a little hit and miss. You know, you rely on councillors,
you rely on professional staff, and you are left to your own devices
and we do not know, no-one knows, how well you perform. The best
value processand I do not know who does itis not
going to be the definitive assessment as to whether local authorities
meet any standards at all. I have seen the evaluation of the Cabinet
Office's consultative document and the methodology has been criticised.
The response appears to be patchy. What kind of confidence can
an outsider have that the system is working well? It might work
well on the day but in some areas it might work very badly on
the day. The one ray of sunshineand I never thought I would
say thiswas something that came out of Ken Livingstone's
organisation. Mr Kerry must have had to fill in thata very,
very comprehensive document. Would you like to comment on that
document? Of course yours was honestly filled in, but
(Mr Kerry) I filled it in, yes!
583.but local governments containing
dubious characters, in filling in a form, you often say what you
would like it to say as opposed to answering objectively. Has
that provided a model, do you suspect? Has it put the heat on
your local authority? Does it force them to realise how weak perhaps
some areas are? And will this London model be of relevance to
the rest of the country, forcing local authorities to honestly
tick off the right boxes and answer in a way which might lead
to a more effective system?
(Mr Griffin) Perhaps, Chairman, you would just let
me make a comment before David answers those specific questions,
because you made some comment about Walsall and asked how could
we be confident. I give three responses. The first is that many
local authorities provide good services generally. The second
is that there have been a number of emergency incidents up and
down the country over the years and, generally, I think you will
find that local authority responses have been good and, in some
instances, brilliant. If you look at what happened in Lockerbie,
which was a totally unpredictable, unforeseeable kind of event,
the response of Dumfries and Galloway was extraordinary. Yes,
the picture is likely to be patchy. That is the nature of life.
The third point I would make is that one of the reasons why the
Local Government Association has been pressing for fresh legislation,
has been pressing for a duty of partnership is to make that picture
less patchy. Perhaps, then, David could answer your specific points.
(Mr Kerry) The questionnaire which came out from the
London Resilience Team, which obviously came from the Minister
Nick Raynsford's office rather than
584. I apologise for complementing Mr Livingstone.
(Mr Kerry) Part of the Government Office for London
and working with the Cabinet Civil Contingencies Secretariat.
That questionnaire has been the most comprehensive benchmarking
exercise in emergency planning for the 33 London local authorities
and of course there have been other questionnaires that have gone
to the transport undertakers and the utilities as well, as I understand.
From speaking to colleagues, I believe local authorities have
fairly and responsibly answered that questionnaire. Obviously
it is very easy to tick boxes in a way that might get a "good
report". I am quite confident to say there was a clear wanting
to get a proper picture, to find out where we were strong, where
we were weak, but, more importantly, so that, where there are
flaws, those are well telegraphed to central government and then
we can discuss the reasons why there are flaws and we can look
at ways we can deal with that. The questionnaire was backed up
with a very in depth visit to each of the local 33 authorities.
I think our visit lasted about three and a half hours and they
varied from between three hours through to six hours, depending
on the nature of the authority and the questions being asked,
and those were undertaken by civil servants and secondees to the
Government Office for London, probing from the questionnaires
that had been filled in to look for areas of best practice, to
look at strengths, to look at those weaknesses, all so that could
be reported to the Minister. That work was completed in December.
The Minister has recently received the report from civil servants
about the outcome of that. We are still waiting to hear ourselves
what the exact results are. Some of that is beginning to filter
585. We have asked as well.
(Mr Kerry) Some of that is beginning to filter through.
The difficulty we have, and I think as we have always had in local
authority as far as emergency planning is concernedand
I am talking a little bit of a risk nowis we are very happy
to provide information. In the current circumstances, we think
it is not coming back to us terribly quickly. I have no doubt
that a huge amount of work is being done in London through the
Government Office for London, through the Minister and through
the Mayor. There is an awful lot of work going onwe know
that because we keep getting phone calls and being asked to provide
information. We are waiting to see what results will come from
that, but, in the absence of primary legislation that tells us,
the local authorities across the UK, as a standard what we should
be doing as a minimum, it is very difficult for local authorities
to determine themselves what that national standard in default
would be. We do have the situation then where local authorities
will do their best to benchmark with their neighbours, find out
what they are doingyou know, "How many rest centres
have you got? How many people can you put up? How many beds have
you got?" If nothing else, we need to know for mutual aid
purposes, so that we can borrow from each other when we need to.
I think you have probably inferred already that is not terribly
satisfactory. Well, I would not disagree with you on that, which
is why local authorities have been asking for some years for new
primary legislation to provide that steer. We are very pleased
that the emergency planning review of the recent months has also
identified that as a target. We think that is going to be part
of the mechanism, so that we can start looking at what minimum
standards are, how they should be resourced, and then of course
we can properly start saying, "Well, where are the flaws,
where are the gaps, and who is not pulling their weight?"
586. Gentlemen, you submitted a memorandum to
the Committee. In that memorandum you said that a ". . .
simple duty to plan for `reasonably foreseeable' disasters should
be sufficient". As you know, that is not quite what the Government
are saying. The Government are saying that there should be a duty
of hazard assessment. Could you tell me whether I have got that
right and what the difference is in the two approaches.
(Mr Kerry) What is hazard assessment is causing a
little bit of confusion because on the one hand you could say
that we already do hazard assessment and should, but on the other
hand in a different interpretation we would say that we would
not want to. Let me try and explain what the two definitions are
as we see it. All local authorities and all emergency services
and primary responders should of course be looking at what hazards
may affect the authority in order to let us get a framework for
an integrated emergency response. So if we have low flying aircraft,
if there happens to be a major chemical plant nearby, a nuclear
power station, major railways, roads and whatever else, we need
to be aware of those and we need to look at those risks that may
present themselves as major emergencies and ensure that we then
have a framework that means in the planning process we are talking
to the right partners and in the response we know who those partners
are. We would certainly say that is something which local authorities
should be doing, just as all the other agencies, and it is one
of the national standards for civil protection that came out a
couple of years ago. If, however, you were to say should that
be a duty to undertake hazard assessments with the purpose of
identifying what actual risks may happen and take measures to
reduce those, we would say that is the responsibility for other
government departments, the HSE and those who have the regulatory
duties to enforce the statutory powers that exist. As local authorities
I think we would want to avoid getting into huge new areas of
responsibility which should be properly dealt with under existing
legislation by the proper regulatory authorities. Yes, we need
to know in outline what could happen, we need to use that to have
the right frameworks to do the generic planning to talk to the
right partners, we cannot get into the nitty gritty of getting
the plant operators or whatever else to take steps to reduce that
hazard happening, that is a job which exists and that is for other
587. What you are really trying to do, I think,
is to limit your liability, as it were. It is hardly surprising
because, as we all realise, the job that you are in has no limits
and that is what 11 September showed us, so what you are really
trying to do is limit your particular liability and hand it on
to somebody else, namely the Government. Would that be fair?
(Mr Kerry) I think it is the liability going to the
appropriate people for that and the appropriate people for some
liabilities in the sense of assessment and enforcement would be
the HSE, for example, or it could be the relevant ministry that
enforces regulations in certain areas.
588. So it is definitely not the responsibility
of local government, that is what you are saying.
(Mr Kerry) For what I am talking about, yes.
589. Why? Surely the proposition could be put
that this is your function, this is your role, this is the role
that you have performed for donkey's ages, why should it not be?
(Mr Kerry) If we are talking about a regulatory role
then that would require the appropriate statutory powers, that
would require the trained personnel, that would require the resources
to go with it, it would be a new role. I think it is a role that
is already covered elsewhere by more appropriate bodies.
590. Are you confident that the other bodies
are up to the job?
(Mr Kerry) I have to be.
Mr Cran: No, no, that is not the question.
Chairman: You are paid to be.
591. That is not the question.
(Mr Kerry) I shall seek help from colleagues along
the panel on that one.
(Mr Griffin) My experience is perhaps limited to one
particular kind of body because we have got a couple of nuclear
power stations in our area and my experience, therefore, essentially
is limited to bodies such as the NII. Yes, I do.
592. Yes, you do?
(Mr Griffin) Have confidence in what they do.
593. But your colleague evidenced a certain
distinct lack of confidence.
(Mr Griffin) I do not think so.
594. This is clearly very important.
(Mr Griffin) Yes, it is.
595. Because what is going to happen is we are
going to get a new regime for dealing with these disasters, we
have got local government on the one side saying on the sort of
analysis I was asking for, strategic analysis, "that is not
my job, that is somebody else's job" and if that is going
to work it has got to be based on the principle that we have confidence
that whoever the bodies were that you were suggesting it was the
responsibility of are up to the job. You must have a view about
that. Have you a different view?
(Mr Kerry) No, I take the view that you have heard
from Mr Griffin. Sitting here today it is very difficult to think
of actual examples but, for example, with the nuclear industry
there are regulatory bodies and we have to have confidence that
those regulatory bodies will take their roles. For the local authority
to come in with a new role on hazard assessment on top of that
would be divisive. Too many people arguing over the same thing
is wrong. I think that we should support the existing regulatory
authorities where those are and we should not be seeking to take
on a new duty like that. Hazard assessments, yes, of understanding,
as I have said, that what happens could affect any local area,
those are partly the same across the UK but partly different depending
on what is around, and it is quite proper for the local authority
to have that role. It is quite proper for us to explore the partners,
the framework, to make sure that everybody is talking. It does
not matter then whether you have a power station or a COMAH plant
or whatever else where you have got the regulatory bodies, the
HSE or whomever, ensuring that the operators are following all
the rules and are being safe because we are not in conflict because
we are then talking to the regulatory authorities as we are with
the emergency services and the site operators. That is appropriate
hazard assessment and hazard analysis because we are then working
to meet what may come out if something untoward were to happen.
596. I have one question left, Chairman. Gentlemen,
you had better be absolutely clear in your minds on the answer
to the question I posed to you, do you have absolute confidence
in these other bodies. You had better be clear in your minds that
you gave a clear answer and that was "Yes, we do", so
be clear about that. My last question is simply this: if the Government
decides not to heed your advice at all but indeed to put a hazard
assessment duty on you, what then happens?
(Cllr Phillips) We would have to take it up, it is
as simple as that. If it is legislation local authorities have
the same responsibilities as other bodies to accept that ruling
and to carry it out. I think that you would find that local authorities
would attempt within all their possible means to undertake that,
I do not think that there would be any shirking. As an elected
member I would not suggest to you at any stage that because somebody
introduced that we would turn around as local authorities and
say "Get lost, nothing to do with us, mate". There is
no question of that. We are there to carry out the legalisation
that is passed and if in actual fact one passes legislation that
gives us those responsibilities in local government we have to
take it up, we do not have any option.
597. In the light of what I have heard from
particularly Mr Kerry, I am left with the very distinct view that
you would be absolutely handed a pup, it is not a job you want,
it is not a job I suspect, given what you have said, that you
could do properly.
(Cllr Phillips) As an elected member as opposed to
an officer of a local authority, if we were handed the pup, as
you might term it, it would be our responsibility as elected members
to ensure that the work was carried out to the best of our ability.
What you are saying to us is are we satisfied that the regulatory
bodies carry out their functions. I think the answer to that one
must be that we are assuming they do because it is not our position
to be able to challenge the Health and Safety Executive or any
of those other statutory bodies because they were deemed to be
given powers by Parliament to carry out certain functions. I think
the answer to that is if you have the feeling that they are not
carrying out their duties and have good reason to challenge that
then it should be challenged, but I do not think because we are
not responsible for that function at the moment in local government
that we have the expertise, for want of a better description,
to be able to challenge a statutory obligation. I cannot see how
we could as elected members.
598. Does the Fire Service have access to these
hazard assessments? I hope to God they do.
(Cllr Phillips) Now they are separate authorities
from local government it is more difficult to answer that question
as to whether it has changed at all.
(Mr Shuttleworth) Just to follow on, I think there
needs to be a little bit of care if that duty is put on local
authorities so there is no duplication of effort. I think that
is what we are concerned about over here.
599. And duplication of effort means what?
(Mr Shuttleworth) If we were given that duty, that
hazard assessment, then the other agencies that have got that
duty already and carry it out and have got the resources to carry
it out, and in my experience of the Health and Safety Executive
they do carry it out, we would want to do the same as the Health
and Safety Executive or the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.
(Mr Griffin) And ambiguity of accountability as well.
Chairman: Thank you. Just to show we
do have defence interests, Colonel Mercer will ask the next question.
Patrick Mercer: Former Colonel.
Chairman: Once a Colonel.