Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620 - 639)



  620. Or should it very much put itself in the position of being the prime central co-ordinating body which really sorts out who should be doing what as and when a crisis occurs? I know it is rather difficult but can you summarise what role the Local Government Association thinks central government should take?
  (Cllr Phillips) Could I just say that from my perspective, ministers and civil servants are unable to give any timetable for the introduction of any legislation at the present moment. The LGA understands the demand for parliamentary time but thinks that legislation should be brought before the House as a matter of urgency given the recent major emergencies. That is not only the September 11 scenario but foot and mouth and the other things, like flooding, that we have already mentioned. From the debates on the Civil Defence Grant Bill there does appear to be all-party support for some form of new legislation. As my colleagues have already emphasised on a number of occasions during the course of these discussions, whatever happens there is still a role which local government has to pick up irrespective of whether you change the legislation or not. I do not think local government, and I am speaking in a personal capacity, would very much welcome those functions being taken away and overridden by somebody else somewhere else because it is a partnership function. It may well be in looking at the possibilities of legislation that Government wants to look at the question of how close the role is between various Departments of State and whether their co-ordination is there to assist us in the functions that we carry out. I think that aspect of it is very important because we do not see the legislation as something that becomes entirely different, it is complementary to give more power to be able to react to the situations that we hope do not occur, quite frankly. Therefore, I think local government would still have that major role of co-ordination in the aftermath and all the other things like that, but we do want the assistance perhaps, for want of a better description, of the Departments of State in getting us to be able to carry out those functions more efficiently perhaps than they are done today because we do not have that measure of very close co-operation. Whether that requires legislation is not for me to comment.
  (Mr Griffin) Can I just say that for the most part I think it is inevitable that local authorities should and would respond to emergencies but there are always going to be the exceptional cases, and I think the fuel crisis was probably one of those, where there is a role for central government to take on the co-ordinating role. Therefore, it is not simply a matter of saying central government should legislate, provide more money and then go away, that is too simple an answer. Other than those more widespread, more significant emergencies I would take the view that local government ought to continue to lead.

  621. Can I pick up on the comment you made earlier about the Civil Contingencies Secretariat when you said that you felt the establishment was an improvement but there was more distance to go. Would you like to say a little more about what improvement you feel there has been since the establishment of CCS and what more needs to be done in that respect?
  (Mr Griffin) I think those of us who were involved at local authority level at the time of the fuel crisis found central government to be highly unco-ordinated. We were getting different communications, often inconsistent communications, from different departments, sometimes at the same time, and we knew more about what other departments were doing than some of the departments communicating with us. I think that the shift to the Cabinet Office has been brought about largely by a recognition in central government that turf wars can get in the way of effective response and the Government response and the Government communication can be improved. I think we have yet to see that process fully completed and I think when we see some legislation in place we might have a little bit more confidence that there is a more coherent central government response.

  622. Thank you. Can I also take the opportunity to ask you, still on the issue of the CCS, about the evidence we have heard. Brigadier Abbott talked about the arrangements for handling an emergency that were being developed in London and told us "Our hope is that the model we have come up with for London will be exported as best practice around the country". Can I ask, firstly, are you familiar with the model which has been developed for London and, secondly, whether you support the strategy of subsequently rolling out that model across the country?
  (Mr Kerry) The model which the CCS have developed has not yet been given to us. We understand that it is to be given to us on 29 April, so I cannot answer as to whether the model is going to be any good or not. We hope it will be. As to whether it is a model that can be rolled out for the rest of the country, again I cannot answer that without seeing it because obviously there are many similarities in emergency management in London with the rest of the country but also there are some differences structurally from the rest of the country. I think it is unlikely that one model will be good totally for all. Hopefully it will be a model that can be adapted appropriately so that there is consistency from the core but without prejudicing the actual needs of different locations as they see that.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Can I just add to that. We prefer the term "good practice" because we are not certain it is best practice. I think that good practice does need to be shared with the rest of the country wherever it happens. There may be other instances where there is good practice happening in emergency planning that should be shared and we are not convinced at the moment that it is. I think that might be a role for the CCS to undertake but we think the good practice should be rolled out whatever it is wherever it is.

Syd Rapson

  623. Can we just change the legislation around again. It seems the fuel crisis triggered changes to legislation more so than 11 September. Mike Granatt, our Head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, told us as long ago as January 16 that as far as legislation is concerned "We are looking at a process of putting this legislation together which will involve further consultation and bringing forward something to Parliament that reflects a consensus" which seems fairly laid back. When would you like to see legislation put forward and would you like to see a draft Bill published for further consultation?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) From our point of view we would like to see new legislation as soon as possible. We were pushing for that before September 11 and we think that should have been accelerated because of September 11. Yes, we would like to see a draft Bill published for further consultation but we would like to see it "as soon as possible". I know there are demands on Parliamentary time. It was mentioned by the Council. There does seem to be some all-party support for this sort of legislation to come forward. We would like to see it there as soon as possible.

  624. You have your chance today to reiterate the fact that you are all united in the fact that you want legislation as soon as possible
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Yes.

Mr Roy

  625. Chairman, we have already been told by Chris Leslie, the Minister, that the Civil Defence Grant will be roughly the same for next year as this year. I understand we have got £18.6 million further. Some of us read an article in the North East Journal on Friday which said that Northumberland, Durham and Cumbria would have their funds cut by 10 per cent or above. What would that mean to your own geographic area?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) The maximum loss of grant to any authority now, the dampener, has been set at 10 per cent so no local authority will lose more than 10 per cent but in some areas like those it could mean as much as £30,000. Now that could mean jobs, that could mean a job. The majority of our expenditure in emergency planning are staff costs, probably 70-80 per cent of our costs are staff. At this time when there is an increased workload and no extra resources, if there is a cut that means that something has to give.

  626. What you are saying is in your area post September 11 if you had that same 10 per cent cut, you would have less people looking after the civil contingency planning than you have at the moment at a time when we should be looking, I would think, at an increase, therefore you would have a lower level of service.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) That is possible. Do not forget the settlement was only, I think, about three days before the end of the financial year so the local budgets had been set. So local authorities were not able to commit that expenditure to prop up the emergency planning service locally because it was so late. There has not been for the last 10 years any increase in that grant for pay and price increases. We are having to absorb 2 or 3 per cent each year anyway. It is a gradual reduction in service. If you take that for the 10 years it is quite a reduction. That is why we have put in such a bid.

  627. Can I just change that round about then. We know the North East are going to be 10 per cent worse off, do you know, for example, where else is going to be worse off?
  (Cllr Phillips) Yes, there is a great list of them here, sir, of counties which will be reduced by that amount. With the original proposal from the Government in respect of Cumbria, the reduction there, which has been slightly altered now, of course, was their allocation was £239,700, that would have been reduced to £203,700, which is the equivalent of one job.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Yes.
  (Cllr Phillips) Equally one under Durham, the figure there, excluding Darlington, was £236,905 reduced to £201,369.

  628. The basis of what you are saying is geographically throughout the country there are going to have to be either job cuts or cuts in services when we are looking at civil contingency plans post September 11?
  (Cllr Phillips) Yes. Bear in mind, of course, that Ian Shuttleworth made the point that we had set our budgets on the assumption that we would not necessarily be getting any more.

  629. With respect, even if you had not set your budget, once you are given this funding, by definition you would need to cut back?
  (Cllr Phillips) That is right.

  630. You would be delivering a lower level of service. I really want to make this clear: you would be delivering a lower level of service post September 11 in civil contingency plans?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Not everyone loses, let me make that point.

  631. Yes.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) There are some that do actually get a bit more.
  (Mr Griffin) And there remains the choice of the local authority, the political choice, to fill that gap itself. Not everybody loses, some will lose and reduce resources and reduce the amount of work that is done. In some instances they will be shifted on to the local taxpayer.

Mr Hancock

  632. I would be interested to know which local authorities have increased their budget voluntarily?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Some have. Some do provide additional funds from their own resources because they do accept the importance of the work when they are able to do that. Obviously that is a decision that politicians have to make.


  633. If you could write and list those for us we will give you a sheet of paper in response. Councillor Phillips, that document you read from, is it confidential?
  (Cllr Phillips) Not that I know of.

  634. Shall we give you a brown envelope and you can post it on to me later.
  (Cllr Phillips) By all means.
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Can I just say, Chairman, that was the original document that was produced. The grant was actually changed slightly in the final document which came out. The formula was changed within the last week of the financial year.
  (Mr Griffin) That information is public information.
  (Cllr Phillips) The information in the document that I have just read those figures from shows the breakdown between all the authorities and some in actual fact, to be perfectly fair, East Riding of Yorkshire received a 20 per cent increase. It was unitary authorities which mainly received that. The second document that was produced only shows in actual fact the allocation to each authority so really, you want both documents.

  635. If you could show us a title when we finish, Councillor Phillips.
  (Cllr Phillips) By all means.

Rachel Squire

  636. Can I just clarify. Does it just cover England and Wales?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) Yes.

  637. Does it also cover Scotland?
  (Mr Shuttleworth) England and Wales. The funding, I think, for emergency planning is through the Scottish Executive, I think, I am not quite certain. The document was produced by the Cabinet Office so I am certain the Cabinet Office will be able to give you the figures.
  (Cllr Phillips) They can show the actual reductions on the second list but I was only able to use the first list as an illustration of the fact that the budget has been reduced. Those figures, as Ian Shuttleworth said, were produced to us after our budget had been settled and the rate had been fixed. Therefore it is a cut which has got to be met during the financial year or left by the elected members and cut in some other departments such as education, social services or whatever it may be.

  Chairman: Mr Roy will read the next question to you but because time is running out could I ask the LGA to drop us a note in reply?

Mr Roy

  638. Gentlemen, on information and communications, do you believe that central government is prepared to share with you sensitive or classified information relating to possible incidents which your emergency plans are required to address?
  (Mr Kerry) The short answer is the experience is the Government does not share a great deal of sensitive information with local authorities on emergency management. We would argue that if we are to have proper partnership workings, develop properly integrated plans, there needs to be some movement on that.


  639. If the answer is going to be brief you can answer the next one as well.
  (Cllr Phillips) Could I just add to that in writing on a very important point.[1]

1  Ev. 124. Back

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