Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700 - 719)



  700. There is nobody really in the system at your level that is trusted enough to be exposed to the information on the basis they would not tell an enemy? That is clearly a weakness.
  (Mr Hoult) It is an operational difficulty, it is a working difficulty that we are faced with on a regular basis, yes. It would be of benefit if some of us could get security clearance. Certainly at the meeting I attend with Mr Clark it would put me in a better position than the one I am faced with currently.

  Mr Crausby: But is it trust or is it a question of who you are accountable to? It would change your relationship clearly, would it not?

Rachel Squire

  701. Can I add to that. It sounds to me that what you are effectively saying is the officials can be trusted but the politicians cannot.
  (Mr Hoult) Certainly not.

  702. That seems to be the conclusion of those who do not want to give you documents that you might them be required to hand over to a politician.
  (Mr Hoult) Whether those are their thoughts or not I could not possibly comment.


  703. We have a similar problem with the Ministry of Defence so it is not unique.
  (Mr Hoult) I am a public servant and, quite rightly, any of the elected members of my authority can ask to see any document which I hold and have in my possession.

Syd Rapson

  704. You have a fiduciary duty?
  (Mr Hoult) I am not familiar with that.

  705. I was a councillor for 29 years in Portsmouth and a Hampshire county councillor as well and that has been used to stop me getting information, certain information at certain levels which is not required to be passed on to mere elected councillors. I can understand that. Councillors are not security cleared but in some respects when you get appointed to high office in local government then there is a certain clearance and security, I can understand that. We have discovered a blank link there which is not easing things. There should be some trust especially after the events of 11 September.
  (Mr Hoult) Absolutely, yes.

Rachel Squire

  706. I think what we are trying to say is do not take it personally.
  (Mr Hoult) No, we are not.

  707. Can I just ask you, you heard the earlier response from the Local Government Association when they were asked about their experience of the usefulness of the Emergency Communications Network and the business with personal radio networks and so on. Can I ask you whether your experience of it has been any more positive?
  (Mr Cunningham) I thought the LGA were very polite about this.
  (Mr Hoult) In fact, let me quote my colleague here at a presentation that Patrick made a couple of weeks ago to an audience looking at a national framework for emergency planning. Patrick said "There have been a number of reviews of the ECN, none of which we ever hear the results of". Patrick has reviewed it and the result of his review is that it is totally crap.
  (Mr Cunningham) I am sure I did not say that.

  Rachel Squire: Thank you for your direct answer.


  708. Just a few concluding questions. Is it essential in your profession that you have to acquire certain qualifications and what are those qualifications?
  (Mr Hoult) It is not essential at all, no. Different organisations have different recruitment policies for emergency planning officers. It was historically the case in the days when it was civil defence war planning the majority of people doing the job were emergency or ex-military services and that has now completely changed. The Emergency Planning Society has been working recently very closely with a number of educational establishments, most notably Coventry University, and we have now put together with that establishment an emergency planning qualification which the Emergency Planning Society are sponsoring and recommending to employers that people they take on have undertaken some period of study, preferably this one. We cannot force that upon employers, we cannot make employers do that.

  709. I know there are good courses in Hertfordshire, the Scarman Centre. Should it be compulsory? If not, should it be made retrospective? Is it deable, feasible, that people who enter your profession should prove at some stage that they have the requisite qualifications in order to undertake the onerous tasks, which are becoming more onerous?
  (Mr Hoult) Absolutely, and this is very much the case that we would like to get to. What we would like is the profession to receive Institute status. For example, to become an environmental health officer with a local authority you have to be a member of the Institute of Environmental Health and that is where we would like to get to and then we can put people through continuous professional development courses and ensure that they receive regular updates and regular training to enable them to have the skills to be able to do the job.

  710. Is there a reasonable career structure in your profession?
  (Mr Hoult) There is no career structure whatsoever. There used to be but that is one of the things that has been stripped away. With the advent of metropolitan boroughs undertaking emergency planning and unitary authorities, most of those types of local authorities employ one person, so there is nowhere within their authority that they can move on to. Within county teams, which are larger because they look after the districts within their area, there is a certain element but not a great deal.

  711. Are there any guidelines laid down for the physical environment in which an emergency planning team would operate during an emergency?
  (Mr Hoult) No.

  712. Nothing?
  (Mr Hoult) No.

  713. What if there was a serious threat, let us say chemical or nuclear, obviously you would not have hardened facilities but nobody lays down that the telephones must be secured or there must be enough room for people to operate?
  (Mr Hoult) No. There used to be a requirement for every local authority in civil defence terms to have an emergency centre from which you would operate. The Home Office Emergency Planning Division removed the requirement to have that in 1994 or thereabouts. No. In those days when there was a requirement to have that you had all those facilities within that place.

  714. It seems to an outsider that is absolutely appalling. Is it as bad as it appears to me? Here you have a crisis which might be more serious than even foot and mouth, a serious terrorist attack, and nobody lays down that the room must be able to be protected, the doors must be of a certain strength, the telephones have to be secured, there must be enough telephones, there has to be a supply of water and tea making facilities, computers operating, communications to all and sundry, nobody insists on this.
  (Mr Cunningham) Nobody insists on that but I do have to say that a lot of local authorities have ignored what they have been told by the Home Office Emergency Planning Division and they have kept their emergency centres and they are paying for them.
  (Mr Hoult) We fund them ourselves.
  (Mr Cunningham) It is one of the things that local authorities fund themselves because they know that the Home Office will not fund them. Nobody actually insists now that you have to have them. That is one of the ways that my own authority could save money by just not having that room available. There would be no come back to the authority if we got rid of the room because we have more or less been told by central government that there is no requirement for these rooms. It was ironic in that the one piece of guidance we have had from central government to do with CBRN had actually talked in their document about local authorities not having one emergency centre but two. It was a little bit of an about turn and again it talks about having two emergency centres but no funding to fund them.

  715. This may be a silly question but what would happen if there was a chemical attack and your whatever planning centre was operational but was no longer capable of being used and the staff were no longer capable of undertaking their task? This is feasible. What are the arrangements then? Is the nearest local authority adjacent designated or do you have some alternative site in which those left could go to?
  (Mr Hoult) There is no statutory requirement to have those sort of arrangements in place. Those of us obviously who take the role seriously then we have those ad hoc arrangements with our neighbours to have that in place. The majority of us have business continuity plans as well which enable us to continue our business if the place we normally work from or the staff that normally perform the role are not available to do that.

  716. I will not ask you because I am being paranoid but from where I am sitting things look pretty dreadful. Things cannot be as bad as they might appear to be. Please assure me.
  (Mr Hoult) I would not want anybody to leave this room with the wrong impression. An awful lot of good work is done out there by an awful lot of people, very, very committed to the process of ensuring that this country is prepared to meet the challenges of any major emergency it may face. An awful lot of work. I have a team of nine people in Hampshire and we work very, very hard at ensuring that whatever is thrown at us we are able to meet. The majority of my colleagues around the country are in exactly the same position.

  717. It could be so much better?
  (Mr Hoult) It could.

  718. It should be?
  (Mr Hoult) It could. If we only had the resources, the money, the funding, the adequate funding to do the job properly then we could have a wonderful system. You asked the LGA if the current arrangements provided a basis from which to start. In terms of providing a platform on which we can start to build, yes, we have that in place but we need an awful lot of money, we need an awful lot of other resources to start that building process to build up.

  719. Thank you all very much. It has been very, very helpful. If there is anything further you would like to send to us, documents you think we ought to be looking at pointing out the strengths and the weaknesses we would be grateful to receive them. Thank you.
  (Mr Hoult) We will do. Thank you.

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