Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100
WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002
1100. There would have to be a translation.
Sorry to reduce that very sensible reply to a much lower level.
Perhaps you could help us by sending us some of the literature
on the argument on regionalisation. I do not have a problem in
the West Midlands. Would that be the level of regionalisation
or would the region of the West Midlands have to incorporate Staffordshire,
for example? The logic of decision making at a higher level seems
to me so overwhelming I am surprised.
(Mr Bull) In our previous life in the Home Office
there was a document produced some four or five years ago called
which actually produced some regional models for discussion and
consideration, one of which was based around the Government Office
boundaries which seemed eminently sensible at the time. Largely
at that time the boundaries between the blue light services were
also a little bit more coterminous than they are now. As we have
moved through the last five years, those boundaries between emergency
services have fragmented quite a bit now, particularly with the
changes in ambulance service, trusts and things of that nature
which have become larger. So the boundaries are no longer coterminous.
My personal opinion is if we went for a regional model, I think
we would end up with different geographical models to suit different
parts of the country because we will have different fire services.
The fire service in Devon is different from the fire service in
London which is different from the fire service in Newcastle in
geographical spread alone without any of the other economic facts
taken into account.
1101. If you would not mind sending us the literature
it would be very helpful.
(Mr Bull) Yes.
1102. Some brief questions and beg your opinion
and I will ask you to be succinct if I may. What is your view
of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat record? I probably know
what you are going to say but do you think it has improved since
(Mr Bull) First of all, I think it has improved since
11 September. The reason I say that is because we are now an inclusive
stakeholder and player in that game, if you like, putting it that
way. Originally when CCS was conceived the fire service was not
included in the CC committee. We made strong representations to
our ministers and thankfully we are included now. We are a major
player, major stakeholder in the work that is going on. I understand
now there are some 18 sub-committees under CCS which is up and
running. We are represented on the majority of those committees.
The difficulty we have from a Fire Service point of view is being
able to resource all of those committees, both from a national
DTLR fire policy unit perspective and local authorities. If you
just take the work that is going on at the moment that is associated
under the Fire Inspectorate on a new dimension, we have got some
100 fire officers nationally working on those aspects which authorities
have released voluntarily to work on national projects because
obviously there is a mutual benefit there. That again then puts
strain on those local authorities to enable them to continue to
do their day to day work. My answer is yes, it has improved in
my view. Perhaps one of my concerns would be openly to say that
perhaps in some ways you do get the impression that the impetus
and the pace of the work has slowed a little.
1103. What is the effect of responsibility being
transferred from the Home Office to the DTLR?
(Mr Bull) I think from a Fire Service
point of view it has given us a re-birth, a greater opportunity.
It has put us into a department where we are now alongside our
local government colleagues so there is a greater understanding
of the Fire Service in terms of local government and how it fits,
how it operates and how we work in preference to when we were
in the Home Office. I have to say that when we were in the Home
Office as a Fire Service I think we were a little bit of a poor
relation underneath the police, prison, immigration and the services
which went along with that. Obviously we are an essential emergency
service but we are only 3 per cent of local government spending
in totality. In terms of that we are not a huge local government
resource that is going to make a difference in terms of any of
the party's manifestos or things of that nature. We are not a
political animal, if I can speak very candidly in that way.
1104. Nor should you be.
(Mr Bull) Also moving into DTLR, it is obviously a
much bigger department with much more resources. Initial impressions
are it is much more dynamic in dealing with issues. Also, the
opportunities there for working alongside Health and Safety, building
regulations, neighbourhood renewal, social inclusion, housing,
transport, all of those things now provide wider opportunities
as the United Kingdom Fire Service now develops because we are
developing to provide more community services with the operational
safety net being recorded as a failure now. Attending a fire is
a failure, we should have stopped that fire occurring in the first
place. We have a responsibility to reduce fire deaths, fire related
injuries, things of that nature, which build into the wider community
safety agenda. My impression is a very positive one. Where we
are lacking, however, is in the Home Office, now DTLR, ministers
were working up a vision and primary outcomes for the United Kingdom
Fire Service on which we would build our future and that work
has been going on for some two or three years now. I understand
that it is about to be published but obviously it now needs to
include the wider dimension of the events of 11 September and
how that is integrated into the future work of the Fire Service.
1105. Are you getting enough information from
(Mr Bull) Yes, I think we are. We have excellent liaison
arrangements with all of the stakeholders now and because we are
representing professional fire officers we have regular meetings
with the Local Government Association, for example, with fire
policy in DTLR, with the Inspectorate, we are represented on all
of the various committees now, the Fire Brigade's Advisory Council,
all of those various sub-groups. We are very closely involved
in policy development. We do get a lot of information. The only
concern I would raise is in terms of what we are actually basing
our risk assessments upon now. You hear a lot of people talking
about catastrophic events but I do not think the Fire Service
is fully in the intelligence loop to actually understand what
is being defined now as a catastrophic event. In some ways we
are weighing our risk assessments and our risk footprints and
the resources and things required to underpin that against something
of an unknown quantity which perhaps the Cabinet Office, CCS,
other people are more involved in and understand that definition.
1106. As London is a bit closer to the seat
of the action, have you had more information on intelligence?
(Mr Dobson) We have very good links with the Anti-Terrorist
Branch at New Scotland Yard and with the Metropolitan Police generally.
We also represent CACFOA on many of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat
committee structures within that. On a day to day basis we have
very good intelligence links with the Anti-Terrorist Branch and
we do get information in relation to the potential for specific
threats against London but on a very day to day, short term basis
rather than a longer type planning scenario.
1107. And have communications reached as far
(Mr Young) Yes. I think it applies all over the UK
that there are good relationships between fire brigades and principal
fire officers and their colleagues in the police particularly.
I think that 11 September, if anything, has really spurred on
the development of those communication links.
1108. It is high intelligence, I suppose, you
are talking about.
(Mr Young) Yes.
1109. What can they tell you, and if they tell
you maybe you can tell us as to what is their, thinking about
the kind of attacks that might take place? Is it at a level above
which we have no real comprehension and maybe no real ability
at this stage to deal with it? What would have happened if you
had been in New York and you had to deal with an attack of which
I am sure nobody had the slightest idea of the magnitude of that
catastrophe? Is that the kind of intelligence, taking you into
their confidence about much of their thinking as to what are the
different scenarios, whether they can fit in your thinking and
planning to meet the top levels of that potential threat?
(Mr Bull) That is exactly the case, I could not have
put it better myself.
Chairman: Perhaps we will put it better. I must
say with your defence of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat they
may be writing to you shortly inviting you to go along as head
of public relations. I think they need a little bit of help. I
think you can start packing your suitcase already.
1110. I think it goes without saying that since
11 September it has brought home to many of us in this country
how much we owe the Fire Service. We take it for granted, not
least with the IRA attacks that have happened, often you, the
police and the ambulance crews are the first in and in New York,
unfortunately, a lot of people lost their lives in the subsequent
collapse of buildings. We are interested in knowing just how much
you know before you go into an event. The Chief and Assistant
Chief Fire Officers Association memorandum states that all chief
fire officers and other principal fire officers are security cleared
to the appropriate level. Now that is vague enough for me to know
that you need to know you have the information. Other local authority
representatives have told us that they cannot actually have security
clearance to that sort of level because under the arrangements
in local government the chief executive or elected members of
the authority can insist upon knowing what they know. I think
there is a protection somewhere, which I have mentioned at a previous
meeting, about fiduciary duty. How do the shire county fire services
avoid this conflict of being able to have security information
at a higher level of a potential risk for terrorism in particular
yet at the same time avoid releasing that information to elected
members and chief executives who have the right to know what you
(Mr Bull) It is not an easy issue, first of all, and
I think it is a matter of understanding between the people concerned.
I think it is a matter of confidence as well between local authority
members, officers, chief executives or whatever, they have confidence
in each other's ability to make a judgment about what is releasable
in terms of the planning assumptions in order to make sure that
all of the integrated emergency planning and risk assessment which
underpins that, everybody understands the overall picture. For
example, fire officers before 11 September were not universally
security cleared. Indeed, at the moment we have two principal
officers in each fire authority security cleared, simply and utterly
to undertake CBRN training at Winterbourne Gunner, that was the
crux of the thing, and to be able to share some of the risk assessments
which are now coming out of the work of the CCS and the sub-committees,
that was the simple reason. We ensured that it was built into
those arrangements. I will ask Paul just to deal with the shire
(Mr Young) Yes. There are sensitivities about that.
If I can give you a very local example. In my own case I had a
dialogue with my own fire authority, particularly my chairman,
when it was made clear that I and other colleagues would be security
cleared. There may well be issues that members may want to ask
questions on which would put me in a difficult position in terms
of responding when it may be something that I actually cannot
divulge. I think, as Richard has said, we have relied a great
deal on trying to ensure that there is a mutual understanding
about our respective positions. We have managed to get along on
that basis. It is a difficulty and there are sensitivities there.
I think the political position of the members and the professional
position of the officers is one where we have tried to develop
a mutual understanding about where we are and to do our best to
try and avoid putting each other in difficult positions. It is
not a terribly satisfactory way forward but it seems about the
only thing we can do.
1111. You might have found from the earlier
session we had there is a different perception about what can
and cannot be said.
(Mr Young) Yes.
1112. Did they understand your arguments?
(Mr Young) Yes. Frankly, I think in practice what
happens is that members avoid issues which they think might be
difficult for me, even though they might wish to explore them
really. I think that is the position.
1113. Very often Government uses this as a means
of avoiding answering questions.
(Mr Young) Yes.
1114. It is quite difficult to make that judgment
as to whether they are being excessively secretive or genuinely
holding back information.
(Mr Young) Clearly I would not do that.
1115. Of course not.
(Mr Bull) I think it is part of an education process
as well which we have gone through in explaining to our people
what the various levels actually mean and what the classifications
are, and that is quite important as well. Ron had some experiences
which I will ask him in a minute to go through in London which
are quite interesting.
(Mr Dobson) I think the basis of the work we have
been doing in London with the Metropolitan Police in particular
has been on the basis of need to know and trusted friend basis
whereby some of the information which has been available we have
needed to know from the Fire Service perspective firstly in order
to make sure that we can plan effectively for our response and
also in order to play our full part in the multi-agency planning
and work that takes place generally. Yes, there have been some
sensitivities and there continue to be some sensitivities amongst
some people but I think generally people need to recognise as
well that the owner of the information has to be trusted to make
a decision about what can and cannot be passed. Generally speaking
we have managed to reach very amicable agreements around that.
1116. Is there an indication that they are talking
to London more openly than to Devon because the threat assessment
would include London much higher up the list than some of the
(Mr Dobson) Certainly I would say there is very open
sharing of information between emergency services in London but
I think there is more information to share in London. I have nothing
to indicate that would not be the case if it was outside of London
(Mr Bull) From a major city point of view, if you
look at the liaison and the regular meetings which take place
in those larger conurbations, if I can put it that way, I think
you would find they are more frequent in the major cities than
they would be in the more urbanised areas, I think that is a fact.
1117. Do you face the dilemma in London if they
are prepared to talk to you in that direction, do you find yourself
under an obligation to communicate that information to your professional
colleagues in other parts? This might be a delicate question to
answer. In a way that overcomes imperfectly the communication
(Mr Dobson) It has not really caused a problem because
we are very careful in London that whilst we have been party to
information which other services have not been party to, really
because of our location, we have always made it clear to the source
of the information that we are representing, also, a national
Fire Service as well and we need to make that information more
widely available. We have done that from a range of means through
our professional association.
1118. The CCS consultation on the emergency
planning review indicated a large majority in favour of a new
partnership duty. Do you support new legislation to create an
emergency planning duty of partnership?
(Mr Bull) I think there are two things there. First
of all, the emergency planning review started off some months
ago, as you are aware, and sits here. Civil contingencies in 11
September work sits here. One of our greatest concerns is that
those two pieces of work have to be brought together with some
urgency and we have been asking for that for a number of months
now because they are not sitting in isolation, we want an integrated
way forward in planning for these events of the future. In terms
of the sort of community leadership and partnership, from a Fire
Service point of view, again when the emergency planning review
was commenced, the Fire Service were excluded from the review
and we had to make some very strong recommendations to get included,
and we were included in part of the steering group. We did provide
a very detailed document on our comments regarding the consultation
document and where it should go in future. My view is that all
of the partners at the local authority level, which includes the
Fire Service, should be statutory partners of the new emergency
planning integrated response. The Fire Service should not be taken
over in emergency planning, it should be an equal player with
equal status within that future planning scenario and consultation.
I think the Fire Service is the only service really which plans
on a day to day basis for high level emergency incidents, responds
on a daily basis and actually delivers the goods in those particular
scenarios. The wealth of experience we have got, it would be very
wrong to ignore that in the emergency planning assumptions of
1119. What about leadership? Should the local
authorities be given the community leadership role?
(Mr Bull) Yes, I think they should provided everybody
else has a statutory role to play there. For example, if you take
the aspect of risk assessment, within the review it was indicated
that local authorities should take the lead role for risk assessment,
from our service point of view I do not think that is entirely
right. The experience for risk assessment in the emergency scenario
lies with the police and the fire. We have people who are employed
to do those things who are expert and qualified in those particular
fields who can contribute to the overall system. It is important
that it is inclusive and not exclusive and the word is, as you
have said, Sir, partnership.
5 Received by the Committee, not printed. Back