Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from the South East Regional Resilience Forum

  The members of the South East Regional Resilience Forum strongly welcome the Government's intention to update the national capability for dealing with disasters. They believe that the proposed Bill as currently drafted, along with appropriate detailed regulations, provides an excellent model in almost all areas. Those individual regulations will need to be compiled in close co-operation with the relevant practitioners at all levels. Meanwhile, we offer the following observations on the enabling bill.


  It is not clear why certain Health agencies are not included in Category 1. Whilst it might not be appropriate for the Department itself to be listed, some of its elements are very clearly immediate responders and should be listed. Also, the MCA in the form of the Coastguard SAR and other elements are essential first responders and should be listed accordingly. Their participation is covered in the Consultation Document but the text of the Draft Bill is imprecise. You might also consider the need to identify from the start organisations such as RADSAFE, CHEMSAFE and NAIR in Category 2. And whilst MOD Regular Forces could not be listed, the new reserve forces' Civil Contingencies Reaction Forces have been created specifically and solely to deal with such tasks and could be included in Category 2. Further, whilst Government Departments have formerly enjoyed Crown Immunity, the withdrawal of that status now raises the question of whether it would be appropriate for national legislation to impose duties on them too, as an integral part of a seamless operation.


  It will not be possible to say whether proposed funding levels and mechanisms are adequate until the full extent of duties and responsibilities have been clearly defined at all levels. The Regulatory and Financial Impact on all agencies should be examined more closely than was possible in the earlier discussion processes. In particular, a more comprehensive survey would help to establish realistic costings for the National Resilience model as envisaged by the draft Bill, and a properly informed debate could then take place about where those costs should fall. The recent survey by the LGA might form a useful starting point.


  As well as being a subject of the audit process, it will be important for the Regional Offices to be involved in audits across the regions. Also, if central government departments no longer enjoy Crown Immunity, it would seem on the surface that there is no reason to exclude them from the audit process. We are not sure of the constitutional position here and would welcome clarification. Further, the seamless, multi-layered, all agency response to major incidents will make it difficult to carry out single-agency audits of performance, unless some mechanism can be devised to take account of the interdependencies involved. Ideally, we should try to audit the spectrum, not elements in isolation.


  The roles and procedures of the new regional structures (the Regional Resilience Unit, the Regional Resilience Forum, the Regional Civil Contingencies Committee and the Regional Nominated Co-ordinator) will need to be clearly articulated in a national doctrine statement so that everyone involved can identify their place in the order of events and, often more importantly, the limits of their duties. To be fully effective, these regional components will need to be appropriately trained, equipped and exercised, and the financial significance of this task must be recognised and met. All tiers of the response process should see their responsibility and accountability clearly set out in appropriate legislation.


  As with the regional structures, the centre will only be strong and effective if appropriately trained and audited. Such training and exercising should include involvement with the regional and local organisations, and the requirement for this would need to be specified in regulations.


  Local and regional planning and response arrangements can be made more difficult by a lack of coterminosity in the boundaries of responding forces. Government Departments and Agencies should be required to consider this aspect in any review of their geographic structures.


  The relationships between County and District authorities are complex, and there is a minimum critical mass aspect in dealing with crises. Does Category 1 listing for Districts imply a duty to both plan and respond, and how does this sit with statements at Chapter 3, Paragraph 10 of the Consultation document? Districts are often in the front line of response; they prepare their own plans and carry out their own training as well as with partners, and often their resources are committed first.


  The Army has reported concerns to the RRF that it should be given additional powers to support the police in any public order element of crisis management. Amongst other members there is also some uncertainty about the need for Ministerial assumption of the Royal Prerogative. It is not clear in what circumstances any proclamation might be delayed by lack of timely communication. Again, we are not sufficiently aware of the constitutional processes that could create such a situation, and would welcome further guidance.


  Members are concerned at a lack of precision in texts relating to Hazard Assessment/Risk Assessment. These are believed to be quite separate tasks, with Risk Assessment in particular being a closely defined and specified activity conducted by, amongst others, the Fire Services, the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency etc. It is not always clear whether the draft refers to this type of specific task or to the more general process of hazard identification which is linked to the Horizon Scanning activity as currently practised by CCS.


  It will be important to specify clearly which agencies have lead responsibility for the co-ordination of activity at the sub-regional level, and whether this responsibility should change as the action moves from planning through response to restoration. Since the local planning activity is likely to be co-ordinated through the Local Resilience Forum and the response phase is likely to be led by the Gold Co-ordinating Group, and since both these bodies are likely to be led by the police, it might be thought appropriate to specify them in the Bill, allowing local choice about lead of the restoration process depending on the nature of the incident. Alternatively, this whole process could be left entirely to local agreement, although this is unlikely to ensure an appropriate degree of consistency.


  The South East RRF recognises the need for special arrangements for London, but is anxious to see that London has a specific duty to consult and co-operate with its hinterland counties and unitaries. A catastrophic London event will affect many of its immediate neighbours and they need to be fully integrated into any London planning and response process.

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Prepared 28 November 2003