Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  Q80  Chairman: Good afternoon. We are not being televised. Would you like to introduce yourselves? There is no need for any opening statements. The submissions are fairly comprehensive and we have seen them.

  Ms Lowton: I am Alison Lowton. I am borough solicitor for the London Borough of Camden. I am not an emergency planning professional but I manage and am responsible for the emergency planning services in Camden.

  Mr Cunningham: I am Patrick Cunningham. I am the chief emergency planning officer for County Durham in Darlington.

  Mr Davies: I am Richard Davies. I am the principal emergency planning officer at Leeds City Council.

  Q81  Chairman: Can I open the proceedings by asking you whether you think the new legislation dealing with emergencies is necessary?

  Mr Cunningham: Without a doubt. The new legislation is absolutely imperative. I think it is true to say that everybody does their best as things stand at the moment but unfortunately national, regional and local responders are not geared up to deal with the types of emergencies which affect the modern world. We do not have the statutory authority; we do not have the necessary clarity of responsibilities; we do not have the guidance and we do not have the funding to be able to deal with emergencies in a satisfactory way, so new legislation is very much a step in the right direction.

  Mr Davies: I think Patrick has put the case very eloquently. We need to have this put into place as soon as possible. I think we are all aware that there are a number of things we would like to see changed. Certainly from our perspective in Leeds we would like to see some of the duties, which are quite well thought out for the most part, extended to regional and national government as well so that we do have  an over-arching, single framework for civil protection.

  Q82  Chairman: In that case, could you give an example of how and when the draft Bill, had it been enacted, could have helped you tackle an emergency?

  Mr Cunningham: I could give many examples but I will just stick with one. A few years ago in the north east we had 60-odd evacuees from Montserrat arriving in our part of the world. They did not have any possessions apart from the clothes that they stood up in. There was a great willingness locally to help these people but we were hampered by a lack of clarity about first of all whether or not this was an  emergency, about which central government department was going to take the lead in helping us to deal with the emergency. We were hampered by the inability of regional government to give us any help at all and it also took some considerable time, time that was valuable, for the local authorities and the other local agencies to be convinced that it was their place to be the ones to help. People wanted to help but they were unsure of their own authority. There was nothing which gave them the authority to help. They were unsure about whether or not they could commit funding. Statutory powers give people direction and focus and they do give people an authority. I think we could have dealt with that situation and others in a much better way if we had had a statutory duty.

  Mr Davies: I would agree wholeheartedly with that. It is really in the area-wide incidents where we would probably have a more telling difference. There are a number of cases. The fuel crisis and foot and mouth were another couple of instances where there was not sufficient clarity and the response was hampered. It was not as quick and effective as it might have been if clear duties had been set in place prior to that.

  Ms Lowton: That is right. I think it could also help at a more localised level. The two examples that I could give you for situations in Camden were in relation to two relatively small emergencies. One was a compromised building structure, where there was a disagreement between the contractor and the local authority about who should take responsibility and I do think that is an issue that we need to think about, about private contractors who are carrying out local authority type functions and their role in relation to emergencies. Another incident was when there was flooding in the northern part of the borough last year. It was nothing like the floods that got the national attention. There was inadequate information flow between Thames Water and the local authority. I am conscious that the water companies are category two responders in the proposed Bill and there might be issues there because we had a scrutiny investigation and there was clear confusion about who should have been taking responsibility for dealing with that issue, which was primarily not a local authority issue but a Thames Water issue.

  Q83  Earl of Shrewsbury: Do you believe that the draft Bill's definition of emergency is the correct one? Should it be drawn more narrowly or more widely or incorporate a level of scale?

  Mr Cunningham: I personally believe that is a very good definition. Perhaps the only thing that I would like to see added would be a reference to trigger points for certain types of emergency. For example, it would be useful to have a trigger point, first of all, for a local, serious threat and then a trigger point for a wide area emergency, a trigger for a major incident and also a trigger for the user of emergency powers. Perhaps that is something that could be better served by being in guidance rather than in the definition of the Bill. That would be my view.

  Mr Davies: I think trigger points are essential components within this. I would definitely like to see some sort of elucidation of what is implied by "a serious threat". That can mean many different things to different people. I am also concerned that there are the issues of stability and security brought within the definition. I think that is fine, but from an emergency planning perspective I would like to see that more closely tied to issues of human welfare so that we do not get drawn too far into the political sphere. That would be one concern I might have.

  Ms Lowton: I would agree that we need some triggers for different levels because different agencies will have different levels of responsibility, depending on the nature of the serious threat.

  Q84  Earl of Shrewsbury: Do you believe that there are sufficient checks and balances on the use of emergency powers in the draft Bill?

  Mr Davies: In some senses it is an awkward question for the likes of emergency planning officers to answer. Possibly there are people in a better position to judge this, but I think there are a lot of allusions in the consultation document to safeguards. I am not aware that the safeguards—"the triple lock" as they are termed—have been built into the legislation. If they are there, let us see them more explicit in the Act. I think that would be more of a personal view.

  Mr Cunningham: I must admit I felt a lot better after I read the Commons Defence Select Committee report which talked about the triple lock. That does give a level of assurance.

  Ms Lowton: I would concur.

  Q85  Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall: If there was a national emergency and you were rung up by the Secretary of State to say that he had issued regulations and you were immediately to hand over all your powers to a colonel who was coming out from the local Army base and, no, Parliament had not been informed and, no, the Queen had not been involved, would you be happy? If not, what sort of safeguards would you want in those circumstances?

  Mr Davies: I must admit this is an area that the Bill probably does not explore in too much detail. I would have grave concerns about being directed at a moment's notice to undertake certain activities. We consider it to be good practice to base our plans and  response arrangements on a proper hazard identification and risk assessment process. I think that is how the best plans and procedures fall out. There may be circumstances where something happens at a moment's notice which cannot be foreseen. I think it depends very much on the nature of that particular scenario, but we need some form of consultation and some safeguards to prevent us being put into an awkward situation.

  Mr Cunningham: From my point of view, in normal, every day life we do tend to run things in a very democratic way. Decisions are taken after a committee has had a chance to discuss them but sometimes in emergency situations you do just have to have somebody take the lead in making difficult decisions. We sometimes have not the time to have a big debate on some of the issues. I would not be too worried about it personally if someone from the military came in because the military have shown in the past that they are very good at dealing with these sorts of situations. We would have to support them.

  Ms Lowton: I think it goes back to what we were saying earlier about trigger points and criteria for triggering emergency powers. The reality is that whenever there is a situation that involves a terrorist threat or a bomb alert of any significant degree the military lead it in any event, regardless of what our plans might say.

  Q86  David Wright: Can I touch on the area of regulations? The statutory duty on local authorities includes a provision for central government to direct what contingencies they should plan for. Do you think that is preferable to the current system where you are basically making judgments yourselves about what you plan for?

  Mr Cunningham: My understanding is that local authorities will plan for contingencies that arise both from local risk assessments and also from direction by central government. I think there have been times in the recent past where we have cried out for some direction from central government. I am thinking particularly of the fuel shortage and the foot and mouth crisis. To my mind, the proposal is more preferable to the current system. I still think that the main part of it will probably come from local determination about risks but there is also a need for direction from central government.

  Mr Davies: I would go back to my previous answer, subject to the caveat that if government intervenes it has to demonstrate that it is necessary. There need to be appropriate checks and balances in place, but as my colleague said there are going to be occasions where central government's guidance is called for.

  Q87  David Wright: You feel the balance in the Bill is about right?

  Mr Davies: Again, for lay persons, it is very difficult sometimes to judge these things, particularly given the language that is used in drafting bills. I get the sense that the safeguards that were talked about as being implied in the legislation have not been built in as effectively as they might have been, but that could be a misinterpretation on my part.

  Ms Lowton: From our point of view, our preference generally speaking, in relation to most of the functions that we perform, is that we would rather have the local decisions made locally; in this instance about the sort of contingencies that we should plan for, but there obviously has to be some capacity for government to intervene and direct if it feels there are contingencies which have not been planned for. On balance, I think we would rather have guidance on the sort of contingencies that we should be planning for with the ability for government to intervene as and when it is necessary.

  Q88  David Wright: How far are local authorities able to comment on the government's draft emergency regulations at present? Should there be a legal requirement for the GLA and local authorities to be consulted on the regulations drafted under the draft Bill? Would an obligation to be consulted cause you any particular difficulties?

  Mr Cunningham: Unfortunately, we are not able to comment at all at the moment on the regulations as obviously we have yet to see them. I think we would very much like to be consulted as we do have some expertise in the area. I can see many more difficulties if we are not consulted.

  Mr Davies: I would agree with that. I think the regulations that would arise from consultation would be better for the consultation as well.

  Ms Lowton: I think that is absolutely right.

  Q89  David Cairns: Are the new duties required of local authorities in this measure appropriate and practical and how do they differ from what you already do?

  Mr Cunningham: First of all, they are certainly appropriate but unfortunately I do not think that they are practical, given current funding levels. More finance will have to be allocated to civil protection for all the work, in my view. Part of our current problem is that there is a severe lack of funds for civil protection. I would say it is a desperate lack of funds. I think there is a world of difference between what local authorities do now and what the Bill is asking them to do. The activities that are completely new are those of warning the public, promoting business continuity management in the community, taking action to prevent emergencies from occurring, participation in the new local resilience fora, participation in the initiatives arising from the new resilience fora, undertaking activities as directed by central government, as has just been mentioned, and also providing ongoing information to the public. I have deliberately separated out warning the public and providing information to the public because I think those two separate activities are often lumped together as if they do go hand in hand and I personally do not think they do. There are seven completely new activities in addition to the need, given the statutory duty, for all local authorities to enhance their current activities in five areas. I think those five areas are risk assessment, plan preparation, exercising and training, business continuity management and the implied duty in the Bill to respond to emergencies. Those last five are done to a greater or lesser degree by local authorities just depending upon which local authority is doing them. In addition to those I have already outlined, I think the Bill does place a new burden of responsibility on local authorities to perform the activities that they current do in such a way that they will stand up to the scrutiny of government, of the public and the law. Make no mistake about it: the Bill does mean a world of difference in the activities of local authorities.

  Mr Davies: I could not disagree with anything there. I would probably like to focus on a couple of particular aspects which possibly are not as appropriate as may be thought. I do not think anyone is going to quibble too much about issues such as risk assessment and so on, but they will pose new burdens. There are a couple of the duties though that I think a lot of people in local authorities are distinctly nervous about. "Prevention" is one word that jumps out very clearly from the text. In some senses, there appears to be an implication that many emergencies can be prevented. "Mitigation" has always been a word that has loomed large in emergency planning. We develop plans, we undertake exercises and training and so on with a view to mitigating what happens. The use of the phrase "horizon scanning" by government has muddied the waters a little here. It might be that possible disputes with trade unions can be foreseen and maybe there needs to be some sort of action undertaken there, but if we are talking about train crashes or weather related events, that is "the bread and butter of emergency planning", there is no way that we can foresee these things. So, we have to have plans and procedures in place to be able to address these when they come up. I think I would like to see more of a focus on the term "mitigation" than "prevention". I do not doubt that if we were to undertake more rigorous risk assessments we could pick up items that could give rise to emergencies that we have not picked up in the past. Then maybe we need to undertake some sort of preventative or mitigatory action. Again, that poses a whole new set of burdens which I really do not think the Bill even hints at, to be honest. Also, Patrick touched upon this conflation of informing and warning the public. Warning the public has never really been a role that the local authorities have led on. I do not know how the regulation will finally be drawn, but I would hope that perhaps the burden for that would fall on the police, as has been the case before, and other bodies that have a particular interest, industrial hazard sites and so on. I do believe though that we are light years behind many other countries in informing the public about what they can do to prepare themselves. I would like to see a greater focus not just on resilient infrastructure, but also on resilient communities. There is a lot that communities can do for themselves to prepare themselves for known hazards that are in their backyard. Sometimes they are just not aware that they are there. Local authorities, as community leaders, can bring together a lot of this information, put it out in the public domain and say, "This is what you could be doing to help yourselves." That diminishes perhaps the call on our resources when an incident actually kicks off. I am not sure this whole issue of community education has really been addressed here and I think there is a massive amount of investment that needs to go in here. That requires a lot more thought. I think central government should take the lead on this. It should provide a framework for us to drive out at each local level.

  Ms Lowton: I could not agree more with that last point about community education. From our point of view, the duties are appropriate. From the local authority perspective, they should enable us to be more proactive rather than reactive. I know we have the emergency planning function at the moment but in reality a lot of the way we approach emergency planning is essentially reactive. I think there is a lot that we could do on the mitigation point that this would assist us with doing. It is seen very much as a one-dimensional activity and a very constrained activity within a lot of local authorities and certainly my own. With a greater emphasis on preparatory and assessment functions, I think that should give us a broader perspective and raise the profile of both emergency planning and business continuity, in which to my mind the local authority is as important, if not more so. I think the other thing that the new duties should do is to assist in some consistency because one of the problems at the moment is that there is a huge difference in the way that local authorities approach emergency planning and therefore in the sort of service they are able to provide. Particularly in somewhere like London, where you are reliant on 33—I know there is the London Resilience Forum—London boroughs potentially picking up in a very serious incident, there is a huge need for consistency which I would hope the duties set out in this Bill will help. What is not clear to me—and it may become clear in the regulations—is whether each of the responders have different sets of duties, because it is clear that they do have different lots of responsibilities and different functions. For us all to have exactly the same duty does not seem to me necessarily to always be appropriate because we will respond in different ways. It is clear the local authority is not going to be able to be in the same position as the blue light services in terms of relating to emergencies, so I think there needs to be some consideration of whether there does need to be a differentiation. It may be that it goes back to the trigger levels that we talked about earlier, so that it is clear which agencies are engaged at what level.

  Q90  Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am sorry if I am going back a question but one of your answers to an earlier question set me wondering. I am not clear whether the regulations that you are talking about are intended to be put in place as soon as the statute is on the statute book, to deal with general duties, or whether most of them are intended to be put in place after the event which has given rise to the emergency and everybody is scampering around trying to sort things out. I have just looked at clause 21 which says that regulations may be made to make provision for controlling or mitigating a serious aspect or serious effect of the emergency specified in the proclamation or order. That is the power basically or the scope of the regulations. That seems to envisage, does it not, that the regulations will be made when there is already an emergency, when the event has happened? If that is so, all you have been saying about consultation may provide a problem.

  Mr Cunningham: I must admit that my understanding is different from your own but, from the part of the document you have read, out I would certainly have to agree with what you said.

  Ms Lowton: I think we are talking about two different lots of regulations here. We have been responding in relation to the general regulations to be produced under the Bill. The question was directed specifically at the emergency regulations under part two of the Bill and obviously that might present some consultation difficulties but if there was a way of consulting then obviously we would welcome it. We accept that in an emergency of course you cannot always do that.

  Q91  Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: You mentioned business continuity. As you know, there is quite a lot of concern in the private sector about the fact that on the whole not all but some big international companies have gone into business continuity planning, especially after 9/11. There is great concern that SMEs do not seem to really have thought this was necessary at all. It is interesting that you said you thought this was very much a local authority area. Would you like to see this spelt out a bit more?

  Ms Lowton: I think there are two issues. We use business continuity in the local authority context for the continuity of our own business. There is that business continuity and then there is the business continuity within the commercial sector. I think you are absolutely right. SMEs have not by and large done very much, if any, contingency planning for emergencies. I am not quite sure how else it could be picked up in the Bill other than the local authority providing advice, which I think is in there in any event.

  Mr Davies: I think it is a tremendously interesting and important part of our work. Leeds City Council piloted a forum for the private sector three years ago  and we have been running it ever since. Unfortunately, as with any forum, you can only have so many members of it to be effective. We have about 70 or 80 fairly substantial organisations. The criterion we use is that the company has to have a minimum of around 400 employees so we try and get to as many people that way as possible. Then there are also umbrella groups represented who can filter the message out. The amount of work that we have had to invest in this just to make this viable has been tremendous. You could employ one person full time in a city like Leeds on something like this. I do not think, again, this has necessarily been thought through in terms of its implications. It is not just a case of us going to these people and they act as passive recipients of information. They come back thinking and saying, "Your arrangements do not reflect what your message is. We want you to go away and come back with something else." One of the first things we became very clear about was that we were not getting messages through to the business sector to get them to react sensibly with regard to their own staff. Sometimes they were having to `second-guess' the police or the local authority. When they ring the police in the middle of an incident, the police would say, "We are in the middle of responding to this." You can understand why they diverted away from giving any response there, but we tried to some up with a system that could enable them to be kept informed and make sensible decisions during an incident. I think that has worked relatively well, but I can see a tremendous amount of work coming out of this. How you then go down to the smaller companies with 10 or 20 employees is a serious challenge.

  Q92  Kali Mountford: Richard, from your remarks about public awareness and community involvement, can I draw out quite how far, particularly in your position as local authorities working continually with communities, we can take public education and at what point do we have to differentiate between education and a warning so that we get the balance right between helping people prevent things happening to themselves and raising a level of fear that makes a community impossible to run anyway?

  Mr Davies: On the latter point, I think it is a very difficult thing to determine at what point the public get concerned about the message that you are putting out. To be honest, we are only starting to explore a lot of these things now. I think there are a number of practical things that can be done at a national level. For example, I was a little disappointed to see a business continuity promotion document produced by London Resilience or London First, totally based on London and not put out to the national community. That message was equally appropriate to Leeds, to Durham, to anywhere else in the UK, but London is seen as different. I do not see that at all personally and I hope that is something that is well received here. I think a local authority can, on the basis of the types of hazards that it has identified locally, put together literature that would explain to the community what sort of problems they might encounter and what they can do to deal with them. Some people think that you need to get to the community at the earliest stage possible. I had my attention drawn recently to an initiative that apparently is in place in a number of parts of the UK, that of "Crucial Crews", where you effectively get a roadshow which might comprise police officers, fire officers, the Environment Agency, all going round, drawing attention to these types of things and just offering sensible advice that may be inculcated in to children and passed on to the adults. All of these things need to be taken together. I do not think there is any one panacea for all the problems. Clearly, the local authority by itself cannot do everything. If we sit down, maybe through the LGA, and discuss with government who can do what most effectively I am sure we can come up with a sensible strategy. I do not think the public is as daft as we might think in some ways.

  Ms Lowton: The question raises the fact that emergency planning in that very broad sense links to community cohesion and that community resilience is a lot to do with community cohesion. For example after 11 September we put a lot of time and energy into putting in support for the Muslim community and reassuring them, giving them contacts in case there was a backlash on our local Muslim community. That is building a resilience and is also, in a sense, a form of emergency planning. There was a risk of a local emergency on that level. One of the advantages I would see of mainstreaming emergency planning in the way which this Bill does is to make it much more part of what we do as a whole on the community leadership role, rather than categorising it in a small area somewhere else.

  Q93  David Cairns: On mainstreaming in terms of activity, the Bill proposes mainstreaming the funding by abolishing the civil defence grant and mainstreaming it through the revenue support grant. I wondered how you felt about that. It is not an exact science but I was wondering if you could quantify the order of magnitude you are talking about for additional financial outlay for the additional responsibilities that you went through the list of earlier.

  Mr Cunningham: I can certainly try to quantify it for you. Personally, I do not think that the transfer of the funding for emergency planning into the revenue support grant would be a good thing. I think it will be difficult. What will happen is that the funding for civil protection will not be as transparent as it currently is. I think that emergency planning officers up and down the United Kingdom may have difficulty in getting the local politicians to put the right amount of funding into civil protection when they obviously have other priorities. If I may explain a little about how we are funded in County Durham and Darlington, that may help to answer the quantification part of the question. We have a central emergency planning unit which provides a service to the nine local authorities in County Durham and Darlington. We have a unitary authority, a shire county council and seven district councils. The unit is funded by a combination of the civil defence grant and also contributions from each of the nine authorities. The unit's budget is made up of £277,000 in grant and £178,000 in contributions from the authorities themselves, making a total of £455,000. The contribution that we get from the local authorities themselves is funds which they have diverted from other essential services because they have recognised that the civil defence grant as it stands at the moment is far too low for the central emergency planning unit to make any meaningful impression on the workloads that currently exist in emergency planning. I think those figures are just half of the story because as well as the funding of the central unit each of the authorities has costs which are hidden in other budget heads. That would include moneys for maintenance of emergency control centres, supplies of equipment and also the input into the planning process of expertise from other local government departments. I personally think that if the civil defence grant is to go, which it must if the Civil Defence Act is to go, there should still be a very specific, direct grant for civil protection, certainly for local authorities. I would suggest that if you looked at the picture nationally, if you more or less doubled the amount of the 19 million to the 38 million, spread nationally across the country, that would certainly be a good start. If you look at it from the Durham perspective, what I am talking about there is an extra £20,000 for each of the nine authorities, bringing our total to £635,000.

  Ms Lowton: In terms of whether or not there should be a specific grant, Camden has long campaigned to end specific grants, full stop, so I am hardly going to come to this Committee and say that it should be retained for civil defence. We do not believe that it   should be retained, contrary to Patrick Cunningham. We believe it would be more effective if not retained and in reality we get £75,000 as our civil defence grant, which is one post and maybe a few add-ons, but that is all it is. There are lots of hidden costs which we do not account for in terms of calling them emergency planning. A lot of the work that is done in the different departments which are their local emergency responses is part of the general management function, but if we are to take on the duties that are in the draft Bill we would struggle enormously on the level of funding that we currently receive. We have not done an assessment of how much it would cost, but we could not cover it with £75,000.

  Mr Davies: I have less concern about the loss of the civil defence grant and the money being placed within the revenue support grant. As long as there is some sort of transparency and the money is clearly there for civil protection purposes, that would be very helpful. I am, like my colleagues, concerned about the levels of funding. We are very fortunate in Leeds in that we have been very generously supported by the local authority itself. I do not think that is necessarily the norm. You may find that other local authorities in a similar position to us, in other metropolitan districts for example, might play this differently. It might be in their interests to keep a ring fence available. I would like to see a situation where central government pays for 100% of the emergency planning costs. Currently, our total budget for Leeds is around £290,000 and the authority has to put in £100,000 of that. That is down on what government used to put in. In 1999-2000, we were spending £181,000 and we got £35,000 from central government. This additional money has only come about because of the judicial review that was put in place a couple of years ago. As Alison pointed out as well, this does not include all the senior officer time, all of the exercises we run with other people, so the amount involved would be tremendous. If we took the new duties literally, I could see at least another £100,000 being required just to cover the officer cost alone. That does not even begin to touch upon the emergency resources, having an acceptable quality of a resource such as blankets, for example, beds and so on. There is a whole host of resources that we need to have. They could be possibly placed in certain circumstances at the regional or county level. I do not say that every local authority needs that, but a lot of the metropolitan districts also do not have dedicated control centres. This is something we are exploring at the moment and the figure that we have come back with is £350,000. I do not see any provision here for capital grants. To have an emergency planning service fit for the 21st century, the government is going to have to dig deep to fund these things. For a city like Leeds, which is the second biggest metropolitan district in the country, we would like to see also some consideration being given to its regional importance. It is not just a city in its own right. If you start losing the financial or legal sectors in Leeds, it affects the whole of Yorkshire and beyond. Again, this ties in I suppose with the whole London argument. There are resilience issues beyond London that need to be taken on board.

  Q94  Mr Jones: Having been a local councillor myself, emergency planning even when we have had events like 11 September is not very high on the radar screen, is it, of most local councillors? I am sure if you have the annual budget round and you are deciding between keeping nursery schools open or your local community centre and cutting back emergency planning, I can imagine there are not many people who will vote for emergency planning. Is not ring fencing it going to mean that money is going to get diverted and, in terms of the cooperation that works in Durham and Tyne and Wear quite well between different authorities, is it going to make it harder to make local authorities work together and, in terms of Durham and Tyne and Wear, get more effect for the money they have put in because they work together? Trying to get, for example, in Durham nine local authorities to each put in a separate amount of money to coordinate those budgets, if it is not ring fenced, will be very difficult.

  Mr Cunningham: That is certainly my fear and I think that is reflected by a great number of emergency planning officers throughout the country.

  Ms Lowton: If it is going to be subject to inspection and audit, the local authority is going to have to be carrying out the function. If it is going to be a duty, the local authority is going to have to be carrying out the function. A specific grant no more guarantees a good service than not having it. Our view is very much that we want that local flexibility. Any half-way decent authority would be providing a good emergency planning service because it must be in their interest.

  Q95  Kali Mountford: Do you think the list of category one and category two responders is as complete as it might be and, bearing in mind some of the comments you have already made about who should be taking the lead in certain situations, who overall do you think should be taking the lead for the coordination of planning for emergencies? Can you touch on who is missing first?

  Mr Davies: Yes. In some senses the list is very good, but there are some clear omissions which I think were slightly unintentional. Something as big as the NHS was an oversight. I am quite concerned that all of the new agencies that have been created in the NHS restructuring are covered by category one, whether they be primary care trusts, whether they be the Health Protection Agency, which has a big role in the national response, whether it be the hospital trusts. They obviously have their plans as normal. The strategic health authorities that I was led to believe were just going to be performance management agencies, all of a sudden have a great interest in emergency planning, so I would argue that they should be brought under category one as well. Probably the biggest concern I had related to the utilities sector. There was a rather interesting comment in the consultation document which suggested that utilities had been consigned to category two because this reflects the importance that these organisations have in terms of potentially being the cause of an emergency situation and in aiding response and recovery. I think the blackout in London rather undercut that. I do not buy it at all. There have been a number of quite serious emergency incidents, particularly winter storms, where we have had the power to large numbers of people knocked out in specific areas, whether in the Midlands or in East Anglia, and those people probably would take a very dim view of some of the comments here. I think they would like to see the utilities forced to undertake risk assessment, to have business continuity plans, to have emergency plans. We appreciate that some of these agencies are spread very thinly. Yorkshire Electricity, for example, covers a much wider area than Leeds and West Yorkshire, but you do not have to have them attending every local resilience forum meeting. I think the framework could be created in a flexible manner such that they could come along to one in every four meetings. Certainly that is how we operate already within West Yorkshire. I was also quite concerned that some of the key transport companies were not brought into the framework. Rail freight companies were studiously ignored. If you think about some of the hazardous materials that they carry, I think they need to be brought under the aegis of the Bill. There were one or two other organisations, various regulators like the Coal Authority, which in parts of the north are very important, and we would like to see them involved. I suppose the key one is going to be central and regional government. We would really like to see those brought in to make sure we did have a seamless, top to bottom structure.

  Q96  Kali Mountford: You have not really touched on who should take the lead role. In some of your answers you started to talk about who takes the lead in a certain circumstance or for a certain event, but if we are looking at the planning contingencies overall do you think somebody should have that specific role permanently and, if so, who?

  Mr Cunningham: From my point of view, I think it should be the local authority that would take the planning role overall but in terms of a response, as you quite rightly say, it would depend upon the nature of the emergency.

  Q97  Kali Mountford: Do you think the statutory requirements placed on the local level ought to be extended to regional and then central government as well?

  Mr Davies: We are saying the same duties apply. In terms of the local authority, I would really like to see the community leadership thing spelt out more clearly in terms of bringing together agencies in the planning phase. More often than not the police are clearly going to be in the lead with the response. We know as a local authority that once the overall response is over and we are into the recovery phase local authorities will again pick it up, but I do not think enough work has been done on how people are brought together. Good practice, certainly in recent years, has been that the local authority has convened the players and brought together the various elements. It has worked very well for us. I do not see why that cannot be rolled out as best practice elsewhere.

  Q98  Kali Mountford: I would quite like to learn from the experience of local authorities who have become very good at partnership arrangements in all sorts of areas of social policy. What could we learn for the purposes of this Bill, if we are going to take on board bringing together some regional tier and central government tier organisations that have their own ethos and cultures? From your experience of organising new partnerships in local authorities, what could we do in this Bill to make sure that bringing people together in that way could be successful without too many enmities between fiefdoms?

  Mr Cunningham: I think there is a natural culture unfortunately between central government departments that there is a lack of willingness to share information. There have been occasions in the past when central government departments, rather than go to other government departments for help and assistance during an emergency, try to deal with it under their own resources because they do not like to feel as if their department looks bad compared to other departments. I personally think that Defra just happened to be unlucky during foot and mouth and during the fuel shortage. It could just as easily have been the Department of Trade and Industry that was embarrassed if that had gone on for much longer. I think local authorities do have the ability to get organisations around the table, to get them to share information and to get them to agree courses of action. That would be great if it could happen between central government departments and between central government departments and local authorities. For example, I was made aware yesterday that there are some new national emergency plans in existence, but I did not know about it until yesterday and I only found out about it by chance. Apparently, there is a new national foot and mouth plan in existence. When I queried why I had not seen it, I was told, "It is on the Defra website." That is fine but I should not have to go looking for it because obviously we have procedures in County Durham and Darlington to do with foot and mouth and we want to make sure that they gel with the central government department ones. There is an educational and perhaps a culture change issue for central government departments which possibly local authorities would be able to help with. We would be more than happy to try.

  Ms Lowton: I wanted to go back to thinking about it as a local level partnership. One of the things we have learned is that we have too many local partnerships at the moment. Local authorities have lots of requirements to enter into partnerships for a whole range of things. By and large, the same people come to the different partnership meetings. We cannot plan for an emergency at a local level within our separate agencies. We have to plan for it with all the other agencies, obviously. We would be reluctant to see the Bill placing a duty on us to set up yet another partnership with agencies with whom we already work very well. For example, we currently have a crime and disorder or community safety partnership which this could sit with, or the local strategic partnership which it could also sit with. In considering how we could have the partnership arrangements that are necessary in emergency planning terms, it would be more helpful if local authorities could be a bit more imaginative or central government could be more imaginative about using existing arrangements rather than creating a new one, because it will be many of the same usual suspects turning up to a different meeting in the same place on a different day. I wanted also to go back to the list of responders, if I could, and also who should take the lead. I think the list is very comprehensive but consideration should also be given to the Food Standards Agency in some particular emergencies, and also if emergencies are to extend to potential civil disruption, which of course they may do, some consideration needs to be given to the role of the courts system in any immediate response. I would like to stress again the point about utilities and transport. Certainly in the local flooding we had where the flooding was caused by the inadequacies of the gullies to take the rain water—and obviously that was not exactly a fault because they were not designed to take that level of flooding—the primary responsibility for resolving it and, in fact, for dealing with the immediate emergency was Thames Water. However, the local authority had to take the lead in terms of evacuating people and that sort of assistance but could not get access to the infrastructure to try and resolve the problem.

  Q99  Mr Allan: I wanted to focus in on this issue of risk assessment which has come up a few times, which is one of the new duties the Bill proposes will fall on category 1 responders. To what extent do you feel category 1 responders are able to carry out risk assessment as the Bill proposes?

  Mr Davies: I suppose you can look at risk assessment in a number of ways. Firstly, there is the risk assessment in terms of looking at what is out there, identifying hazards and then making, hopefully, an informed decision on what sort of things you need to plan for, and each organisation could undertake usefully this particular responsibility. Obviously each organisation is also going to have to look at the risks of there being a deployment from their organisation to a particular response from a health and safety point of view. I suppose the thing that I feel most strongly about is the role of the local authority in drawing all of this information together so they can be a conduit to the community in terms of letting them know what are the primary risks out there and also letting them know we are planning for these potential scenarios so they can have some degree of confidence in our capabilities. Again this cuts back very neatly to this idea of community leadership. I do not think it would be sensible for the police to take a view on all of these things and then do that in isolation from the Fire Service, the Environment Agency and so on and so on. Certainly again this is something we have done in Leeds and we co-operate very well with our partner agencies and hopefully draw together a fairly holistic picture of what could happen and how we work together to respond to these sort of things. I think there are some good things coming out there, but local authorities need to be given this responsibility clearly in the same way that they will get potentially the duty to promote business continuity. It is exactly the same sort of responsibility.

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