Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS)

  WRVS is one of the UK's largest voluntary organisations with over 95,000 volunteers in every part of the country. WRVS seeks to help people maintain independence and dignity in their homes and communities, particularly in later life.

  WRVS is currently the leading voluntary sector provider of assistance to emergency services during disasters and other major incidents. We believe the decisions that will be made as a result of this consultation process are vital to us continuing to provide this level of service.

  I hope you find our comments useful and would urge you to contact me should you require clarification on any point.

Mark Lever

Chief Executive

11 September 2003


  WRVS provides highly trained teams of volunteers, supported by a professional management structure, to support the welfare needs of the community and statutory services in times of emergency. WRVS is a recognised leader in providing integrated emergency management support to local authorities in rest centres across Britain.

  Although it is not mandatory to have plans in place to deal with rest centres in the event of an emergency 98% of local authorities have built WRVS into their plans.

  WRVS is also contracted to commercial organisations such as major utilities and Network Rail to provide catering, evacuation support and reception centres during major incidents or disasters.

  WRVS provides tailor-made services in the event of a disaster. These include:

    —  Practical welfare support to victims, families and emergency services.

    —  Managing and staffing rest centres.

    —  Emergency feeding and refreshments.

    —  Staffing help lines and police casualty bureaux.

    —  Training for volunteers and clients.

    —  Assistance with Local Authority/Police Casualty Bureau documentation.

  There are 12,000 dedicated Emergency Services volunteers prepared and ready in the event of any threat or disaster. They provide invaluable support to the emergency services and to the victims of disasters. In addition, we can call on the rest of our 95,000 volunteers nationwide to provide backup in the event of a major incident.

  All emergency service volunteers undergo training that allows WRVS to operate and manage rest centres. WRVS is considered an authority in this field and senior emergency service managers deliver courses for local authority emergency planning staff. WRVS is now an accredited training centre and our Rest Centre management course is now accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management.

  All training is localised so that volunteers have a greater awareness of the specific factors that affect emergency planning in their area. Simulated emergency events are also organised for volunteers to practice their skills regularly. Volunteers are all trained to a national standard ensuring compliance with legislative requirements in terms of food safety, hygiene etc.

  WRVS have responded only to questions that relate to our ability to provide support during emergencies.

Q2  Do you agree that the obligations imposed on both Category 1 and 2 responders by or under the new framework will ensure operationally effective and financially efficient planning and response to emergencies at the local level? If not, how should these obligations be increased or reduced?

    WRVS believe the failure to formally recognise the role of the voluntary sector in the Draft Bill is a missed opportunity. We understand the difficulties government perceives in imposing statutory duties on voluntary organisations but believe these are not insurmountable problems. WRVS is unique in that we have a dedicated volunteer Emergency Services corps supported by a professional management structure nationwide. This structure would allow us to deliver the consistent level of service government rightly expects. Clearly, there is an important funding issue to be resolved as a statutory duty would change our relationship with local authorities in terms of the financial support they provide. WRVS have the ability and the desire to play a full part in the country's approach to dealing with emergencies and looks forward to working with the Government to overcome some of the obstacles to making this happen.

Q5  Do you agree that consistent arrangements for multi-agency working should be established, through the creation of Local Resilience Forums? If not, how else should consistency be established?

  Planning can only be truly effective if it is done on a multi-agency basis. For this to happen, the voluntary sector needs to be recognised at every level, including the Local Resilience Forums. WRVS are currently represented on the London forum and there is no logical reason why this should not happen everywhere.

Q8  Do you agree that the level of funding to support the Bill is sufficient? If not, please explain why you believe it to be too high or too low.

  WRVS currently experience difficulties with certain local authorities that do not have the funds available to enter into partnerships with us. This would suggest there are already problems with funding that can only become more acute as local authorities take on the new duties proposed in the Draft Bill.

Q10  Do you agree with the role of Regional Nominated Co-ordinator? If not, who should take responsibility at the regional level, and with what responsibilities?

  We agree in principle with the role of Regional Nominated Co-ordinator. We believe it is vital that the voluntary sector can contribute to planning at every level including the new regional level. For multi-agency responses to emergencies to work effectively, the crucial role of the voluntary sector has to be recognised from the earliest planning stage. WRVS is unique amongst voluntary organisations working in this area as we have a structure based around professional salaried managers. Our structure means we are able to engage with the emergency planning process effectively at every level from local to national.

Qs18 and 19  Do you agree that the arrangements proposed for Scotland and Wales strike the right balance between reflecting the devolution settlement and ensuring consistency across the UK? If not, what changes are necessary?

  As a national organisation, WRVS delivers emergency services in all parts of the country including Scotland and Wales. We are satisfied that the arrangements proposed for Scotland strike the right balance of recognising the implications of devolution and ensuring consistency across the UK. However the concerns we have expressed about the UK proposals apply equally to Scotland and Wales.

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Prepared 28 November 2003