Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-374)


21 OCTOBER 2003

Q360  Lord Archer of Sandwell: Judging from the submission of the St John Ambulance Mr Brown may argue that the difficulty is that you rely on voluntary assistance and you cannot guarantee that it will always be available. We have just heard from the Salvation Army that it may vary substantially from one area to another. Are you sure that if a statutory duty is imposed on you you will be able to comply with it?

  Ms Beardshaw: We feel confident that we could. We are a national organisation, we are organised regionally and then on areas which correspond to counties and it works well from the point of view of police authorities. All our volunteers are trained to the same level nationally and we are currently, in response to the September 11 attacks in the US, skilling up and scaling up our emergency response capability to deal with any possible variation and it is in that spirit that we have made the request.

Q361  Lord Archer of Sandwell: Would Mr Brown like to comment on that?

  Mr Brown: The statutes of the St John order provide, as part of our voluntary aid society role, the provision of trained personnel to give assistance to central or local government departments or to the armed forces at times of emergency, in peace or in war and we would wish to maintain that role. I would like to stress that we see ourselves as giving assistance to and not assuming the principal role in providing support. We have some 30,000 volunteers, but we have to recognise that many of those volunteers also have other commitments and amongst our many volunteers are doctors, nurses and paramedics whose prime responsibility would be to respond principally to the National Health Service rather than to St John Ambulance in times of emergency. We believe that for us to take on a category 1 responsibility, as has been suggested, would actually put on us a burden that we could not fulfil and we would rather not accept a responsibility that we could not fulfil rather than the reverse.

Q362  Lord Archer of Sandwell: Would the Salvation Army like to make a comment?

  Major Cochrane: I would have to concur with much of what has just been said. Hopefully the Salvation Army's track record in this country and in 109 countries around the world would testify to our willingness and our ability to respond on a substantial scale. That said, we do very much see our role as a supporting role and that supporting and at times independent role I think is very important. For example, in the London scenario the key role that the Salvation Army plays in a major incident is that of being the reference point and the coordinating point for the faith communities and I do not just mean the Christian denomination but the wider faith community, so that is a significant role. That may not be a role that we take in other places. It is the element of support in providing that which is in addition to that which is provided by the statutory services, which we feel is a very significant role and it is another dimension to the role that is provided in the case of an emergency and we would not want to commit ourselves to a task that we would not be able to fulfil perhaps in some locations.

Q363  Lord Archer of Sandwell: I do not know whether any of the other respondents would like to add anything.

  Mr Lever: I believe there is a balance between the opportunity that the draft Bill provided to recognise the role of national voluntary organisations as responders and as to what their statutory responsibilities may or may not be. WRVS is unique in having 18 full-time managers dedicated to the support of our 12,000 trained emergency services volunteers across the country, which enables us to provide a consistent level of service across the country and from a practical point of view that is our aim, it is to ensure that we provide a consistent level of service to agreed service level agreements at a local level. We recognise the problems of having statutory status not just from the point of view of guaranteeing a level of service but actually influencing the relationship we have with our funders at a local authority level and we have been working hard to try and secure funding streams there to support the work that we do and if we were to become a category 1 status body that may have an impact at that level. I think our aim is to try and provide a consistent level of service across the country through a network of 18 full-time paid managers and 12,000 trained volunteers.

  Ms Wood-Heath: We are putting the pressure somewhere else. What we are saying is that there needs to be some inclusive approach to the voluntary sector, something explicit within the Act, so passing the responsibility on to the category 1 responders or perhaps category 2, depending on how the definition of category 2 responders evolves, but really to say that by explicit reference to the voluntary sector within their list of duties what we should ultimately end up with is the voluntary sector appropriately involved in every aspect of civil protection right through from the planning phase, training and exercising through to the delivery of the response, any subsequent review and evaluation. The only way of achieving that effectively is by placing an explicit responsibility onto the category 1 and perhaps category 2 responders. I think it is fair to say from my experience of being involved with the voluntary sector response that the effectiveness of emergency planning at a local level is variable and we are vulnerable to personalities. Until it becomes something that is explicitly recorded as a requirement we will be forever vulnerable to these variabilities at a local level, which renders us ineffective and it leads to the duplication of activity, some competition (you have already heard a little bit about what organisations can do) and, more importantly, it leads to gaps in the provision of service and therefore consequent impacts on people who desperately need the activities. NUASEC is not seeking a category 1 or 2 responder status for the organisations for which it speaks, it is actually asking that there is this explicit reference to voluntary organisations included within the future legislation.

Q364  Patrick Mercer: Ladies and gentlemen, what do you consider the resources of the voluntary sector to be? I appreciate we have already touched on this. How would they contribute to planning for, and responding to, an emergency?

  Mr Lever: I think the significant resource that the voluntary sector brings to an emergency response are trained people, volunteers, paid managers. I think one element that they add a particularly potent dimension to is the human side of emergencies. Our organisation and other organisations here recognise the human impact of emergencies and I think that is where the voluntary sector is probably at its strongest in an emergency scenario, where you have trained volunteers who have the time to deal with people affected by an emergency. From our point of view, we recognise the importance of having significant resources in terms of local volunteers with local knowledge and trained in skills to deliver the services we have and it represents a significant resource at a local level, particularly dealing with the human face of emergencies.

Q365  Patrick Mercer: Anybody else?

  Mr Brown: I would wish to support that. Personnel are the major provision that we can make, but in the voluntary aid societies we also have the opportunity to provide resources in terms of vehicles and in terms of the equipment that could be put at the disposal, principally from our point of view, of the statutory ambulance service. We are very conscious of the fact that it would not necessarily be our role to support provision for the actual emergency, but we acknowledge that in an incident such as the Bank exercise London had to continue to operate whilst the emergency was being dealt with. Accepting that that was an exercise, in a real situation the rest of the community would need to continue to operate and where the specialists from the statutory services were drawn in to deal with a particular incident, we believe that the voluntary societies have the opportunity and the facility to provide the support that would have been withdrawn from the periphery.

  Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross agrees with both of those expressions by colleagues and in fact we have written to you recently with a series of case studies actually illustrating the kind of work that voluntary organisations can contribute in support of statutory partners. I think those case studies will bring home the range of resources that the voluntary sector can bring to bear on a very wide variety of incidents.

  Major Cochrane: I would support all that, Mr Chairman. I think perhaps the most telling I have had that I could present would be the files of letters that we would have had in the aftermath of incidents from statutory partners, members of the public, people who have been assisted, individuals who say "Where would we be without you?". That sounds slightly immodest but I think that would signal the variety of ways in which we are able to support and sometimes intervene which would be too numerous to mention.

Q366  Patrick Mercer: Thank you. The resources about which you are speaking, how consistently can they be applied across England and Wales in your opinion?

  Ms Wood-Heath: What I really want to explain to the Joint Committee is that within the voluntary sector we have already recognised that there is an issue for us in terms of how we can achieve consistency, how best use can be made of this vast scale of resource that you have been hearing about. The voluntary sector is a huge and diverse entity and to that end an event was organised last week which was co-chaired by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and the British Red Cross and it was delivered under the auspices of the National Voluntary Aid Society Emergency Committee, where we drew together managers from the key volunteer organisations involved in a response. There were 16 organisations represented who provide practical, emotional, technical and specialist rescue responses, all sorts of responses and responses on which the statutory sector are dependent. At that event we also had representatives from different central government departments and the statutory authorities, some of whom have been giving evidence to you here, Susan Scholefield, Brian Ward, Alan Goldsmith and so on. They are all trying to work to a common goal and provide a good platform for volunteer organisations to come together, identify what resources we have, where we have capacity and where we perhaps have weaknesses across the United Kingdom so that we can better focus ourselves and to achieve this consistency that is so very necessary. I think our statutory partners would welcome this initiative, us getting ourselves organised and creating a mechanism so that at a national level, regional level and local level we can achieve the consistency and the quality of performance that is required.

Q367  Lord Bradshaw: How much gap did that exercise you just referred to reveal in your present organisation? Do you liaise with every police force area?

  Ms Wood-Heath: What we identified was that you actually have volunteer organisations, some of them are small, some of them are not present everywhere and the point of coming together with police services, local authorities and other organisations and working with them is to identify what needs they will realise during the course of a response to an emergency and what resources they have from the voluntary sector. Coming together in regional forums is the only means of identifying where we have richness of resource and perhaps where we have some scarcity and by each of the organisations working with its mutual aid support arrangements, either working with other volunteer organisations or bringing its own resource from elsewhere in the UK.

Q368  Lord Bradshaw: If we take Devon and Cornwall as a remote area where you might be thin, it is a huge police area from which you can draw resources.

  Ms Wood-Heath: Yes. The volunteer organisations are part of a local authority emergency planning forum already within both Devon and Cornwall identifying what resources exist and in my own experience of liaising with staff there is not a concern about a paucity of resource, they are confident they can meet the need.

Q369  Chairman: Anyone wish to add anything?

  Mr Lever: Our experience is that the full-time paid management structure that we have enables us to operate within all the police areas and it is very difficult to find a substitute for that.

Q370  Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall: What do you think of the proposal to create a statutory duty on category 1 responders to consult with voluntary organisations when planning for an emergency? What do you think of the proposals to include voluntary organisations in a third category, with statutory obligations on responders to attend planning meetings and maintain confidentiality?

  Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross believes that the final legislation should place a statutory responsibility on category 1 responders to involve the relevant voluntary organisations in all aspects of civil protection. We are flexible as to how this might be achieved, but we think it is very important that this legislation transcends the current arrangements which themselves are variable, they are dependent on permits and old partnerships and networking in a way that we think is actually inappropriate to this subject. I think that is a strong wish. As to the possible category 3, our position would be that it is an attractive idea on the face of it but it needs further definition and discussion. At this meeting last Thursday that Moya has referred to there were 16 voluntary organisations present and it was clear that they took very different lines on whether they wanted a statutory obligation placed on them and I think that needs to be taken into account.

  Mr Brown: We would agree that we feel we should be consulted. We see ourselves as partners, albeit supportive partners and we believe we should be consulted by the category 1 providers. I would agree with the comment just passed with regard to the proposal to cover category 3.

  Mr Lever: I would second what my colleagues have said and make a third point, which is that I think the obligation on category 1 responders to consult with the voluntary organisations would perhaps lead to a more consistent approach to emergency planning and the way the involvement of voluntary organisations is managed.

  Major Cochrane: I agree.

Q371  Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: What do you think of the proposal there should be local flexibility, so that category 1 responders will be able to select the most appropriate voluntary organisations in their area to consult or undertake planning with, and that the choice would be with the category 1 responder?

  Mr Lever: It is absolutely vital. There are some superb local voluntary organisations which provide a unique level of support depending on local conditions. Clearly the national voluntary organisations are able to get involved at a national level but there are different parts of the country, like Dartmoor, where there are lots of local organisations who support emergency planning for those areas and I think it is vital they have the ability to have that flexibility.

  Mr Brown: That represents a positive flexibility, in the sense of drawing into consultation those specialist organisations in particular parts of the country which have something particular to offer. St John Ambulance does not believe it will be correct to provide flexibility so that some organisations could be excluded from consultation for whatever reason.

  Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross agrees with the St John interpretation and also with the points made by the WRVS and indeed this underlines the importance of really excellent local voluntary organisations. The example given on Thursday was of an organisation I had never heard of, which is the Wash Wardens, who are very important it appears in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, as you would expect.

  Ms Wood-Heath: From the National VASEC perspective our concern is that we are providing the best quality service to the public that is required, and in order to do that it is making best use of all the voluntary organisations. So this is the reason, and the need indeed, for an approach so we can identify the capability of all voluntary organisations at this national tier—this new initiative that we talked about last week—for enabling every voluntary organisation to be part of whatever local authority planning fora may exist for them at a local level, or indeed now with this new legislation looking at it at a county level, making best use of resources, identification of gaps, identification of duplication, so we have no wasteful training and no wasteful expectation of a role when it is actually being fully met by another organisation.

Q372  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Do you think that central and regional tiers of government should be included as category 1 and 2 responders? Are there any other organisations that you think should be included in category 1 or 2? Here I leave aside the views already expressed by the Red Cross. If there are others, why do you think they should be there?

  Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross would not presume to speak for partners in central and regional government but our understanding is that these layers of government are strategic and facilitative rather than operational, if that is helpful to you. Going a bit further, we would see it as very important, as I am sure all members of the Committee would, that there is clarity of responsibilities between each tier and so far I think there have been many discussions in which we are still waiting for that clarity. We are watching that space with interest.

  Ms Wood-Heath: From the National Voluntary Aid Society perspective, our expectation would not be that central or regional government would feature within the list of category 1 or 2 responders. When one looks at the range of responsibilities and the range of responsibilities as recorded for category 1 and 2, there does not seem to be a match. Similarly, the arrangements which we have been practising within the UK which have been brought into sharp focus since the experiences of 11 September perhaps demonstrate we have a fairly effectively system here, a sort of cabinet system which works for us with a range of committees across central government linking into professional institutions. There is concern for us as to what the role of the regional tier is, whether in planning or in the response, and that matters for us as the voluntary sector where we are trying to make best use of, while they are generous, limited resources and where we need to be establishing working relationships. So we are very anxiously waiting for the clarity on exactly what is the contribution of the regional tier and whether we need to be developing an effective relationship there. So, again, supporting what the British Red Cross is saying and welcoming clarity in what will be the responsibilities of those different tiers of government.

  Mr Lever: The WRVS view is that the categories are broadly correct but, with typical WRVS pragmatism, we welcome the provision that should it not work effectively you can change the membership.

Q373  David Wright: Focusing on financial issues, do you agree with the Regulatory Impact Assessment that the proposals in the Bill, "achieve the government's policy objectives without imposing significant new burdens on the relevant organisations in either the public or private sectors". If you do not agree with that, how much do you estimate as organisations it would cost you to implement the requirements in Part 1 of the Bill?

  Mr Brown: St John Ambulance is concerned that category 1 responders will increasingly seek to rely on voluntary organisations at the local level and the funding provision should recognise that voluntary organisations incur costs when they are involved in emergency planning as well as in actual emergencies. For example, in providing vehicles and volunteers for exercises to test emergency procedures. In the main St John Ambulance does not identify the expenditure it incurs in terms of emergency planning and most of the costs for us at the moment are subsumed in our general operating costs. However, our London District does employ a member of staff who has these specific responsibilities and we will be looking in just one part of the country at probably something in the region of £3,000 per annum to support that sort of work.

  Mr Lever: As I said before, the WRVS has a full-time management structure of 18 paid managers supporting our 12,000 trained volunteers totally dedicated to emergency planning. So the cost of that is £590,000 a year. That is what we currently invest in emergency planning and how much extra cost would be incurred on top of that would really depend on the outcome of this consultation and how the involvement of the voluntary sector would change. If there was a significant increase in the level of consultation, clearly our resources would be stretched and we would need to look at additional people, but within that structure we currently are able to cover consultation nationwide and support the volunteers we have nationwide.

  Major Cochrane: It is easy to quantify the cost of 18 regional offices and a fleet of vehicles, and those staff we pay, et cetera, but what is very hard to quantify is the volunteer cost, when people are called in, for example, at immediate notice to help with escorting and mortuary duties. People do not say, "How much is this costing met to get there", so at the end of it all you never hear the true cost of an incident but we know it is a lot. We also as voluntary organisations have to accept that is why members of the public generously do donate to us. So we have to balance those two aspects, the statutory obligation to support what we do but also the public's generosity.

  Ms Beardshaw: In the Red Cross we slightly scratched our heads when wondering how to answer this question. It is difficult and different people have tackled it in different ways. I have said we are a dedicated emergency planning and response organisation and last year we helped 420,000 people in emergencies of one kind or another. Our total charitable expenditure in 2002 was £132.6 million, of which £42.5 million was expended in the UK. I have also said we have been refocusing on emergency planning and response and made it our number one priority following the 11 September attacks. That has meant actually changing jobs within the organisation and we have been able to do that within our existing resources. Coming to the Regulatory Impact Assessment, I think we are cautious. We anticipate that the Bill when enacted will imply a much higher level of engagement in emergency planning activity than has been traditional in this country, and I think colleagues have endorsed that too. We are considering how we will actually cover those costs. At this point I do not think I can help you any further.

  Ms Wood-Heath: From the National VASEC perspective, we are concerned about the negative view about the perceived absence of adequate funding at a local level for civil protection and the impact that has on organisations like ours where we need to participate in joint training and exercises if we are to be recognised as substantial partners and contributors to the response. As one reads the legislation, the hope is we are all going to do more of it, and do more of it to a better standard, that does come with associated costs. From the National VASEC perspective, we are concerned about the absence of confidence about funding and how that funding will be improved in the future and what that means on our own organisations and their contributions to civil protection; how are we going to access more money so we can help in a more substantive way.

Q374  David Cairns: I get to ask the hardest question. Would you expect to be recompensed for expenses incurred in attending contingency planning or resilience form meetings? I would like you to answer this question with a straight face.

  Mr Brown: Yes, please!

  Mr Lever: If they were significantly over and above the current level of attendance, we would expect that.

  Ms Beardshaw: That is a bit of a relief! Currently we do not ask to be reimbursed in the Red Cross but we do question whether that is a good use of charitable funds. That is what colleagues have said.

  Ms Wood-Heath: From the National VASEC dimension, we have borne the costs within our own organisations. If they do go up significantly, that would be subject to review but underlining our whole approach to the civil protection response is a concern about what is delivered elsewhere. So if ultimately the reality is that there is no additional funding, I think we would fall back on the importance of the place within National VASEC of our auxiliary role and find the money somehow.

  Major Cochrane: I would say that all contributions are gratefully received.

  David Cairns: We are not paying you for coming here—or maybe we are, I do not know!

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and for your forbearance in waiting for us while we dealt with the business of the House.

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