HC Deb 31 January 1989 vol 146 cc94-5W
Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made by local authorities in fulfilling their civil defence obligations during the first two years of the planned programme for implementation of the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) 1983.

Mr. Hurd

Copies of a report on implementation of the 1983 regulations by 1 October 1988 have been placed in the Library. The report discusses local authorities' progress in meeting their civil defence obligations since the last such report, which covered progress up to March 1986.

On 22 July 1986 my hon. Friend the then Minister of State announced the Government's proposals for a planned programme for implementation (PPI) of the 1983 regulations. The PPI is a rolling three-year programme, setting priorities and a timetable for systematic monitoring by the Home Office. Provision exists for the payment of grants towards expenses incurred by local authorities in connection with the discharge of their civil defence functions. The PPI provides a framework enabling the Government to establish whether those functions are being efficiently performed so that grant can properly be paid. Detailed discussions with individual county councils and fire and civil defence authorities focus on schemes of work in the context of their estimates of grant-aided expenditure, and enable the progress each authority has made to be fully assessed.

Since the introduction of the PPI with effect from 1 October 1986, the number of grant-aided emergency planning staff in local authorities has risen by about 30 per cent. About half of these staff resources have been committed to the preparation of the plans required under schedule 2 to the 1983 regulations. In March 1986 many of those plans were found to be incomplete and in a number of cases they amounted to little more than statements of intent. Under the PPI all county-level authorities are required to submit copies of plans for monitoring in accordance with the timetable. All have responded to this requirement and analysis of the material indicates a significant overall improvement in the quality of operational plans. Nevertheless, the position still varies from authority to authority and even the best plans require further work. There is also a continuing need to test, review and revise plans once they have been made, and this need will be directly addressed in the next stage.

Local authorities are required to make arrangements for the training and exercising of volunteers and their own staff. There have been encouraging increases in the volume of such training. The number of volunteers stood at around 25,000 last year; this year they are expected to total about 27,000. Time spent by volunteers on training and exercises this year is expected to exceed the time spent last year by about 15 per cent., while the figure for staff training this year is expected to exceed last year's by about 70 per cent.

Progress has been less satisfactory in meeting the requirement to establish emergency centres in which to control and co-ordinate civil defence actions. A total of 513 such centres should be provided in England and Wales, but only 195 were reported to be operational by 1 October 1988. In a further 139, work was reported in progress or identified as needed, while in the remaining 179 no suitable site had been identified. Local authorities which are not fulfilling their statutory obligations in this respect will be asked for specific proposals to remedy the position.

In 1985–86 the total grant-aided civil defence expenditure by local authorities stood at £15.25 million. The provisional figure for 1987–88 is £21.25 million and in 1988–89 it is expected to rise to about £23 million. This expansion has been well above levels of inflation and reflects the Government's commitment to civil defence planning. It is our intention that current levels of expenditure will be maintained for the next few years.

The Government believe that the PPI has brought about significant improvements in local authorities' states of civil defence preparedness. Results have been achieved and the concept has been widely supported in the local authority community. But a great deal remains to be done to consolidate and extend the advances which have been made, by continuing the programme well into the 1990s. A circular is today being issued to local authorities, setting out the Government's intentions for the PPI for a further two years which will cover the period from October 1989 to October 1991. A similar circular is being issued by the Scottish Home and Health Department. Each county council and fire and civil defence authority will be asked to set specific targets for that period, with the highest priority being given to continuing the planning process and to training key staff. The Government will continue to monitor local authority activity and the value for money in the grant paid by calling for annual progress reports and costed programmes of work which will be the subject of individual discussion.

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