An independent review of the Civil Contingencies Act (2004)
Bruce Mann, Andy Towler and Kathy Settle1 set out their journey to deliver an independent assessment of an important piece of government legislation on the UK’s civil-protection arrangements.
It has been 20 years since the string of major emergencies in 2000/01 triggered the fundamental transformation of the UK’s civil-protection arrangements. It has been 17 years since the Civil Contingencies Act was passed by Parliament and a whole suite of new arrangements to support its implementation were put in place. Those arrangements have served the UK well. Yet, much has changed, both nationally and globally. A lot has been learned from implementation of the Act and from the responses to the emergencies which have occurred over that period. Furthermore, as the global risk reports from the OECD and WEF, as well as the Integrated Review from the UK Government, remind us, the risk drivers are pointing the wrong way.
So, the National Preparedness Commission, in line with its aim ‘to promote better preparedness for a major crisis or incident’, has concluded that it is timely to review the operation of the Act and its supporting arrangements. It is the right moment to check that they meet not only today’s civil-protection needs but also those of the next two decades and the more challenging world we face. We are honoured to have been asked to lead that review.
The aim of the review is simple: ‘To review the implementation and operation of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, of the civil-protection structures it introduced and its associated regulations, guidance and key supporting arrangements, and to make recommendations for improvements.’
The aim makes an assumption – to be tested – that the arrangements put in place from 2004 onwards provide a firm foundation for the future. Equally, it recognises that improvements can always be made and may well be necessary if the UK is to learn from experience and be in a strong position to meet the disruptive challenges of the next decades. So, we will be ambitious for UK civil protection in the recommendations we make.
Our key objectives follow the same logic. They are to review:
- Whether the Act and its supporting arrangements, taken overall, have achieved the government’s and Parliament’s original strategic purpose and intent.
- In particular, the effectiveness of collaboration and governance arrangements, at all levels from local to national, on which all experience shows that effective civil protection depends.
- Drawing on experience since 2004, including in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, how best in future to engage the business sector in all aspects of risk and emergency management.
- Whether, taking account of the future risk picture facing the UK and of experience gained since 2004, there is a need to make changes to the Act and its supporting arrangements to meet the UK’s potential future civil-protection needs. Are changes needed to the Act and its supporting arrangements to improve the UK’s ability to handle the most severe future emergencies, of whatever nature?
We should explain what we mean by ‘supporting arrangements’. The Act was a powerful vehicle for improvement in UK civil protection. Yet, it relies for its effective implementation on a wide suite of measures including, for example, its supporting regulations, structures, statutory and non-statutory guidance, the definition of competencies, training and resourcing, including funding. So, we plan that the review will cover not only the Act but also those arrangements needed for its effective implementation.
The scope of the review thus includes:
- The Act – Part 1 and Part 2 – and its supporting regulations.
- Governance, collaboration and engagement structures, formal and informal, and covering all sectors and organisations with the ability to contribute.
- The coverage and clarity of roles and responsibilities, and whether these need to change. For example, should the duties set out in the Act be changed or added to? Should additional organisations be designated as responders?
- The whole of the UK, drawing on the experience gained in each of the four nations of the UK in the implementation of the Act since 2004.
- Skills, occupational standards and training. Is there a case, for example, for the greater definition of the skills and experience required of those with formal responsibilities for civil protection?
- Resourcing, both human and financial.
- The effective embedding of the significant policy initiatives and developments in thinking of the past 15 years, including community, corporate and organisational resilience.
- The role of regulatory bodies and of central government in the oversight, monitoring and enforcement of the Act and of its provisions. Should central government bodies have a stronger role in monitoring performance and readiness more generally, as some recent reports have suggested?
- The role of Parliament in oversight and scrutiny of the implementation of the Act and, more broadly, of the effectiveness of civil-protection arrangements in the UK. We are struck by the limited attention given by Parliamentary bodies (with some notable exceptions) to this field. Should that change so that Parliament has a greater role in holding the government to account for the quality of civil-protection arrangements in the UK and the UK’s preparedness to respond to major emergencies?
Our current plan is to publish one or more reports in late 2021, depending on the scale and volume of the subject matter and evidence base. We have discussed our plans and, in particular, the scope and timings of the review with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) in the Cabinet Office which has recently launched work on its overarching National Resilience Strategy. The CCS has welcomed the intention to conduct an independent review, drawing on all experience gained since the passage of the Act. It also welcomes the scope of the review, covering not only the Act and its supporting regulations but also the structures and arrangements needed for its effective implementation. The Secretariat has said that it will look forward to the review’s findings and recommendations to support improvements to the UK’s resilience which it will take as a significant input to its own formal Quinquennial Review of the Act when it reports next year.
We should be clear that the review is in no way intended to be a Covid-19 lessons identified exercise. It will consider well-evidenced experience from the response to the pandemic which is of general applicability to all major emergencies. A full, lessons identified process will be a substantial undertaking and, in our view, should wait for the formal inquiry announced by the Prime Minister.
We do have a wealth of already published material on which we will draw, including the past government reviews of the Act, the published reports of formal inquiries and other lessons identified reports, and reports issued by Parliamentary committees. It is also good to see the increasing contribution made to the debate on the UK’s future civil-protection arrangements by think tanks and other bodies. Our reading list already runs to over 200 items.
However, we are determined that the review will be rigorous in the gathering and use of evidence to support its conclusions and recommendations. So, this is where we ask for contributions, written or oral. We would welcome all written contributions, whether of already published material which we should read or new papers as they are developed and published. We would also be delighted to arrange interviews with those who wanted to provide oral contributions. Please do get in touch with any of us, at:
- Bruce Mann was Director of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat of the Cabinet Office in the period 2004-2009, and an Associate of the Emergency Planning College. Andy Towler is a former Chief Superintendent with wide experience in UK disaster and emergency management and Founder of Resilience Group Ltd. Kathy Settle was the North West Regional Resilience Director and Deputy Director, Local Response Capability in the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, and in that role led the 2008 government review of the Act.