Independent Review of the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act

The National Preparedness Commission has published its Independent Review of the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act and its supporting arrangements. The Review was prepared by a team of experts in the field, led by Bruce Mann, former Director of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, and is based on over 300 interviews with people on the front line of emergency response.   It makes 117 recommendations and concludes that the Government must learn lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies over the last two decades if UK resilience arrangements are to be made fit for the future.

Holding central government to the same standards as local bodies and partnerships, publishing more information on risks and consequences, putting more effort into ‘designing resilience in’, and fully involving voluntary organisations, businesses and communities, are just some of the proposals put forward in the report.

A key contributor to the report has been the voluntary and community sector (VCS), which has a raft of experience in providing support to public authorities in recent crises, from the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester and London terror attacks of 2017, to Covid-19 and Storm Arwen. These events exposed clear gaps in the support available to impacted communities both in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and in the longer-term.

The VCS is broadly united in calling on the Government to seize this moment, when so much has been learned during the pandemic, to develop a ‘whole of society’ approach to resilience and future risks, ensuring emergency systems and structures are aligned and responsive to people’s needs, wherever in the UK they live.

The report levels some criticism at successive governments, with powerful evidence being cited of weaknesses in the way some departments discharged their responsibilities during the pandemic, and in the level of their knowledge, skills and training. The original Act in 2004 had a local focus, but the report makes clear that in a world where more national-scale emergencies are likely, central government needs to be held to the same standards as local bodies and partnerships.

As Bruce Mann comments:

“Over the last 20 years, the UK’s resilience arrangements have undergone several reforms, often in response to major emergencies. Local statutory bodies and Resilience Partnerships are doing excellent work, despite limited resources. But successive governments have allowed the pace of development to drift over the past decade and quality to decay. Unlike counter terrorism and cyber security, UK resilience has suffered strategic neglect and now has some serious weaknesses.

“Recovery will need action at two levels. First, there is a need to improve the quality and sustainability of current arrangements. Then we believe that a further, more radical transformation will be needed. This will include putting more effort into preventing emergencies arising in the first place, including ‘designing resilience in’ to our communities, to our infrastructure and to our policies at local and national level. And central government needs to recognise its responsibilities; Covid-19 has shown it has vital leadership and operational roles to fulfil. It needs to have duties in law; be tested against quality standards; and be held to account for its performance.

“With emergencies likely to happen more frequently and have greater impacts on people, the economy and the environment, it’s vital that the Government recognises the urgent need to make the UK’s resilience arrangements fit for the world the UK is moving into.”

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Need a major investment in skills, and new arrangements to check that people and emergency response teams at all levels are competent.
  • Fundamentally reboot the training system, including creating a Centre of Resilience Excellence (CORE).
  • Creating proper partnership arrangements which involve all the people, voluntary organisations and businesses who can contribute. Covid-19 showed what a true ‘Whole of Society’ response could look like
  • Publish more information on risks and their consequences to enable families, communities and businesses to be better prepared.
  • Give people affected by emergencies a voice in developing policy and operational practice.
  • Remove people’s concerns around data protection that is stopping the sharing of personal data and hindering people getting the support they need when they need it.
  • Increased funding to strengthen local partnerships.
  • Designate the National Security Adviser (or Deputy) as UK Government Chief Resilience Officer with personal accountability for what is done to build UK resilience.
  • Create a single dedicated national body to lead and drive the improvements needed with a clear mandate, authority and resources.
  • Better recognise the role of metro mayors in a crisis, as a clearly visible local leadership figure, with significant agency and authority.


Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Preparedness Commission, comments:

“The world has changed over the past twenty years and will change much more over the next twenty, in business, the economy, and wider society. That’s why we commissioned a review that would go right back to the fundamentals of the Act, seeking to learn from those with recent, in-depth and often raw experience of emergencies of all kinds.

“We have been inspired by the passion and commitment shown by those who’ve contributed their ideas – this gives us great hope for a future where harm and disruption to society can be avoided or minimised. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make necessary improvements to the UK’s resilience and it is vital that the Government seizes the moment.”


The Executive Summary is here and the full Review can be seen here.