ELLWOOD-TOBIASTobias Ellwood is the Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Europe Minister.  Mark Philips is a Security and Resilience Policy Adviser.

any major traffic accident, and the efficiency with which our three blue light
services work together is impressive. However, if the incident is more complex
and involves other agencies – such as the tragedies at Kings Cross, Buncefield,
the 2007 floods or the terrorist attacks of 7/7 – persistent policy, cultural
and technical shortcomings affect the ability of different departments and
agencies to work together.

responding to a major incident, the complex wiring diagram of agencies and organizations
are initially coordinated through COBRA, the Government’s crisis response committee, where decisions are
actioned immediately. Once this meeting breaks however, operational efficiency
can erode as first responders default back to the different government
ministries they serve.

the types of threats (both natural and manmade) we now face, it’s time for a
radical overhaul of our resilience capability; from the role of the Local Resilience Forum, the basic
emergency decision making unit found in every county, to COBRA at the top.

it right, for example that each emergency service answers to a separate
Government department, automatically requiring three different Ministers and
supporting civil servants, which promote independent policy agendas, logistical
support and training structures, financed by separate funding streams?

we, in fact need both an ambulance and fire service or should we follow other
nations and have a merged emergency response service? In Dorset, this is already happening to some extent. So highly trained are today’s fire crews and given
their greater geographic footprint, many ambulance call outs in rural areas are
actually outsourced to the Fire Service at £50 a visit.

we also improve procurement, training and operational coordination of the 43
police forces, 46 fire and rescue services and 10 ambulance trusts?  Indeed why are there so many constabularies
and fire services when many are simply too small to justify?

looking for some solutions to these questions, here are seven comprehensive
recommendations, as to how we might improve efficiency, interoperability and
save the taxpayer money:

  • Ministerial responsibility for the Blue Light Services
    brought into one single government department, preferably a new department of
    Homeland Security.
  • Creation of a single Fire and single Ambulance
    authority for England and Wales with hubs of responsibility based on regional
    boundaries.  This would act as a stepping
    stone towards a full merger of the two services to create an Emergency Response Service.
  • Establishment of a ‘CDS’ style Chief of the Emergency Services who sits above the Police, Fire and
    Ambulance authorities with a similar strategic and coordinating role.  This senior officer (and supporting staff) should be
    able to draw on dedicated funding to facilitate the implementation of national
    standards and requirements across each emergency service.
  • Establish a joint
    National Operations and Coordination Centre
    , building on the infrastructure
    and experience of the National Olympic Coordination Centre, which has the
    ability to monitor locations, move blue light assets around the country and tie
    into Local Resilience Forums.
  • Merger of training (to include emergency planning)
    for the blue light services through the creation of a National College of Emergency Service Excellence – which would cover all courses
    from basic (single service) training to gold commander.
  • A single Parliamentary
    Select Committee
    (possibly formed through membership of other committees)
    to scrutinise the work of the Blue Light Services.
  • Local Resilience Forums given a legal status, with the power to direct members and
    funding taken from savings made through the merger of Fire and Ambulance

Even with advances in communications and technology, traditional
practices across (and to some extent within
each emergency service) have resulted in a siloed mentality and convoluted web
of interoperability that has deterred successive governments from
attempting to consider even the smallest overhaul. Yet the longer we wait, the
ever more complicated it becomes to improve inter-service procurement,
training, operations and ministerial oversight.

We hope that the ideas outlined in our full report will prompt a
constructive debate on how strategic, operational and financial efficiencies can be gained
with simpler and stronger ministerial leadership, the streamlining of government
policy formulation and unambiguous inter-agency operational command at both
national and local levels.

Improving Efficiency, Interoperability and Resilience of our Blue Light Services is published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security.