Why isn't the UK Government using the Civil Contingencies Act?

As in many parts of the world, here in the UK we have experienced unprecedented events in recent weeks.  Amidst the grim backdrop of the numbers of infections and deaths growing daily we have seen schools, bars and restaurants closed; sport put on hold; and, finally, a nationwide lock-down.  However this has all been achieved with a combination of persuasion and emergency legislation, passed specifically to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, rather than using the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA).

Passed in 2004, the CCA sought to put emergency planning on a proper footing for the 21st century.  Learning from the experiences of recent events such as the “Millenium Bug”, fuel strikes in 2000, the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 and 9/11; the CCA was designed to provide a flexible framework for planning and responding to crises in our modern age.  The most visible outcomes from passing of the CCA were:

  • The designation of Cat 1 (eg the Emergency Services, NHS, Local Authorities, Environment Agency) and Cat 2 (eg ports, airports, railways, utilities) Responders with various statutory duties;
  • The coordination of local planning through Local Resilience Forums (LRFs); and
  • The publication of Community Risk Registers by these LRFs.

But the CCA also contained various emergency powers to enable the Government to deal with extraordinary situations; and it is the failure to make use of any of these powers that is curious at the present time.  Actually this is not an unusual observation: in many cases, when faced with an incident or crisis, organisations ignore the plans that they have documented, tested and exercised in favour of making things up as they go along.  Why?

Some of the reasons that have been observed in other instances of organisations not using their pre-prepared plans when facing a real incident are:

  • The senior management team lack awareness of and/or confidence in the written plans;
  • The plan can only be triggered by certain prescribed events, none of which occur in this particular scenario; and/or
  • The senior management team believe that the incident requires a brand new bespoke solution, rather than any of the generic solutions documented in plan.

One of the key areas we look for with any organisation when conducting a post-incident debrief is examples of where they have not used their pre-prepared plans.  We then explore with them why, in each instance, they chose not to.  As the current crisis subsides, and we can start looking again to the future, it would be very useful for the UK Government to examine why they chose not to utilise the CCA in the Covid-19 outbreak.

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