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SURVEY SHOWS BLACK HOLE IN LOCAL EMERGENCY BUDGETS: TORIES

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In advance of today's debate in the house of commons on the final stages of the government's Civil Defence (Grants)...
In advance of today's debate in the house of commons on the final stages of the government's Civil Defence (Grants) Bill, a Conservative survey of local authority emergency planning officers has revealed widespread concern the ministers are cutting back their resources and failing to provide proper guidance just when their importance post September 11th has grown dramatically.

The Bill will make it possible for ministers to cut the grant to local authorities for emergency planning. Fierce Conservative resistance at earlier stages of the Bill's passage has resulted in ministers dropping their plan, reiterated as recently as December, to use the Bill once passed to cut emergency planning resources by 28%. On 23rd January they announced instead that they would make cuts of 5% in cash terms, close to 7% in real terms.

In the survey, 31 county emergency planning officers said that:

* 24 (over 77%) oppose the Bill at this time

* 29 (93%) believe that emergency planning is severely under-resourced in the light of the events of September 11th

* All 31 (100%) state that they have received either no guidance, or inadequate guidance, from government since 11th September

Some comments from these emergency planning officers include references to matters being 'in an abysmal state', cabinet office guidance being 'full of holes' and today's Bill being 'a disaster', 'particularly ill-timed' and 'an absolute disgrace'.

More detailed notes on the survey are attached.

Commenting on this survey, Conservative shadow cabinet office minister Tim Collins, who will be leading for the opposition on the Bill later today, said:

'This is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. Most people hearing that the commons is to debate government legislation on civil defence would assume that this was designed to enhance our preparations against possible terrorist attack not to cut them back. Local authorities are right to be desperately concerned about the possible consequences. The government has completed three quarters of a U-turn on this - today we will be pressing them to complete it by delaying this Bill and these cuts until the international crisis can be seen to be definitively over.'

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