Clause 4 - Advice and assistance to business

Part of Civil Contingencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 2:30 pm, 29th January 2004

I am curious to get a clear understanding of how this clause will work. If the clause is taken together with the draft regulations that have been published in the regulatory impact assessment, one gets different pictures of what will happen under the clause.

The regulatory impact assessment suggests–certainly in terms of the costs that business will incur–that, for business, this clause is effectively all about an annual seminar on business continuity management run by the local authority. The local authority says that it will have a seminar, explain the kind of risks that might occur and give advice, and businesses will be expected to attend such a seminar.

The draft regulations are not entirely clear. It is mainly the local authorities that we are talking about, but also the emergency services. They have a responsibility whereby they

''must give advice and assistance to the local members of the public at large''

and

''may give advice and assistance to individual local members of the public''–

I am interested in the distinction between giving advice to local members of the public and individual members of the public–and they

''may refer local members of public or individual local members of the public to a business continuity consultant.''

There will be some concerns from business about the role of the responders in this clause, and what role they may have in directing people to business continuity consultants.

The draft regulations then go on to offer some transitional provisions, which, effectively, mean that for the first two years local authorities would have no duty to offer advice to small businesses–those defined as having fewer than 250 employees or a balance sheet of less than {**ed**}6 million. In passing, it is interesting to see how much legislation we are now putting forward where we define monetary sums in euros rather than in pounds sterling. It seems as though we are future-proofing legislation–which is not unwelcome to me, but I find curious–with a certain assumption in mind.

It is an exemption for the local authority rather than for businesses. We are used to exempting small businesses from regulatory burdens, but my understanding of clause 4 is that it would be entirely voluntary anyway. It is for local businesses to come forward, but the duty is on the local authority rather than the businesses. It is a curious exemption. It is not an exemption to favour local businesses by not giving them a regulatory burden, but to make life a little easier for the responders–the local authorities–in that they can say no to smaller businesses when they would have to say yes to larger businesses. That is my understanding, so I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that.

There is also the question of charging in the regulations produced under the clause. The regulations state:

''Relevant responders may charge for any advice or assistance provided on request''

and then limit how charges can be made. Will the Minister confirm that charging will be voluntary and that the duty will be on the local authorities and other responders, not on businesses? As I understand it, businesses are being told not that they must pay for the advice, only that they may be asked for it, and that the local authorities and others will have a duty to provide advice, certainly for larger businesses, and may make a relevant charge.

Will the Minister give us a clear understanding of the extent to which he thinks that the provision will be used in practice? We said earlier that we were worried that some part 1 provisions would not be used enough, because they were too complex or insufficiently funded for local authorities and others to get a hold on them. However, on this clause, we are saying that although the aim is laudable–people planning for contingencies should offer business continuity advice–the complexity of how the regulations and clause work together and the fact that the service will be chargeable may mean that the clause's provisions will not be well used in practice.