A unified government approach to the emergency services will make it easier to have a unified service response, writes Mark Pawsey MP ahead of his Westminster Hall debate.
There are many events over the last few years and in the coming months where the role of the emergency services of our country have been, and will be, widely focussed on. With the aftermath of the July 7 bombings, the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the upcoming Olympic Games, the job of the emergency services in responding to incidents efficiently and effectively has never been more in the public eye. There is new thinking on the responsiveness of the emergency services as a consequence of Lady Justice Hallett's report into the July 7/7 bombings. Her inquiry into the 2005 attacks reiterated that 'communications within and between the emergency services 'did not stand up on 7 July'. It is with that in mind, and the presence of communications network Airwave in my constituency of Rugby, that along with interested colleagues, we have set up a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Emergency Services. There exist APPG's for the key emergency services individually but I was, and remain, convinced that it is important to get a cross service-approach to our emergency services. In order for the services to operate at maximum efficiency, they should not be viewed and organised in isolation. There is a need to promote joined-up working between the emergency services. Or, another way of putting it, promote the interoperability between the emergency services – exactly what we will be debating on Tuesday.
And it is this joint working that means each emergency service should not be considered in isolation from a government perspective. At present, the Home Office is responsible for the police force, the Department of Health is responsible for the ambulance services and the Department for Communities and Local Government is responsible for the fire service. As a result there is a real danger of silo thinking. In order to achieve successful interoperability between the emergency services there needs to be the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and other departments dealing with this to ensure interoperability. A unified government response will make it easier to have a unified service response. The 2011 Royal United Services Institute report "Anatomy of a Terrorist Attack" agreed that this was an issue and said political understanding of the complexities of major incident responses remains critical to the future of the emergency services.
So what else can be done to improve interoperability between the emergency services? The debate will touch on the following areas: sharing assets: how joint working in operations such as air ambulances will help improve service and reduce costs, understanding: agencies must fully understand one another if they are to work together effectively, and communication: the introduction of a common platform network into the system has seen significant improvements but there can still be greater interoperability.
Shared communications on the joint network in last week's Diamond Jubilee worked well and the events acted as a useful early experience of what is to come later this summer. In my dealings with our emergency services I have been highly impressed with their thoroughness and determination to succeed and have no doubt that the future of the services they provide is bright if we can continue to build on the positive interoperable strides already made – starting with greater joint-working across government departments.
Mark Pawsey has been Conservative MP for Rugby since 2010.