Sector 'should be involved in planning for major emergencies'

Labour MP Stephen Morgan tells a fringe event at his party's conference it is vital for the voluntary sector to work alongside statutory services in cases such as the Grenfell Tower fire

The response to Grenfell (Photograph: Shutterstock)
The response to Grenfell (Photograph: Shutterstock)

Charities should be included in planning and training programmes for responding to major emergencies such as the Grenfell Tower fire, according to the Labour MP Stephen Morgan.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference about voluntary sector responses to UK emergencies, Morgan, the MP for Portsmouth South, said charities had crucial roles to play in local emergencies and should be better integrated into the planning for the aftermath of crises.

"There is a need for the voluntary sector to be more confident and to coordinate their contributions, because I think the voluntary sector can do a huge amount in these situations," Morgan said.

"From my experience it is vital for the voluntary sector to work alongside statutory services, and for there to be active and proactive engagement in the planning process. It should also get involved in the training exercises."

He said people expected a certain level of care in a crisis and charities were crucial in numerous areas of the response, such as communication, social care, welfare, medical support, accommodation, and search and rescue.

"The voluntary sector is a bridge between national and local government to deliver an emergency response that puts people at the heart of that response," said Morgan.

Georgia Gould, a Labour councillor and leader of Camden Council in London, said councils had to recognise that many small local community groups that did not ordinarily deal with issues arising from emergencies could still have an important role to play, as shown in the response to the Grenfell fire.

Many small community centres and religious groups helped local people in North Kensington in the initial response to the fire. Gould said that councils should recognise it was important to have organisations on the ground to help the community.

"If we don’t invest in our voluntary sector relationships, we as local authorities don’t have a staff to call on," said Gould. "I think we need to stop seeing community festivals and inter-faith groups as nice-to-haves."

Simon Lewis, head of crisis response at the British Red Cross, told the session that charities need to be included in statutory organisations’ planning for emergencies.

He said that after the terrorist attacks and the Grenfell fire last year the BRC had recognised that "community engagement is key for us". He added that 6,000 people had signed up to the charity’s community reserve volunteer scheme, which allows people to respond to local emergencies.

Lewis said he hoped the UK scheme could match a similar Red Cross initiative in The Netherlands, which has 35,000 volunteers, and help the 50 per cent of people who want to help in emergencies but don’t know how and where to give support.

Jehangir Malik, chief executive of Muslim Aid, said that local charities, particularly religious groups, needed to be better involved in planning for local emergencies.

He referred to Muslim Aid’s recent review of the response to Grenfell, called Mind the Gap, which called for better involvement of local charities in UK emergency response, including any financial support required, and said Muslim organisations should be brought into the mainstream of UK disaster management.

After the Grenfell fire, the Charity Commission held talks with sector organisations about providing a more coordinated response to major disasters in the UK, along the lines of a "domestic Disasters Emergency Committee".

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