Victory sealed with change to Bill

Voluntary organisations are to be guaranteed official guidance about how to operate after an emergency or disaster following a government U-turn.

Ministers are to impose a legal duty on local councils to offer charities business continuity advice on how to maintain activities in the event of a serious incident such as a terrorist attack or major flood.

The Civil Contingencies Bill, currently before the House of Lords, was amended last week after vociferous lobbying by the sector. In its original form, the Bill only compelled local authorities to give advice to businesses.

But now, not-for-profit organisations will be included as well.

George Cook of consultancy Charity Logistics was one of the main drivers behind the change. He endorsed the Government's move as "a victory for the voluntary sector that we're delighted about.

"The Government has worked closely with us in developing the text of this amendment, which meets the objectives of the sector. We welcome their willingness to listen to our concerns and to engage our expertise."

Charity Logistics surveyed local authority emergency planners throughout the UK for their views on the relevant clause in the Bill. The majority supported the sector's inclusion and this result was used to bolster the campaign.

The Government held out against any change for a long time, despite two amendments tabled by the Conservatives, on the grounds that the Bill was intended solely to assist economic recovery after an emergency. But last week Lord Bassam, government whip in the Lords, backed down and introduced an amendment.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, the department responsible for the Bill, said: "The amendment came about as a result of taking on board the views of the voluntary sector about the role it can play in helping the community get back on its feet after an emergency."

But although advice from local authorities is mandatory, it may not be free. The bill allows councils to charge for the service.

Cook, whose company offers just such services, said: "If, for example, a voluntary organisation requests specific detailed advice, perhaps in developing and exercising business continuity plans, then they should be willing to pay for it. We are closely engaged in the work to develop supporting regulations and guidance in support of the Bill. These will be crucial in helping local authorities to deliver effective advice to voluntary organisations."

The Bill is expected to receive royal assent by Christmas.

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