Written evidence submitted by Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (COR0087)
- Since the Government issued its Coronavirus Action Plan on the 3rd of March the world has changed considerably. Our emergency services, councils and the NHS have worked around the clock to contain, delay, research and mitigate the Coronavirus and its impact within our communities.
- We have seen some amazing feats of bravery, extraordinary levels of community volunteering and exceptional dedication within our services. We have seen unparalleled, spontaneous displays of support for our public services and those who work in them. The public aren’t just complying with extremely difficult restrictions on their freedoms, they are largely supporting them.
- In counties such as Essex, the sense that we are in this together and all pulling together to beat this virus is palpable. Clear, unwavering advice from all of us in public office is providing reassurance and certainty at a time when that is sorely needed. Our services are working incredibly hard to maintain that public support and should be able to look to all of us in elected office to support their work.
- Operationally, all the services and organisations involved in the response have now had their strategies tested against the cold hard truth of reality. Assumptions have been tested, plans put into action then revised, reviewed and adapted. That adaptation is ongoing, as is expected in the early stages of a global pandemic of the magnitude we are currently experiencing.
- We have seen all of this and more and it has only been seven weeks since the Government launched the Coronavirus Action Plan and four weeks since the Stay At Home advice was issued.
- To undertake an inquiry at this stage, when we are yet to know if we have even reached the peak of deaths or infections associated with this deadly virus, seems at best premature and at worst a dangerous distraction. For agencies, organisations and services managing this global pandemic they are making decisions today and tomorrow which will decide how successfully we manage as a country. They are urging the public to stay with us and their success in this is crucial for our success as a country.
- While we strongly support the need for public scrutiny, and we must look for lessons in how we can improve our response in the future, the time to undertake an inquiry is not now. Parliament’s scrutiny role is essential in any well-functioning democracy and its speed and immediacy helps support this scrutiny. The considered, careful analysis of a Committee is less suited to such an immediate function.
- Not only is this an inappropriate time to undertake a public inquiry of this nature, it is also an ineffective time. One of the key areas of interest is looking at plans to mitigate or avert domestic abuse and child abuse. In Essex, the Southend, Thurrock and Essex Domestic Abuse Board, which leads the county’s strategic approach to tackling Domestic Abuse, has been incredibly fast in responding to the anticipated increase in domestic abuse caused by the impact of Coronavirus.
- A countywide communications campaign was launched in the first few days after the Stay At Home advice was issued on the 9th of April and this was then backed up with increased resources being made available to front line support services. This has meant we have managed to provide a quick, timely and adaptive proactive approach.
- Even in these circumstances, it is still too early to know what impact this is happening, what other measures may also be worth considering and how we could improve.
- The same situation is true across the lines of enquiry you request evidence on. We can all express an opinion on whether the preparations were right, but we are in the middle of the response and should be focusing on responding as effectively as we can now.
- While I do not agree with the timing of this inquiry, as you are proceeding already, I would urge you to ensure that your report recognises the limitations of the findings the inquiry will come to as a result of the time at which it was undertaken.
- We are living through extraordinary, challenging and difficult times and we will have an opportunity to look at and learn from how we have handled this crisis, what worked and what didn’t. To learn these lessons, we must look at the situation carefully and in a considered manner. We must not lose this opportunity because an inquiry was undertaken too soon.