It’s time to scrap ESAG and start from scratch

Coun. Ken Hind
Coun. Ken Hind

THE following is a press statement issued this week by Ribble Valley borough councillor Ken Hind CBE, who was a volunteer steward at last year’s Clitheroe community bonfire.

ESAG – the Events Safety Advisory Group – should be scrapped and replaced by an Event Safety Committee including local councillors.

The 1,319 members of the public who have supported the Facebook campaign have a right to be angry and press for the Clitheroe firework display and bonfire to be saved. Due to the way in which the organisers feel they have been treated by ESAG – made up of officials from the local councils, police ambulance and fire authorities – they will not organise this year’s event because of the breakdown of trust with a particular official.

ESAG, on November 5th 2011, was unprepared for the numbers that attended the last bonfire event. The police were caught by surprise with one PC and a community support officer on the field and one traffic police officer. There were no representatives of the Fire or Ambulance services present, St John Ambulance provided emergency support.

The organisers faced a demand by an unelected council official acting outside his powers, to clear the field of thousands of people, including hundreds of children, immediately before the firework display was to be started. The crowd was happy and orderly. The organisers considered it was unnecessary and would cause panic and so went ahead with the event. That decision was proved to be right. Up to 9,000 people were got on to the field, watched the firework display and got back to their cars without injury. One eight-year-old child lost his parents but was later reunited.

At 9 p.m. that evening (November 5th 2011) a debrief was arranged by ESAG representatives to view the CCTV of the event. The organisers were not invited and have never seen the CCTV recorded on RVBC cameras. A report submitted to ESAG has never been seen by the organisers but has influenced the other partners in the advisory group in their attitude to this event. These other partners were not present on November 5th. No elected councillors were involved at any stage and did not see the report until I asked for it three weeks ago. This report is as yet unseen by the organisers. I am critical of the report concerning its contents and what has been left out. For the organisers it is like being a defendant convicted in a Kangaroo Court without having sight of the prosecution’s evidence. I have had to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act so they can see the report, currently it is being considered.

No elected councillors were involved until the last three weeks, when meetings have taken place to try and resolve the problems .

This must never be allowed to happen again. ESAG should be scrapped and replaced by a liason committee including local councillors, one of whom should chair the committee. There must be democratic accountability in the RIbble Valley where event management is so important to the local economy and community activity.

These councillors should report to their respective councils and event organisers should have access to them. All reports prepared for the liason committee, unless they contain sensitive material, should be in the public domain and made available automatically to event organisers so they can respond. Minutes of the committee should appear on council websites. A clear chain of command should be established before events take place so it can be established who is ultimately responsible on the night for public safety.

The organisers are volunteers from Rotary, Round Table and the Lions who have run this event for 15 years and raised thousands of pounds for local charities. We owe them the community’s thanks for their dedication and organising skills. On November 5th 2011 they remained calm, did not panic and made the right decision in the interests of public safety. They were entitled to be treated better by officials. Changes in the system of safety management should be now put in place for next year and will reassure all future event organisers wishing to bring their events to the RIbble Valley .

All the practical problems created by the unexpected numbers on November 5th 2011 are capable of resolution and have now been sorted out. The breakdown of trust will be more difficult to repair and can only be solved by radical changes.