THE GMB union has slammed the failure of the Grenfell Report to tell the full story.
The roots of this disaster lay not with the events of that night but on the years of savage cuts leading up to it, the union says
GMB, the union for emergency service staff, reacted with fury yesterday after publication of a report into the Grenfell Tower disaster that left 72 people dead.
The report, completed after an investigation led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, claims that the London Fire Brigade’s readiness for the fire was ‘gravely inadequate’ and has criticised the Brigade for a number of failures in relation to its handling of the disaster.
The second phase of the inquiry, which is due to begin next year, is to focus on the refurbishment project that many believe was the real cause of the disaster, a point underlined by Moore-Bick’s comments that there is compelling evidence that the external walls of the building failed to comply with the requirements of building regulations governing fire safety.
GMB represents 999 call handlers and emergency responders in London Fire Brigade’s Control Room who were on duty on the night of the fire.
Andy Prendergast, GMB Senior Organiser said: ‘No one would deny the need to examine every action taken on that fateful night. But the reality is that by starting with the individual actions of staff within a Fire Brigade hampered by years of savage cuts lets the originators of this disaster off the hook.
‘It wasn’t staff members who decided to prioritise company profits over residents’ safety. It wasn’t staff members who cut the funding to the service, closing stations and cutting jobs. It wasn’t the staff members who decided to pay council tax rebates instead of protecting those living within its borders.
‘This report tells only a fraction of the story, that of dedicated hard working staff in a Control Room and on fire stations, dealing with a situation beyond our worst nightmares, putting their lives in danger, making split second decisions as they struggled desperately to save lives. It is a story of heroism, one where those hard working members of staff did everything they could with the resources they had to save as many lives as they could.
‘We question the wisdom of starting the investigation by looking at the actions of the responders to what happened on 14th June 2017. The roots of this disaster lay not with the events of that night but on the years leading up to it.
‘We need to know why concerns from residents and fire staff were ignored, why councillors were deaf to protests, and why materials that were clearly not fit for purpose were used. We need to understand how the impact of massive cuts on the fire service impacted on their ability to respond.
‘The story of Grenfell Tower is not one of individual failings made on the night but one of collective failings made over years.
‘GMB fully supports every one of our members caught up in the events of that night and we will not rest until the full story has been told, one that names and shames those most responsible instead of this selective document that deals only with the result of the disaster and not the cause.
‘Both the staff, who worked so hard, and the residents, who endured such unimaginable suffering, deserve better.’
Unite the union has also extended the hand of solidarity to the Grenfell community and London’s firefighters.
Unite, which is representing almost 70 families in the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, criticised the inquiry’s report for being ‘back to front’ saying its priority should have been to focus on the causes of the fire before the evacuation.
In supporting families affected by the Grenfell Tower, Unite is pursuing a judicial review over the failure to rehouse people, in addition to personal injury cases and legal action in the United States over the tower’s cladding.
Commenting Unite assistant general secretary for political and legal affairs Howard Beckett said: ‘It is wrong that the inquiry has chosen not to start with the cladding or sprinkler failures and government inaction, but instead on the men and women of London Fire Brigade who risked their lives to save others.
‘This focus of the inquiry’s report risks diverting attention from the central causes of the Grenfell Tower tragedy which are associated with greed, big business, the failure of regulation and a Conservative local authority.
‘All the while ministers are avoiding scrutiny and we still have the scandal of people living in fear because of failures to remove dangerous cladding from buildings.
‘Unite stands in solidarity with the Grenfell families, the Fire Brigades Union and the men and women of London’s Fire Brigade. We will not rest until we achieve justice and answers for the families of Grenfell and secure the changes in regulation necessary to stop another tragedy.’
- Meanwhile the FBU has issued a warning to Surrey County Council.
It stated: ‘Surrey County Council must not ignore residents crying out against dangerous fire cuts.
‘Over 13,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to the drastic cuts to night-time fire cover across Surrey, due to be debated today, the most signatures on a Surrey petition in a decade.
‘The cuts, which include removing seven fire engines at night-time and cutting 70 firefighter posts, were approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting on 24 September. 68% of respondents to the official consultation opposed cuts to fire cover, with just 18% approving.’
Addressing Surrey County Council, Lee Belsten, Surrey FBU brigade secretary, said: ‘Are you listening to your constituents? Your residents? Your firefighters? The community has cried out against these dangerous cuts. We must not be ignored.
‘It’s ludicrous to claim the service is able to mitigate any increased risk through prevention alone, while gutting emergency response. There is clear evidence that the number of fires in homes remains consistent, regardless of the number of home fire safety checks.
‘They are claiming that the service will continue to meet its standard response times – a standard that Surrey Fire has never been able to consistently achieve since it was downgraded in 2011. Surrey already cannot meet their standard with existing resources – and these cuts will only make things worse.’
Surrey’s Chief Fire Officer has claimed that carrying out more preventative work will vastly reduce the number of dwelling fires on the same day, despite recent evidence that existing fire prevention capabilities have little impact on fires in homes.
Fire prevention posts have been cut significantly since 2010, with fire safety audits falling over the same period. The FBU believes that these positions should be reinstated alongside emergency response capabilities, with the impact assessed after five years.
The FBU set Surrey Fire and Rescue Service a deadline of 7 October to address its concerns. As that deadline has passed, the union will now consider balloting its members for industrial action under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.