‘MANY in the fire service and the fire safety sector have been raising issues about regulation, issues like cladding, for many years and we constantly run into a brick wall from a government which is obsessed with deregulating, with reducing what they describe as red tape.’
Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack was reacting angrily to Tory PM May’s announcement in the House of Commons yesterday that around 600 high rise blocks of flats across England are using similar cladding to Grenfell Tower.
May told the House of Commons that Kensington and Chelsea council ‘couldn’t cope’ in the aftermath of the fire, and that it ‘was right’ its chief executive, Nicholas Holgate, had stepped down.
Pressed on whether the cladding passed fire and building regulations, she said tests would be made public in the next two days. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded: ‘At least 79 people are dead. It is both a tragedy and an outrage, because every single one of those deaths could and should have been avoided. The Grenfell Tower residents themselves had raised concerns about the lack of fire safety in the block.
‘The Grenfell Action Group had warned, and I quote, “It is a truly terrifying thought, but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believes that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.”
‘The prime minister has said it is right that the CEO of Kensington and Chelsea Council has resigned. It may be. But why aren’t the political leaders of Kensington and Chelsea taking responsibility as well for this terrible event?
‘Mr Speaker, from Hillsborough, to the child sex abuse scandal, to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is consistent, working class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed by those in power … Those people have died, they will never come back. We have to learn those lessons to make sure this tragedy is a turning point in our whole attitude and never again do people die needlessly, in a towering inferno, living in poverty, surrounded by a sea of prosperity.’
The FBU yesterday wrote to all MPs saying that cuts to the fire and rescue service of 11,000 frontline firefighters since 2010 – one fifth (20%) of the workforce – has put public safety at risk. The letter stated, ‘As a result of the massive funding cuts to fire and rescue services, there has been a significant decline in the capacity of fire authorities to undertake crucial fire prevention work.’
Wrack warned: ‘Of course in this instance, in the question of where people live, red tape is whether you have fire-resistant doors, walls and ceilings to stop the spread of fire. And red tape in that case is the difference between life and death.’
Wrack added that the checks done on cladding in a scientific room are very different from when they are subcontracted out to privateers and put on buildings like Grenfell in a decorative way, creating flumes and chimneys behind them.
He added: ‘Many local authorities, strapped for cash after seven years of cuts, have cut back on fire testing, cut back on inspections because they simply haven’t got the staff to do it any more.’