Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Govt must provide councils with money for fire safety work - South London Press article

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7 July 2017 

We have all been appalled at the horrific death toll, injury and loss caused by the Grenfell Tower fire and are devastated for those who’ve lost loved ones and their homes. But it will be particularly chilling for people living in tower blocks, and I’ve heard from a number of constituents in the 54 high-rise blocks in my constituency, frightened about their safety.  

The Grenfell fire took us back to the terrible fire in Lakanal House in 2009 where 3 women and 3 children died.  It was awful to see history repeat itself, with an event greater loss of life which should never have happened.

Again, a block which had undergone refurbishments to improve it was not properly re-inspected after the work and a fire which should’ve been contained in one flat spread and the fire brigade told residents to “stay put” as the fire spread.

In 2013 the Coroner in the Lakanal inquest said those deaths had been avoidable and made recommendations for improving safety in high-rise blocks, greater supervision of maintenance contracts, fire inspections, fitting sprinklers and updating fire regulations. The Tories say they’ve followed the Coroner’s rulings but they haven’t.

While I welcome the announcement that there will be a public inquiry, the Government mustn't wait for the outcome of another inquiry to act.

After the fire I made sure that, even though the House of Commons hadn’t yet reconvened after the General Election, there was a ministerial briefing which took place in Parliament on 15 June 2017.  I spoke in it demanding that the Government: 

  • Award Legal Aid to the residents so their voice can be heard in the public inquiry.  The Fire Service and Kensington and Chelsea council will have QCs - at public expense.  It will be a travesty if the residents, who had to run for their lives, just have to sit in the public gallery.
  • Ensure that Grenfell Tower residents are rehoused in the area and that problems with their bank, insurance and ID documents are sorted out.
  • Make sure that hospitals and emergency services have enough resources to deal with survivors.
  • Provide the money to ensure survivors are rehoused in the area, not sent miles away.
  • Give all councils the resources they need to increase fire inspections, supervise contractors working on improvements and install sprinklers.
  • Review and update building regulations. 

Over three weeks have passed since the Grenfell tragedy and the Government have been too slow to act to ensure that tenants living in other tower blocks are safe. 

When the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons on 22 June, I challenged her to get a grip on the tragedy personally and use Cobra to call together all local authorities to require them to check the cladding on every one of their tower blocks, and to give councils the resources they need to conduct these inspections, to replace cladding if found to be combustible and fit sprinklers – all within a specified timescale. As Southwark MPs, Helen Hayes MP, Neil Coyle MP and I have written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ask for a commitment that the council will not have to divert money away from other much needed improvements to pay for this and should be able to waive the charges to leaseholders.

The last Labour government invested billions of pounds improving council homes but the Tories have made deep cuts. Councils want to improve fire safety but since 2010 the Government has slashed their budgets by half, making it harder to supervise contractors and impossible to afford the unprecedented costs of urgent safety inspections and sprinklers in the wake of Grenfell.

The Government is responsible for the safety of people in social housing and cuts cost lives.  I will continue to press the Prime Minister to provide our council with the money it needs and work with Southwark Council to satisfy myself that all tenants in tower blocks in my constituency are safe. 

 

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