This week I have been at the Local Government Association’s conference in Birmingham. Talk has turned to the world in the shadow of Grenfell.
The first thing councillors did was to thank firefighters and public sector workers for their outstanding dedication to our communities. The mood changed when Sajid David, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government attempted to lecture councillors on community confidence.
It is the Conservative government’s poisonous agenda of cuts and deregulation that has little community confidence: the bonfire of so-called ‘red tape’ which has seen crucial safety standards drop and our residents’ safety put on the line. Surely it’s reasonable that housing faces at least as much consumer protection and regulation as hotels do? Schools, hospitals and care homes are rightly regulated with the principle aim of putting the user centre stage. Why not housing?
The Cabinet Office website boasts that over 2,400 regulations have been scrapped and hundreds of housing standards reduced. In the weeks before Grenfell, the government considered abolishing EU regulations which aim to make external cladding safe. It is described as ‘expensive and burdensome’.
The Building Research Establishment, the organisation that carries out safety tests on materials, including testing cladding for its fire-resistance, has had huge government cuts. A faulty fridge is suspected to have started the Grenfell fire yet the Chartered Trading Standards Institute states that because of government cuts, UK trading standards have been cut to the bone. Fire safety officers perform safety audits and ensure that landlords and businesses comply with the law, but half of them have been cut since 2010 according the Fire Brigades’ Union. While one of the few bodies that represented tenants’ interests - the Tenants and Residents Organisation of England- was cut. Cuts and the rush to deregulate have already cost too many lives. We desperately need a new robust regulatory framework that puts the safety of our tenants first, not deems them ‘expensive’ or ‘red tape’.
Phelim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council.