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Firefighters call for Grenfell Tower Inquiry to investigate “revolving door” between manufacturers and regulators

09 November 2020

THE GRENFELL Tower Inquiry should investigate the independence of building safety certification bodies, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) claims, as the Inquiry commences Module 2 of its second phase which is set to investigate the testing, certification and marketing of the materials used on the building’s external walls.

The FBU also demands that the Inquiry’s expert panel considers whether “blurred lines” between regulatory and commercial activity in the construction industry may have affected regulators’ ability to best serve the public interest.

According to the FBU, “serious concerns” must be raised as to whether the British Board of Agrément (BBA), which issues safety certificates for construction products, has remained sufficiently independent of the industry which it regulates since it was separated from the machinery of Government back in 1999.

Digby Harper, former CEO of Celotex (producer of the flammable insulation which aided the fire spread at Grenfell Tower), sat on the BBA’s Board of Governors from 2007 and chaired the Board from 2008 until 2016.

Michael Ankers, then CEO of the Construction Products Association (which itself “represents and champions” construction product manufacturers) sat on the Board of the “supposedly independent” BBA from 1999 until after the Grenfell Tower disaster had taken place.

The FBU is now asking the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to consider how, if at all, these conflicts of interest were resolved.

The Trade Union also warns that the Government’s attempt to amend building safety guidance “fails to recognise” the complexities of fire safety, accusing Government ministers of making similar mistakes to those behind Grenfell’s deadly refurbishment.

“Filler material”

Government guidance issued after Grenfell loosely refers to the flammable polyethylene core of aluminium composite panels as “filler material”, allowing the construction industry to continue misapplying regulations intended for insulation materials to external wall surfaces.

Dr Barbara Lane, an expert witness to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, previously warned that it was “important” to “remove any means for loose interpretation of fire safety requirements regarding external wall construction”.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, commented: “Grenfell Tower was an atrocity borne of an all-too-familiar story of deregulation and of cosy relationships between big business, regulators and Government. If the Grenfell Tower Inquiry wants to understand how a residential building could become wrapped in something so flammable, it’s crucial that the revolving door between the commercial construction industry and its regulators is properly investigated. That must include asking the obvious question: ‘How can the former boss of the company which sold Grenfell’s flammable insulation be allowed to chair the Board of the regulator?’”

Wrack added: “It’s deeply disappointing, but shamefully unsurprising, to see that the Government’s attempts to improve building safety after Grenfell risk making the same mistakes that led to the disaster in the first place. Nothing short of a root and branch overhaul of the UK’s grotesquely corrupted building safety regime will set us on the right path, but the Government has instead resolved to tinker around the edges with piecemeal reform. Frankly, it’s simply not good enough.”