“Grenfell disaster a direct consequence of Government policies” asserts FBU
11 November 2022
AS THE Grenfell Tower Inquiry draws to a close, the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) lawyer has told the Inquiry that “the disaster was a direct consequence of a generation of Government policies, which combined to create a death trap for the residents of Grenfell Tower”. The comments came in the closing submissions for Phase 2, which covers the run-up to the night of the fire.
Commenting on this issue, Matt Wrack (general secretary for the FBU) said: “The evidence that’s coming out of this Public Inquiry should outrage us all. Looking at the evidence from the last 40 years, it’s clear what caused Grenfell. Political decisions have been made in service of a social and economic system driven by greed. Private interests have been allowed to take priority over the needs of ordinary citizens when it comes to building safety and fire safety.”
Wrack continued: “Rules have been removed or watered down in service of this political agenda. That’s what led to lethal cladding being put on Grenfell and that’s what led to the utterly tragic loss of 72 lives. Those who made and drove those political decisions need to be held to account, as do those who took part in that deadly refurbishment.”
Deregulation in focus
Deregulation is the removal of regulations or restrictions and has been named by the FBU as a key cause of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Martin Seaward, speaking to the Inquiry on behalf of the Trade Union, said that while “the private sector companies involved in the refurbishment [of Grenfell] bear a heavy responsibility… it would be wholly wrong and provide no justice to victims to leave the blame there”.
Seaward added: “They were encouraged to act by 40 years of political decisions in the service of an ideology [ie deregulation] based on the prioritisation of commercial interests and profit above all else, including public safety.”
Further, Seaward noted that “the real culprits of the disaster are those in power at the top, ie ministers following their deregulatory agenda to the detriment of fire safety, and the directors of industry on whom they depended for sponsorship and party funding”.
Seaward aired the view that deregulation “has become synonymous with central Government abandoning responsibility for… Building Regulations, building control, testing and certification, Fire and Rescue Services and fire safety”.
Deregulation policies “tragically came together on 14 June 2017 to create the worst residential fire since 2017”, suggested Seaward, while these policies meant that Grenfell “was a disaster waiting to happen”.
Politics driving deregulation
Seaward described deregulation as part of a set of ideas that drives for a “largely unfettered” free market and a role for the state that “limited it to… supporting the free market”, and “prioritises… entrepreneurial freedoms and private business interests”.
He highlighted how ministers pursing this agenda had “deliberately and irresponsibly undermined” a “culture of Health and Safety”. Regulations were “repeatedly depicted as pointless and time-wasting administrative bureaucracy”. Already deregulated legislation “has not been effectively enforced” with effective enforcement “instead progressively weakened by successive Governments”.
Refurbishment of Grenfell
Seaward did highlight the role of the individual organisations involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell. That refurbishment process covered Grenfell in cladding that had a flammability which some have compared to petrol.
He said that “the key players [in the refurbishment] amply demonstrate the widespread disregard of fire safety”. He pointed to “cladding manufacturer dishonesty and manipulation” and several agencies – including the architects and the design and build contractor – “failing to complete” the fire risk strategy.
London Fire Brigade
Further, Seaward highlighted the structure of the Inquiry, which first involved a close analysis of the emergency response and then returned to discuss the run-up to the disaster in Phase 2. He stated that the Inquiry “risks distracting from the real causes of the disaster and creating a scapegoat that would allow those truly responsible, including senior politicians and company directors, to evade responsibility”.
Seaward concluded: “Firefighters risked their lives going into the blazing inferno to try and rescue residents and extinguish the fire. They and the control staff did their duty professionally, bravely and to the best of their abilities in the face of a rapidly developing fire that was beyond anything any of them had ever experienced or been trained for. They followed their procedures and applied their training as much as the extreme conditions allowed.”
After this set of submissions there will be a pause while the Grenfell Tower Inquiry team prepares its final report, which is likely to be published next year.