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Auditor General highlights “major concerns” over building safety in Wales

28 August 2023

AUDITOR GENERAL Adrian Crompton has produced a damning 56-page report highlighting “major concerns” in terms of the implementation of the new building safety regime across Wales, in turn raising fears that the latter is not being adequately prioritised and resourced.

In June 2017, 72 people died in the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. As a result, the Government at Westminster commissioned Dame Judith Hackitt to conduct the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The process duly revealed serious and long-standing issues with the building safety system in operation at that time.

The ensuing period has witnessed both the UK and Welsh Governments prioritising action designed to improve the ‘policing’ of building safety in a determined bid to avoid another disaster on the scale of Grenfell.

The Auditor General for Wales’ report entitled ‘Cracks in the Foundations: Building Safety in Wales’ concludes that, while the changes to building control and building safety are to be welcomed, those responsible for implementing the changes are “not well placed” to deliver them and “unable to effectively carry out their enhanced roles” to ensure that buildings in Wales are safe.

There remains “uncertainty” over how some aspects of the new building safety regime will be implemented, with some key decisions yet to be taken. Although most local authorities and Fire and Rescue Services harbour a good understanding of local building safety risks, they have not yet outlined how they’re planning to deliver the requirements of the Building Safety Act 2022.

Range of problems

Adrian Crompton’s report points to “a wide range of problems” facing the building control and building safety profession, including significant staffing challenges framed by an ageing workforce and poor succession planning.

The lack of investment in training and development means services are not resilient or fit for the future, raising concerns that local authorities will struggle to successfully deliver their responsibilities.

Particular concerns are noted in relation to the financial management of building control, with some authorities’ current practices “potentially being unlawful” given that they do not operate in line with the regulations and guidance. “Although the pandemic helped local authorities to modernise their services, we are concerned that services are not resilient.”

The absence of a national framework for monitoring and evaluating building control and safety means that local authorities and partners are not working to agreed outcome measures and targets. “This weakens scrutiny of services and does not help mitigate risk.”

Key recommendations

The report goes on to outline several key recommendations for the Welsh Government and local authorities:

*providing greater clarity on the implementation and expectations of Part 3 of the Building Safety Act 2022

*ensuring that there are sufficient resources to deliver the legislative and policy changes for building safety in order to reduce implementation risks

*increasing the oversight and management of building control to ensure there’s a robust assurance system in place for building control and safety

Adrian Crompton explained: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy, the impact of which we continue to feel today. My report highlights major concerns with the implementation of the new system for building safety. Although it’s heartening to see the passion and commitment from those working in the sector, I’m concerned that not enough priority is being given to these services on the ground. The absence of robust plans, clear decision-making and adequate resources raises real fears that the new legislation will not be delivered and the problems it is seeking to address will remain.”

Responding to the Audit Wales report, Welsh Conservative Party representative Mark Isherwood MS (chair of the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee) said: “Following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in 2017, it’s essential for the Welsh Government to take action to strengthen building safety. ‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌It’s worrying to hear that the sector is struggling to respond to the new requirements in the Building Safety Act 2022.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌

Isherwood continued: “I’m concerned about the significant staffing challenges, the ageing workforce, poor succession planning and the lack of investment in training and development highlighted by the Auditor General’s report. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌I share the Auditor General’s concerns over the financial management of building control. Across Wales, we need services to be resilient and for local authorities to be resourced and adequately staffed such that they’re able to deliver on their important responsibility for keeping people safe.”

In conclusion, Isherwood stated: “As a Committee, we’re urging the Welsh Government to accept and implement the Auditor General’s recommendations.”

*Read ‘Cracks in the Foundations: Building Safety in Wales’​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​