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Report says government deregulation responsible for Grenfell

01 October 2019

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT bears ultimate responsibility for the Grenfell Tower fire, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said, in a new pamphlet which details how deregulation from consecutive governments led to the tragedy.

 The pamphlet will be launched at an event at Labour Conference, with Jeremy Corbyn speaking, alongside Emma Dent Coad, MP for Kensington, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, and Gill Kernick, a former Grenfell resident and building safety expert.

Decisions made by every government since Thatcher led to the gutting of the UK’s fire safety regime and, ultimately, to Grenfell, as outlined in The Grenfell Tower Fire: A crime caused by profit and deregulation.

The report damningly concludes:

  • Central government, over consecutive administrations, has failed to regulate high-rise residential buildings properly for fire safety.
  • The expertise of firefighters “has mostly been substituted with management consultants, industry lobbyists and chief fire officers. These agents have operated within a political climate that has emphasised the need for reducing regulation … driven by central government.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said, “The terrible loss of life at Grenfell Tower was ultimately caused by political decisions made at the highest level. For at least 40 years, policies relating to housing, local government, the fire and rescue service, research and other areas have been driven by the agenda of cuts, deregulation and privatisation.”

“Deregulation has been the dominant political ideology of most politicians in central government for decades. But it has also been fostered by the direct lobbying of private business interests. A deep-seated culture of complacency has developed regarding fire policy and fire safety and central government bears ultimate responsibility.” 

In a meticulous history of fire safety deregulation, the pamphlet covers:

  • The Blair government’s 2004 scrapping of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, which governed fire safety from 1947 and delivered many of the major improvements in fire protection, and the abolition of national standards for fire and rescue services
  • Edward Heath’s government removed a requirement for blocks of flats to have mandatory fire certification from the final Fire Precautions Bill 1970, due to the “very considerable expenditure” involved. In 1994, a review from the Major government again did not include high-rise residential buildings in its list of higher life-risk premises
  • The Heath government ignored a recommendation that only those with “operational firefighting experience” be responsible for enforcing fire safety, paving the way for privatisation of the fire safety regime
  • The Thatcher government cut building regulations from more than 300 pages to just 25, ceasing a formal requirement to ensure buildings were “deemed to satisfy” fire safety regulation
  • A review from the Thatcher government called for an overhaul of fire policy due to the “significant financial burden” of the legislation. The review recognised that removing control would “lead to recurrence, albeit infrequently, of multiple fatality fires”. Nonetheless it advocated reductions in fire cover “which would not result in an unacceptable increase in loss of property or casualties”
  • The Major government privatised the Building Research Establishment, opening a conflict of interest between its role providing advice to ministers and its commercial role in testing materials for construction firms
  • Cameron’s “one in, two out” policy on new regulations slashed regulations further, with Eric Pickles, then communities secretary, repealing various local building acts’ fire safety measures
  • The coalition government cut fire budgets by around 28% in real terms
  • Ignored warning from previous fires that raised risks seen at Grenfell, including the Harrow Court fire in 2005, the Lakanal House fire in 2009, and the Shirley Towers Fire in 2010