Public Sector Focus

30.04.18

The legacy of Grenfell

Source: PSE April/May 2018

PSE’s Seamus McDonnell looks at the reactions of councils and the government to the Grenfell Tower fire, from the immediate aftermath to the most recent developments.

In March this year, the Metropolitan Police announced that one of Grenfell Tower’s fire doors – meant to hold out flames for at least 30 minutes – had failed testing and would have been incapable of providing the fire protection it was meant to deliver.

While the door itself was not the cause of last May’s terrible fire, the discovery was just another reminder of how many small, seemingly simple precautions are needed to make such a large structure safe, and speaks to the rise in vigilance that has developed from that awful tragedy.

The combination of problems which led to the Grenfell fire took nearly everyone by surprise, exposing systemic failures in national building regulations and leading to an immediate surge in councils investigating their own tower blocks for flaws.

Now, with nearly a year gone by since the disaster took the lives of 71 people, have local government leaders been able to bring their own housing stock to the expected standards?

Immediate reaction

The initial response to the tragedy saw the government call on local authorities and social housing providers to check all of their buildings for the aluminium composite material (ACM) blamed for the lack of protection it provided during the fire.

This review found that around 10% of the 166 councils that own housing stock also had high-rise properties with ACM, which in turn created further fears about the cost and timescale of removing so much cladding from so many buildings.

The result was varied, with a handful of councils choosing to install sprinkler systems in accordance with advice given out by the coroner and Dave Curry, chief officer of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, who called for “decisive action” in response to the tragedy.

Sheffield City Council, Croydon Council and Southampton City Council were among those authorities who announced intentions to fit sprinkler systems, with the aim of both providing safety and reassuring those residents who lived in the many other tower blocks across the country.

The ‘significant cost’ of safety

One of the major issues that has hit councils over the past year is the massive cost of securing the safety of tower blocks, especially when the work is done after these buildings have been constructed.

In July, the LGA warned the government that the cost of major remedial work to remove cladding from these blocks could be excessive and difficult for councils to cover without extra Whitehall funding.

Croydon Council said the cost of fitting its own sprinkler programmes across 26 of the borough’s towers could leave the authority £10m out of pocket and place “significant strain” on other projects that had already been promised the funding.

While the government has said that it would be willing to foot the bill for any “essential fire safety measures,” both the LGA and individual councils have registered a number of major concerns about the ability to fund emergency fire safety measures while their budgets are continually shrinking.

Continuing fire safety work

So, what about the faulty fire door which has most recently caused concern? The government responded to the issues with immediate action, calling in experts from the National Fire Chiefs Council and conducting additional testing on the rest of the batch.

Sir Ken Knight, chair of the Independent Expert Panel, which has been consulting on fire safety since the incident at Grenfell, welcomed the government’s reaction to this discovery, but reassured people that the risk to the public highlighted by this was relatively low.

“The government has taken the responsible step of consulting with experts, including the Expert Panel,” he said. “We will clearly monitor developments and advise the government of whether further advice is required.”

Future developments now hang on the conclusions of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review, expected to be complete in the spring and set to provide a range of recommendations on changes to national building regulations and fire safety laws.

Image © David Mirzoeff, PA Wire

 

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Council suspends contract with litter enforcement firm Kingdom after businesses complain about ‘aggressive’ fines

15/02/2019Council suspends contract with litter enforcement firm Kingdom after businesses complain about ‘aggressive’ fines

Wirral Council has suspended a contract with an enforcement firm after a raft of complaints around improper fines to businesses. The council... more >
Sutton London Borough Council permanent chief executive announced

15/02/2019Sutton London Borough Council permanent chief executive announced

The new chief executive of Sutton London Borough Council has been announced, with Helen Bailey taking up the role at the authority. Followin... more >
County council apologises over mistaken Prince Philip death notice

15/02/2019County council apologises over mistaken Prince Philip death notice

Hampshire County Council has apologised after mistakenly publishing a notice that Prince Philip had died in what has been blamed on an “int... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

Blog: Virgin Media Business support EvoNorth

13/02/2019Blog: Virgin Media Business support EvoNorth

"We are delighted to be a Strategic Partner to EvoNorth 2019. We’re looking forward to joining leaders from across the north to hear their vision for shaping the region and how we can help to make this a reality" EvoNorth welcome strategic partner Virgin Media Business to next month's event. They will be supporting our exclusive Health,... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

Government accountability: A year in crises

15/01/2019Government accountability: A year in crises

From Windrush to Univerisal Credit: the Institute for Government’s (IfG’s) accountability lead Benoit Guerin discusses how we can ave... more >
Rethinking public-private partnerships

15/01/2019Rethinking public-private partnerships

Trinley Walker, senior policy researcher at the New Local Government Network (NLGN) considers some different ways of approaching the relationship... more >
Fracking: divest to invest

07/01/2019Fracking: divest to invest

Deirdre Duff, divestment campaigner at Friends of the Earth, takes a look at local authorities’ role in fracking. The fossil fuel indu... more >
Building credit with the public sector

07/01/2019Building credit with the public sector

Mark Morrin, localism lead and principal research consultant at ResPublica, makes the case for salary-deducted lending to sit alongside a broader... more >

interviews

Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >