In a new report, firefighters lay the ‘ultimate responsibility’ for Grenfell at the UK government’s feet

Grenfell Tower
Tracy Keeling

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has released a new pamphlet which lays the ultimate responsibility for the Grenfell Tower disaster with central government. It says deregulation from consecutive governments since Margaret Thatcher has ‘gutted’ the UK’s fire safety regime, leading to the tragedy.

“Squeezed out”

The pamphlet’s launch will take place on 23 September at the Labour conference. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will speak at the event alongside Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, and former Grenfell resident and building safety expert Gill Kernick.

The 50-page report states that:

Since the 1980s, the management of risk has squeezed out firefighters, other workers and their trade union representatives who practise fire safety as their profession. This expertise 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. This has been driven by central government.

The pamphlet, meanwhile, details the history of fire safety deregulation in the UK over decades. For example, it documents how – under Thatcher – the government cut building regulations from more than 300 pages to just 25. In the pamphlet, the FBU also says:

In parallel to watering down building safety regulation, Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s attacked the laws designed to improve fire safety, underfunded the fire service and attacked national standards meant to help firefighters protect the public.

Furthermore, it notes decisions made by Tony Blair’s government, which the FBU says continued Thatcher’s “deregulatory drive”. The pamphlet says Blair’s Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004:

abolished national standards of fire cover, allowing local services to set attendance targets (time taken by the fire service to reach a fire) for their own areas… [and] abolished the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council

The FBU report also states that David Cameron’s “one in, two out” policy on new regulations removed further ‘red tape’. Meanwhile, Cameron’s coalition government cut funding for fire and rescue services by an average of 28%, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

“Culture of complacency”

Wrack 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.

72 people died in the fire that consumed Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. A report into the disaster said evidence “strongly supports” the idea that cladding was the lead cause of the fire spreading. Earlier this year, a BBC investigation warned that many of England’s 1,700 “at risk” buildings could fail new safety tests introduced after the Grenfell tragedy.

Featured image via ChiralJon/Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. It certianly took a long long time for this study to come out. It was clear back then those in charge of fire safety had been removed from its social duty. What’s surprising is that the Insurance companies seemed to have no influence in objecting to bypassing these rules of safety. But what about the cladding which was only authorized for a 1 story building?
      It’s discouraging to keep reading the follow up on the fire for the sheer inaction it seems to generate to do things differently. Perhaps I’m unaware of what has changed in light of the fire.

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