Karen Lee MP: The Government are not preparing our Fire and Rescue Services for another Grenfell
Research released today, regarding Fire and Rescue Services’ current readiness for a similar disaster to Grenfell demonstrates that the government have not grasped the current threat posed to many communities across the UK, says Karen Lee MP.
We must never forget the 14th June 2017. On that fateful night 72 people lost their lives in Grenfell Tower. The lasting damage to the community has been devastating and many survivors and local residents are still displaced. It is shameful that the government are not providing Fire and Rescue Services with the necessary resources to prepare for a similar disaster.
While the survivors continue to mourn, politicians have a duty to address how the disaster happened and prevent it from ever happening again. Research released today, regarding Fire and Rescue Services’ current readiness for a similar disaster, demonstrates that the government have not grasped the current threat posed to many communities across the UK.
Grenfell was not the first catastrophic tower block fire caused by the failure of fire regulations. Lessons should have been learnt after fires at Harrow Court in 2005, Lakanal House in 2009 and Shirley Towers in 2010. But due to government inaction, the threat remains for many residents living in high-rise buildings across the UK.
Urgent action was required immediately after the fire to safeguard buildings which were at risk. Yet nearly two years since the disaster, government action has been slow and insufficient.
338 residential buildings are still wrapped in the combustible ACM cladding used on Grenfell Tower and the government have not identified the total number of buildings with other types of combustible cladding. The government are not addressing the fire risk holistically. Currently, there is no comprehensive government research of how fire compartmentation has failed in other ways. This requires robust combustibility assessments of how materials interact with each other, spanning from fire doors to insulation. Without this thorough national picture, Fire and Rescue Services cannot safely address the spread and severity of a fire as it climbs a building.
The threat of a disaster similar to Grenfell is ever-present for communities across the UK. As research undertaken by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) shows, the government do not grasp the severity of the threat posed, as the readiness of Fire and Rescue Services across the UK varies dramatically. It is unacceptable that there is currently no national oversight of the readiness of Fire and Rescue Services; the government must stop negligently ignoring the ongoing threat of another large-scale fire.
Nick Hurd MP, the Government’s Fire Minister, misleadingly suggested that local Fire and Rescue Services are prepared for another fire on the scale of Grenfell. Not only had neither he nor the Home Office contacted all local services before making this claim, but evidence shows that where 40 fire appliances responded to Grenfell, some Fire and Rescue Services are only prepared to mobilise 2.
The Government’s response to Grenfell over the past two years demonstrates their inability to keep the public safe. Austerity has continued to be inflicted on Local Government since the disaster and central government funding to Fire Authorities has been cut by 15% between 2016/17 and 2019/20. Since 2010, government policies have resulted in 11,000 fewer firefighters, rising response times and 25% fewer home fire safety checks. 9 years of austerity has degraded both the reactive and proactive work of Fire and Rescue Services.
The government must stop the cuts to central government funding and undertake a funding programme which reflects the risk posed to communities across the UK. For people living in fear of another Grenfell across the UK, the threat is real and constant. To keep residents safe, the government cannot continue on its current track.
Karen Lee is Labour MP for Lincoln and Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services.