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News: Britain’s fire safety regime is ‘a national disgrace and politicians are responsible’

Thu, 25 Jun 20

Three years after the Grenfell fire, 257 tower blocks in Britain, housing about 56,000 people, are still to be made safe, and politicians are largely to blame, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). 

Fresh analysis reveals that the government plans to fund just a dozen extra staff to inspect and enforce fire safety in more than 2 million homes after Grenfell, which has today been described as a “gross underestimate” of the resources needed to tackle the building safety crisis in England.

The revelations have prompted calls from the FBU for ministers to establish a permanent statutory advisory body for the fire and rescue service, allowing the voices of frontline firefighters and inspectors to influence the “dangerously short-termist thinking” of Whitehall and to provide a ‘reality check’ before final votes take place in the Fire Safety Bill.

The Fire Safety Bill, currently in its committee stage, would extend responsibility for fire services to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of all of England’s multi-occupancy buildings, including building structures, external walls, stairs, and doors between residences.

The government does not know how many flats will be covered by the legislation, but a Home Office impact assessment estimate forecasts up to 2.2 million. But there are currently just 951 Fire Safety Officers in England qualified to carry out fire safety audits.

The government estimates that just £700,000 extra a year will be required for the inspections, which would pay for only twelve full-time fire safety inspectors. The maximum estimated spend is £2.1m, which would pay for just 35 inspectors, less than one per brigade in England.

The FBU says that fire inspector numbers should be doubled to seriously tackle the building safety crisis.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, who will give evidence to the Fire Safety Bill committee today, commented: “Three years after Grenfell, Britain’s fire safety regime remains a national disgrace and politicians are responsible. This legislation is long overdue but insufficient. The bill in its current form is a gross underestimate of the realities of the crisis. Without funding a significant increase in fire inspector numbers, this change in the law will not ramp up enforcement on rogue landlords – ministers need a serious reality check.

“At best, the government is planning to fund less than one extra fire inspector in each fire service for a massively expanded workload. We should be talking about immediately doubling inspector numbers to make a dent in this crisis.

“Oversights like this are symptomatic of a system that excludes those most affected from the policymaking process. With better engagement with tenants and firefighters, the chances of another disaster like Grenfell could be significantly reduced.

“The government must finally bring back a statutory fire sector body that represents the views of frontline firefighters, fire safety inspectors, and tenants. It’s the only way to end the dangerously short-termist thinking that prospers in Whitehall.”

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