Government accused of ‘breaking pledge’ on fire safety funding
IN PARLIAMENT, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid was accused of ‘breaking his promise’ to provide councils with fire safety funding.
Chronicle Live reported on the challenge to Mr Javid in parliament from Labour MP Laura Pidcock, criticising him ‘over funding to help local authorities improve tower block safety’ and accusing him of ‘breaking his promise to provide financial support’. Yesterday, it was revealed that only three council owned high rises were the only such buildings nationwide to be reclad, out of 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests.
The government’s pace of response was attacked by Labour as ‘simply not good enough’, with the details having emerged amid the issues regarding councils requesting government funding assistance. Four were recently reported to be set to receive funding, after a recent update from Tamara Finkelstein, the director general of building safety for the ministry of housing, communities and local government, saw her tell a parliamentary select committee that the department ‘has received inquiries from 36 councils about financial help’, but that ‘so far none have been approved’.
Following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget last year, the only fire safety investment was £28m to help victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, though he stated that ‘if any local authority cannot access funding to pay for essential fire safety work, they should contact us immediately’, and that ‘we will not let financial constraints get in the way of essential safety work’.
Nottingham City Council criticised the government for not responding to repeated funding requests, having decided it would ‘forge ahead’ regardless. In November it criticised the government’s ‘mixed messages’ on funding, having had an earlier request refused by then Housing Minister Alok Sharma. Mr Sharma’s view was that fire safety measures were ‘additional rather than essential’, and that costs should be undertaken by the local authority ‘without any further financial assistance’.
In a letter, he told the council that ‘local authorities should draw on existing resources to implement these measures’, and that the government would only ‘consider the removal of financial constraints for local authorities where these stand in the way of essential work being done’. Of the 36 inquiries for funding, nine were from councils that had buildings that failed tests, with another 10 asked to ‘supply extra information’.
Mr Javid told parliament yesterday that the government was ‘ready to provide whatever financial flexibility’ might be needed for work to be carried out. Mr Healey contended that no councils have received funding yet, while Mr Javid conceded recladding ‘would take time’. He did note however that safety measures ‘were in place already at affected blocks’, with the government’s priority ‘securing safety’.
He had pledged that there would be a ‘financial support package’ for making buildings fireproof after the Grenfell Tower fire last year, with Mrs Pidcock querying why of 36 councils that had contacted the government about fire safety, ‘none have so far received any financial help – why not?’ Mr Javid replied that ‘we are ready to provide whatever financial flexibilities are necessary to any local authority to make sure all essential fire safety work is done’.