Government confusion over council fire safety letters

Government confusion over council fire safety letters

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Secretary Sajid Javid was branded ‘clueless’ after another minister responded to a council letter regarding fire safety, despite his assertion none had contacted him.

Huffington Post followed up on the recent news that Mr Javid had stated in the House of Commons that no councils in England had asked him for fire safety cash, despite a number of councils having sent him letters. Now, the news outlet has reported that Housing Minister Alok Sharma, ‘who was sitting next to Javid’ as he made his speech about the councils, ‘had actually responded to one of the councils just 24 hours earlier’.

Around 10 councils made requests to Mr Javid, and despite Mr Sharma having ‘personally signed a letter to Croydon Council’ that had given a ‘glimmer of hope’ that the money ‘would be handed over’, the site added that Mr Sharma ‘made no attempt to correct the misleading information given by his boss to parliament’. Croydon Council’s letter was sent on 21 June, asking for £10m to fit sprinklers to 25 blocks, but Mr Sharma’s response on 19 July ‘made no specific mention’ of this request.

Alison Butler, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for housing, called the responses ‘underwhelming’, adding: ‘No direct financial help is mentioned. The only glimmer of hope is a vague reference that “where work is necessary to ensure the fire safety of social housing, we will ensure that financial resources will not prevent its going ahead”.

‘We’re investing millions in improving fire safety for our council tower block residents, with or without the government’s help and even though it will add to our budget pressures. Given the Housing Minister’s underwhelming response to our request for a contribution, I’m not holding out for a cheque in the post.’

Southampton City Council’s deputy leader Warwick Payne added that its own letter ‘asked for clarity if funding for fire safety improvements would be available, and if so, what shape it would take’, noting that ‘no reply has been received yet’. Other councils that had submitted requests for funds included Brent, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Greenwich, Wandsworth, Southwark and Lewisham.

Mr Javid defended his position to Sky News, stating: ‘Councils will get in touch with my department on many different things, and when they do, eventually that will be brought to my notice. What I said was, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, is that I am not aware of any councils that have got in touch with me, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been in touch with other people in my department.’

John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey responded: ‘This shows that the Communities Secretary is clueless about what is going on in his own department. We know at least 10 councils had written to request funding when Sajid Javid told MPs that “not a single local authority” had asked for help, and we now know that his own minister had already answered at least one of them.

“In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire the Prime Minister gave very clear promises to rehouse all the victims, test the fire safety in all other tower blocks around the country and make every change necessary to ensure that such a tragedy could never happen again, but her minister is simply failing to deliver. It is now clear that the Communities Secretary misled the House when he made the statement on 20 July, but I suspect that this was more cockup than conspiracy.

‘Either way he has got to get a tighter grip on his department and take the action to deal with the aftermath of the Grenfell fire.’