Government questioned over Lakanal response
IN PARLIAMENT, Housing Minister Esther McVey was questioned by Labour MP Steve Reed about the government’s response to the Lakanal House fire in 2009.
24Housing reported on questioning from Mr Reed on an ‘issue that saw former housing ministers warned over corporate manslaughter’, noting that Ms McVey kept ‘answers to a minimum’ and ‘wasn’t going to give much away’ in the form of the government’s response to the 2009 fire. Mr Reed asked what specific steps had been taken by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as a result of the inquest into the fire, which killed six people.
The news outlet pointed out that in the wake of the fire, housing ministers have been ‘accused of sitting on subsequent coronial recommendations seen as having a bearing on Grenfell’, with Ms McVey referencing a note that set out the action taken by the government in response to the coroner’s recommendations, which had – she said – been placed in the Library of the House in September 2017.
Since that letter was published, MHCLG has published a ‘clarified’ version of related documentation, as well as starting a ‘wide ranging’ technical review of guidance to ‘identify means of escape in blocks of flats’ as a ‘key research topic’. Mr Reed then asked if MHCLG had commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to write a frequently asked questions document on cladding post Lakanal, with Ms McVey offering ‘the same response as she did to Reed’s initial question’.
This was also given after he asked what specific steps MHCLG had taken’ as a result of the Lakanal inquest’, so Mr Reed then asked for the date MHCLG commissioned BRE to produce an external fire spread report – published in April 2016 – and in response Ms McVey said ‘it would not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period’, but that an answer ‘was being prepared’.
Mr Reed did however ‘get a result’ when asking which MHCLG minister had responsibility for the building safety programme, with Ms McVey stating that ‘overall responsibility’ was with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. 24Housing noted that Mr Reed had, a year ago, accused former housing ministers of ‘sitting on safety reports that could have prevented the Grenfell disaster’ – these including Gavin Barwell, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles.
He had noted then that had those three been employees of a private company, they would ‘potentially be in the dock for corporate manslaughter’, with the three having been accused of ‘not acting’ on a review of building regulations for tower blocks that had ‘uncovered serious safety failings’ post Lakanal. Mr Reed stated in parliament that a ‘string of housing ministers’ had failed to act on advice, and accused the government of being ‘culpable’ for not preventing Grenfell.
He commented: ‘The government failed to clarify regulations and guidance after Lakanal. It is no individual minister, it is a whole string of them…that have failed to take appropriate action in line with guidance they were given.’