Minister says councils ‘must foot’ fire safety works
AFTER CONFUSION, Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid has written to councils to let them know ‘they must foot the bill for fire safety work on tower blocks’.
Huffington Post UK followed up on its own reporting earlier this week, first the 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. Most recently, it was 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’.
Now, Mr Javid has written to ‘council and housing association chiefs across the country’, stating that they will have to ‘stump up the cash to fund fire safety work on tower blocks’, and should do ‘out of their existing funds’. He added that the department for communities and local government would ‘discuss’ any concerns on funding with councils ‘facing difficulties’, but that they would ‘have to initially pay for any necessary improvements themselves’.
He also sent a separate letter to Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey, that revealed 13 councils contacted his department for financial contributions for safety improvements, though while he claimed they had responded to all councils, Southampton had ‘had no reply’, while another ‘received a generic, non-specific letter sent to all councils’ that didn’t take into account ‘the individual request’.
The letter featured mentioned the government ‘would be revealing details of further fire safety tests “as soon as possible”’, with Mr Javid stating that ‘I am, of course, aware that there is concern about the financial implications for local authorities and housing associations. Our expectation is that, as a building owner responsible for your tenants, you will fund measures designed to make a building fire safe, and will draw on your existing resources to do so.
‘Local fire services should provide advice on the essential safety measures necessary to make residential buildings safe, and alongside this landlords should take professional advice (e.g. from a qualified engineer with relevant experience in fire safety) on any essential work they may need to take on their cladding system to make it safe. Essential work would be any measures required to meet the requirements of current building regulations guidance.
‘Where a local authority has concerns about funding essential fire safety measures, they should approach us as soon as possible to discuss their position. Where works are necessary to ensure the fire safety of a building, we will ensure that lack of financial resources will not prevent them going ahead. It would not include general improvements or enhancements to buildings which go beyond this’.
Lord Porter, the Tory peer who is chair of the Local Government Association told the site he was ‘worried the ministerial team are not getting the correct information from their officials’, adding that while LGA staff were ‘playing a blinder, I am not confident that the ministerial team are getting the same level of briefings’. He added that with safety tests ongoing, it was ‘too early to start talking about financial settlements and deals’, but warned ministers there was ‘no wiggle room for anybody to back away from what’s been said, but I don’t get the sense that’s what’s going to happen’.