No council fire safety funding requests approved
ACCORDING TO senior civil servants, the government ‘has not approved any requests’ from UK councils for extra financial help on fire safety improvements.
Safety and Health Practitioner reported on the update given by Tamara Finkelstein, the director general of building safety for the ministry of housing, communities and local government, where she admitted to 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 has recently criticised the government for not responding to repeated requests for funding, having said in October last year that it would ‘forge ahead’ with a fire safety plan despite the government not providing financial support to install sprinklers and other fire safety measures. 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 at the time 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 earlier this year, Mr Sharma 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 with cladding that failed the government’s fire safety tests, with another 10 asked to ‘supply extra information’. Four of the councils have given the department ‘additional information’ it required, and Ms Finkelstein stated that ‘conversations are progressing’, noting that ‘it is not preventing essential work from happening. The secretary of state was absolutely clear that we would not see anybody in that position, where they are not able.
‘If they are doing essential work to make a building safe, we will give them the borrowing headroom or the flexibility they need, so they do have that confidence’. Croydon Council recently demanded a face to face meeting with Mr Sharma over what it called an ‘unprecedented funding gap’ to improve fire safety in high rises.