Politician claims no councils ‘asked for fire safety cash’

Politician claims no councils ‘asked for fire safety cash’

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Secretary Sajid Javid was accused of ‘misleading’ MPs after claiming no English councils had requested extra funds for fire safety changes.

Huffington Post UK reported Mr Javid ‘falsely told MPs no councils had asked for extra cash to make their tower blocks safe from fire’ on 20 July, ‘a week after Brent Council asked for money to carry out safety work to high-rise buildings’. The council had sent a letter to Mr Javid on 13 July requesting £10m for sprinklers to be fitted in its tower blocks, while ‘at least’ four other councils including Birmingham, Croydon, Southwark and Southampton had also requested financial help.

The news site noted however that on 20 July Mr Javid stated in the House of Commons: ‘I have made it clear from the dispatch box a number of times that if any local authority or housing association has to take any action to make sure that its buildings are safe, we expect them to do that immediately. If they cannot afford it, they should approach us, and we will discuss how to make sure that they have the support that they need.

‘To date, as far as I am aware, not a single local authority or housing association has approached me or my department to ask for any assistance. If they did, of course we would take that very seriously. If he is aware of any local authority that has a funding issue, then he should encourage it to contact me.’

Brent Council’s letter, sent by email and post to Javid a week before, confirmed its high-rise buildings ‘do not have the cladding which is believed [to have] made Grenfell so flammable’, but that its towers do ‘not have sprinklers or smoke alarms routinely fitted’. Brent Council added that ‘with budgets already tight’, it had asked for the help as ‘direct financial support to meet the costs incurred’, and that ‘this letter acts as our official request’.

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt sent the letter, and commented: ‘The government is in turmoil at the moment, and that turmoil seems to be filtering through to all the departments. It’s the right hand not talking to the left hand. Sajid Javid is going out to make all these statements and not making sure that what he is saying is a true reflection on what’s going on. It’s such a serious subject [and] they do need to get a grip.

‘All the London councils have stepped up to the mark after Grenfell, they’ve shown stable leadership. We are making sure that we ally and reassure our residents that we are taking charge. This government is not taking it seriously enough.’

In turn, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey wrote to Mr Javid asking for an ‘urgent clarification’ on ‘how many councils had in fact asked for money’, adding: ‘I am aware that at least five councils had made a request for funding help before 20 July, including Birmingham, Croydon, Southwark, Southampton and Brent council, whose leader and chief executive wrote to you fully a week earlier on 13 July with a formal request. Why were you unaware of such essential facts?

‘What steps have you taken to make sure you do not make such misleading statements to the house or public in future? How many councils have in fact already written to you or your department with a request for funding help? How many housing associations have also already done so?’

The news site asked the government department for a response and ‘why Javid told MPs he had received no requests for cash’, receiving the following statement: ‘The department has been contacted by a number of councils about assistance following the Grenfell Tower fire. As the Secretary of State has said, no implementation of safety measures should be delayed by financial constraints, and we will work with any council that has concerns about finance.’

Yesterday, the wide range of cost estimates for retrofitting sprinklers across the country were revealed, with these varying by up to £800,000 per block.