Government’s fire safety plan ‘will fund just 12 new inspectors to cover two million homes’

Firefighters’ union warns ministers risk another Grenfell-style catastrophe

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 01 July 2020 14:47 BST
Flats are covered by the new bill
Flats are covered by the new bill (AFP/Getty)

The government’s new Fire Safety Bill would fund just 12 new officials to help cover safety inspections in two million homes, firefighters have claimed.

The Fire Brigades Union accused the government of risking another Grenfell-style catastrophe and said the 951 inspectors currently in the field needed to be doubled.

The new legislation would require inspections on cladding, balconies, windows and firedogs in blocks of flats, with as many as 2.2 million flats covered by the legislation, according to ministers’ estimates.

But a Home Office impact assessment says as little as £700,000 a year would be needed to carry out the new inspections, which the FBU says would pay for just 12 extra fully qualified fire inspectors.

The FBU’s analysis says that the top end of the government’s cost estimate, £2.1m, would pay for just 35 extra inspectors – still fewer than one per brigade in England.

The government disputes the figures and says the 43 brigades can in fact “potentially recruit at least one additional inspector each”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary at the FBU, said: “Three years after Grenfell, Britain’s fire safety regime remains a national disgrace and politicians are responsible. This legislation is long overdue but insufficient.

“The bill in its current form is a gross underestimate of the realities of the crisis. Without funding a significant increase in fire inspector numbers, this change in the law will not ramp up enforcement on rogue landlords – ministers need a serious reality check.

“At best, the government is planning to fund less than one extra fire inspector in each fire service for a massively expanded workload. We should be talking about immediately doubling inspector numbers to make a dent in this crisis.

“Oversights like this are symptomatic of a system that excludes those most affected from the policymaking process. With better engagement with tenants and firefighters, the chances of another disaster like Grenfell could be significantly reduced.”

The Fire Safety Bill was introduced to parliament in March and is currently in its committee stage.

There is no time frame included in the bill for inspecting the two million flats covered by the laws, and the government rejected a Labour amendment that would have required “regular” inspections of lifts and doors.

Londoners commemorate the third anniversary of the Grenfell disaster (PA)

The fire sector has warned that significant safety problems persist with the UK’s housing stock three years on from the Grenfell Tower fire. Some 56,000 people are still living in buildings with flammable cladding responsible for the fire, while industry estimates suggest that over three quarters of doors in residential buildings are not fit for purpose.

The FBU says the government should also reinstate a statutory fire sector body that draws on the views of firefighters, arguing that it is “the only way to end the dangerously short-termist thinking that prospers in Whitehall”.

Last year ministers were accused by the FBU of “utter complacency” to prepare fire services in light of the Grenfell tragedy, in which 72 people died.

A government spokesperson said: “Three years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, those who lost their lives or loved ones remain at the forefront of our thoughts.

“We are committed to learning the lessons needed to ensure that such a horrendous event can never happen again and we are taking steps to ensure implementation of the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry.

“It is inaccurate to suggest that the government is only funding 12 new fire inspectors. We have made £30m of funding available to the sector, including at least £60,000 for the 43 fire and rescue services in England, so they can potentially recruit at least one additional inspector each.”

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