Jeremy Corbyn: Theresa May's chief of staff who received tower block safety review must be questioned

The Labour leader said: 'Obviously ministers that served and received those reports must be questioned. But today every focus and every concentration must be on saving and protecting life'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 14 June 2017 17:32
Jeremy Corbyn calls for serious questions over Grenfell fire

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has suggested Theresa May’s new chief of staff must face questions over a delayed fire safety report after a deadly blaze tore through the Grenfell Tower in London.

Mr Corbyn’s comments came after it emerged Gavin Barwell, the former housing minister who was recently appointed as the Prime Minister’s adviser, failed to give the green light to a fire safety review he had received during his tenure in Whitehall.

During an interview with LBC Radio, Mr Corbyn also suggested spending cuts could have contributed to blaze, adding “searching questions” need to be asked about what happened at the west London tower bloc.

“If you deny local authorities the funding they need, then there is a price that’s paid," he added.

Mr Corbyn said that calls for sprinklers to be installed in high-rise buildings after a fatal fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009 had not been heeded.

While the Labour leader said “every focus and every concentration must be on saving lives” in the immediate hours, he added: “A review took place after the fire in Camberwell and the Government has that review.

“I believe we need to ask questions about what facilities and resources have been given to local authorities that have tower blocs in the area and, frankly, most do. We need to deal with this –we need people to be safe living in high rise buildings.

Asked whether that involved any current serving frontbench politicians, he replied: “Obviously ministers that served and received those reports must be questioned. But today every focus and every concentration must be on saving and protecting life.”

The fire expert behind the report calling for the desperately needed safety appraisal, said he had spoken with Mr Barwell earlier this year and the then-minister told him no decision on the review had been taken.

Former chief fire officer Ronnie King said: “Mr Barwell said he was still looking at it.”

He added: “Mr Barwell said he was still looking at it and was preparing to meet with the All-Party group. That's when the election was called and the meeting never happened.”

Hundreds of firefighters were sent to 24-storey Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, as large plumes of smoke billowed above the capital after the blaze broke out in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Asked whether lessons have been learnt from Camberwell fire Mr Corbyn added: “There were very clear lesson to learned then about the insulation of sprinklers and the need for equipment to fight fires in high-rise buildings. Our country has more high-rise buildings than ever before. There has to be very, very strong fire regulations, which there are, but there has to be a sprinkler system installed particularly in residential blocs that maybe don’t have them at the present time.

“I am not making that statement yet. Today is the day to support the emergency services and the residents and thank all of those that have also given other help: food, water, clothing and shelter.

“Tomorrow is the time to ask all of those questions but today let’s concentrate on dealing with the consequences of this fire and try and bring comfort, safety and save life wherever it possibly can be saved.

“The areas one has to look at are the preventative measures that were available, or not available in the tower. The facilities that are available to get in and out of it in an emergency situation and the numbers of people available to the fire services , paramedics and emergency services to deal with a crisis like this"

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