Councils ‘will have to prove they can’t afford improvements’
COUNCILS will have to prove that they “can’t afford” new fire safety measures following the Grenfell disaster in order to receive funds, the government said yesterday.
First Secretary of State Damian Green told the Commons that the local authority would be “the first port of call” to pay for any recommended fire safety measures such as sprinklers.
He was responding to Labour’s Jack Dromey who pointed out that Birmingham, which has 231 tower blocks, has rightly decided it will retrofit sprinklers in all of those blocks.
However the Birmingham Erdington MP highlighted this will cost the city council £31 million when it has already suffered £700m cuts to its budget.
He asked: “Will the government unequivocally commit to funding all necessary safety measures, pending the outcome of the inquiry?”
But Mr Green replied: “For clarity, if the fire service recommends something needs to be done for safety reasons, obviously they will go to the local authority and the local authority would be the first port of call to pay for that.
“If the local authority can show it can’t afford it, then obviously central government will step in.”
This prompted concerns from shadow housing minister John Healey, that there could be delays to vital safety work as councils “will hold back or potentially cut corners because they know they cannot afford to do the work that is required, either to remove or replace cladding or to make the insides fully fire-safety compliant.”
The Commons debate on the Grenfell inquiry also asked how survivors and residents can have any faith in new Kensington and Chelsea council leader Elizabeth Campbell, who admitted she has never visited a tower block in the area.
Mr Healey demanded the council use its £274m cash reserves to start building social housing or acquiring homes from the private sector in order to rehouse at least 100 surviving families that are still living in hotels.
Only four households have been moved from hotels so far, he added, and this situation should force a “culture change” on the government which has been the first administration since WWII not to offer any funding for social housing.
Andy Slaughter, who is MP of the neighbouring constituency Hammersmith, said survivors have been “unceremoniously dumped in budget hotels” in the area he represents, and that the government need to “get on with offering decent homes to those who have suffered enough trauma.” firstname.lastname@example.org