Corbyn puts Grenfell fire firmly in its context, Tories outraged
JEREMY CORBYN argued yesterday that the Grenfell Tower fire had “exposed the disastrous effect of austerity” and it should serve as a wake-up call to authorities that are “disregarding working-class communities.”
The Labour leader’s observation that the devastating fire had occurred in the context of harsh cuts to council funding drew shouts from Tory MPs at the first Prime Minister’s questions session in the House of Commons since the general election.
Mr Corbyn said: “I was simply making the point — which seems to have upset a lot of members opposite — that when you cut local authority budgets by 40 per cent, we all pay a price in public safety.
“Fewer inspectors, fewer building control inspectors, fewer planning inspectors — we all pay a price,” he went on.
“And those cuts to the fire service have meant there are 11,000 fewer firefighters. The public-sector pay cap is hitting recruitment and retention right across the public sector.”
A Labour source later briefed reporters in Westminster that Mr Corbyn was not drawing a direct link between austerity and the Grenfell fire, which killed at least 79 people and left hundreds more homeless when it ripped through the 24-storey tower two weeks ago.
He was pointing out that austerity — including “huge reductions in local authority funding, fire inspections, the reduction in the number of firefighters, the reductions in the number of police” — was the context in which the disaster had happened, but that more evidence would be needed to make clearer links, the source added.
In the Commons, Mr Corbyn suggested that the government make funding available for councils to test and remove cladding, retrofit sprinklers — as was recommended after the 2009 Lakanal House fire — and properly support emergency services.
Only 1 per cent of council housing blocks have been retrofitted with sprinklers, he added, citing analysis by Inside Housing magazine.
Ms May confirmed that all of the 120 tower blocks in 37 local authority areas that had their cladding inspected so far had failed the combustibility tests.
She suggested that the political parties should “come together” to find out what had gone wrong, insisting that it was “a matter that has occurred under governments of both colours, under councils of all political persuasions.”