Housing secretary James Brokenshire: Credit PA
The Treasury should play a greater role in the government’s work to make buildings safe after the Grenfell Tower tragedy because the current approach is “unsustainable” and will not deliver enough money, MPs have warned.
The recommendation from members of parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee came in a wide-ranging report on the government’s response to the 2017 fire in west London that claimed 72 lives.
MPs said the pace at which ministers had moved to implement regulatory change and remove unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding – of the type acknowledged to have contributed to the spread of fire at Grenfell – from other buildings had been “far too slow”.
In May, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government perm sec Melanie Dawes sought a written ministerial direction from secretary of state James Brokenshire to implement a £200m fund to pay for the removal of ACM from privately owned buildings in the interests of tenant safety.
Committee members saluted the decision to put public safety ahead of chasing private landlords to act as the Treasury's public-spending guidance Managing Public Money would prefer, but warned that the fund – which comes from MHCLG’s existing 2019-20 budget – was “not sufficient” to cover all of the buildings it was earmarked for.
They added that it also failed to take into account of other forms of potentially dangerous cladding – such as high pressure laminate – affecting “hundreds more existing residential and high-risk buildings”, which the government would be “duty bound” to fund replacement for in some circumstances.
MPs said the £200m fund signed off by Brokenshire in May represented 3% of MHCLG’s capital and resource programme budgets for 2019-20.
“We are concerned that funding for remedial works is to be found from existing programme budgets,” they said. “Notwithstanding the detriment to those budgets, this approach is likely to be unsustainable if the fund is found to be insufficient or is extended to other forms of cladding.
“The costs of replacing all unsafe cladding should be established and the Treasury should provide this funding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to fully cover the costs of remediating buildings with unsafe cladding.”
Elsewhere, the committee said it was concerned that MHCLG had only last month begun consulting on a new package of regulatory reforms, more than a year after Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review of building regulations and fire safety reported.
MPs were equally worried that former Grenfell Tower residents who had given evidence at its hearings had been permanently rehoused in poor-quality homes and had not received the health screening they had been promised.
Committee chair Clive Betts said the government was “far behind where it should be in every aspect of its response” to the tragedy.
“Further delay is simply not acceptable,” he said. “The government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others.
“It should immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding – as defined by the government’s combustible cladding ban – from any high-rise or high-risk building.”
Betts said the committee wanted to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the tragedy.
“We have a duty to learn the lessons of the failures that had such a devastating impact on so many lives,” he said. “As of yet, the government has failed to do so.”
MHCLG had not responded to CSW’s request for comment on the report at the time of publication.