MP VOICES CONCERN OVER MINISTER’S GRENFELL TOWER REPLY
Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes has voiced her concern over a Government minister’s reply about the Grenfell tower fire tragedy during a House of Commons question time.
“I was troubled to hear the Secretary of State tell the communities and local government committee that councils would be expected to reprioritise in order to complete essential fire safety works post-Grenfell” she told the Commons.
“Will he confirm whether it is my constituents living in temporary accommodation and desperately waiting for a new home or those waiting for much-needed major works who should be reprioritised?” she asked.
“Can he not see that, unless the Government provide grant funding for essential fire safety works, the long-term impact of the tragedy across the country will be a deepening of the housing crisis?
“We owe it to the victims and survivors to do better than that.”
Responding, Sajid Javid , Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: “As we discussed at the Select Committee, councils are expected to do whatever work is necessary to keep people safe, including interim measures and final remedial measures.
“They will get support from the Government in the form of flexibilities that will allow them to do that work.
“The hon. Lady referred to other work, and I believe that I have answered the question about how that should be considered in a fuller review, because that issue is bigger than the essential work.
“We need to look beyond the essential work to see what else needs to be done by the Government to improve social housing more generally.
“I am sure she would welcome the steps that the Government have taken towards that, such as the commitment to put an additional £2 billion into social housing that was announced just a couple of weeks ago.”
Opening the questions, John Healey, shadow Secretary of State for Housing, had asked the Secretary of State if he would update the House on Government action following the Grenfell Tower fire.
Mr Javid: “We have made clear to councils and housing associations that we expect them to fund measures that they consider essential to making buildings safe.
“But if councils have concerns, they should get in touch with us. “We will consider the removal of financial restrictions if they stand in the way of essential work.
“To date, 32 local councils have expressed concern to us in principle. “We have liaised more closely with seven of those, and one of them has now submitted supporting evidence for consideration by my Department.”
But in response to a follow-up question from Mr Healey Mr Javid said: “I know that the right hon. Gentleman cares as deeply about helping the survivors of this terrible tragedy as I do, and as the entire Government do, and it is a real shame that he should try to treat it as some kind of political points-scoring opportunity.
“He knows exactly what the situation is, not least because I updated the Select Committee—whose members included his colleagues—just last week.
“The committee had an opportunity to go into many of the issues in detail, as a Select Committee should, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman followed all that.
“This is not what the victims of the tragedy want to see, and it not what the country wants to see. “They want to see all of us working together to do whatever we can.”
Clive Betts (Lab. Sheffield South East) thanked Mr Javid for coming to the Select Committee meeting and answering questions so thoroughly.
“I want to return to the point about the essential fire safety work that other councils have got to do on their tower blocks.
“The Secretary of State has talked about extra flexibilities, probably extra borrowing, for those councils, but he has ruled out any money from the Government to help fund the work.
“Does he realise that many councils may have to defer or cancel other essential maintenance work on properties, putting the lives and health and safety of other residents at risk?
“Will he reconsider and recognise that this is a national problem, and that the Government should at least share responsibility with local councils to deal with it?
Mr Javid: “The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about funding and whether the funding requirement could delay other work.
“Given that each council’s situation is different, I cannot give a general answer for all councils.
“I said to the Select Committee, and it is worth repeating to the House, that I have set out a process for a full, top-to-bottom review of social housing, not just of the rights of tenants and how they are treated—the redress systems—but of our approach as a country to social housing, which has not been looked at for a generation.
“We will set out our thoughts in a Green Paper and discuss them with the Select Committee and any other colleagues who want to talk about them. “That is an appropriate way in which to consider the wider issues, including renovation, around social housing.
“That is one way in which we can make changes and learn lessons from the terrible tragedy.
“The hon. Gentleman talked about what is essential and non-essential for fire safety. “As I said a moment ago, we expect councils and housing associations to take expert advice, certainly from their local fire and rescue service, but it is then for the council, not the Government, to determine what is essential.”
Vicky Foxcroft, (Lab., Lewisham and Deptford): “Lewisham council has done all the safety checks and is doing all the remediation works to ensure that our blocks are safe, and it doing that at great cost.
“The Government said that such work would be fully funded, yet no funding is forthcoming. “Are the Government trying to bankrupt councils?”
Mr Javid: “Lewisham council are one of the number of councils I mentioned earlier that have contacted us. “We are in more detailed discussions with a few of them, and we have asked for further information and are looking at it.”