Ministers criticised for doing “bare minimum” on Grenfell cladding removal

Andrew Kersley
© Natalie Oxford / CC BY 4.0

The government has been criticised for doing “the bare minimum to fend off bad headlines” after it was revealed that only a third of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-style cladding have had the material removed.

Responding to a new report from the House of Commons public accounts committee, the FBU said ministers were “taunting residents and firefighters with endless delays and fake promises” after failing to remove the flammable material from homes.

According to the new paper, only 155 of 455 of high-rise buildings with flammable aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding have seen it removed, despite calls for urgent action after the 2017 Grenfell fire.

The Commons committee called on the government to “put a stop to arguing over who’s responsible” and replace the dangerous ACM material that likely covers the homes of at least 600,000 people across the country.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The government never seriously tried to meet their last missed ‘target’ for removing flammable ACM cladding and this report is a warning that their new target could be no different.

“After Grenfell, people have a right to expect homes to be made safe. But this government has consistently failed to deliver, instead taunting residents and firefighters with endless delays and fake promises.

“At every stage, ministers have done the bare minimum to fend off bad headlines, but their policies have come up short. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people still trapped in dangerous homes – and, without proper action, it’s another tragedy waiting to happen.”

The government had pledged to remove all flammable cladding from private sector housing by June of this year, but ministers have now had to revise the target and aim for the end of 2021 instead.

The new report comes after the latest government figures released in August showed that Grenfell-style cladding had not been removed from over 80% of all private sector buildings and nearly 50% of all social sector buildings.

Labour tabled an amendment earlier this month to the government’s new fire safety bill in an attempt to force ministers to remove all ACM cladding and implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s phase one report.

The motion was resoundingly voted down by the government, including by Felicity Buchan, the Conservative MP for Kensington the constituency where the Grenfell Tower is situated.

But this new release from the public accounts committee is placing yet more pressure on the government to fully remove all dangerous ACM cladding from people’s homes.

Commenting on the report, chair of the public accounts committee and Labour MP Meg Hillier said: “The department set its own target to remove cladding and yet has failed to achieve even a third of the work it set out to deliver.

“Thousands of people have been condemned to lives of stress and fear in unsaleable homes with life-changing bills: for the works and for the fire-watch that is necessary to allow them to sleep at night until it is done…

“The deadly legacy of a shoddy building regulation system has been devastating for the victims and survivors of Grenfell but is leaving a long tail of misery and uncertainty for those whose lives are in limbo.”

“The government must step up and show that it will put a stop to the bickering over who is responsible, who’s going to pay for the remediation – and just put this right.”

The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced in March 2020 that a further £1bn would be made available to fund the removal of dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings.

But the parliamentary committee pointed out in the report that this new funding will barely be able to cover a third of the amount needed to pay for the replacement of all ACM cladding.

Survivors of Grenfell, the worst residential fire since World War Two, expressed disappointment in June 2019 over the lack of action to stop a similar tragedy from happening, accusing the government of merely “going through the motions”.

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