Grenfell: councils dispute Javid’s claims on financial support

26 Jul 17

Claims by communities secretary Sajid Javid that no councils have asked for the financial support offered by the government after the Grenfell fire tragedy have been called into question.

It emerged yesterday that at least five councils have sent letters the Department for Communities and Local Government requesting some form of assistance as they deal with the consequences of the fire.

Public Finance has seen a copy of a letter sent by Brent Council to the DCLG requesting £10m to pay for improved fire safety measures for the council’s high-rise housing stock.

The letter was sent on 13 July, a week before Javid addressed the House of Commons and told MPs that no one had taken up the government’s offer providing financial assistance to councils “who need it” in the wake of the deadly blaze in Kensington.

Brent’s letter reads: “Though the council’s own high rise stock is not impacted by ACM [type of cladding used at Grenfell] and the London Fire Brigade have confirmed all our fire safety arrangements in high rise blocks are compliant with legislative standards, it is older and does not have sprinklers or smoke alarms routinely fitted”.

Muhammad Butt, leader of Brent Council and co-author of the letter, said the cost of installing these fire safety devices is estimated to be £10m and stated: “This letter acts as our official request”.

Butt said in his letter to Javid that Brent Council wished to move beyond simply complying with the law to a position of “best practice”.

Birmingham, Croydon and Southwark have been named in a Huffington Post report as the other local authorities that have requested some assistance from the government, although not all have specified the amounts they are seeking.

Croydon submitted a similar request to Brent, also for £10m, to install sprinklers in tower blocks above 10 storeys, of which there are a total of 25 in the Croydon area.

This letter was sent to the DCLG on 21 June and a response was received from the housing minister, Alok Sharma, on 19 July which reiterated the government position that if fire safety action was required in social housing, it “must” be taken, Sharma added “we will ensure that lack of financial resources will not prevent its going ahead”.

On 22 June Birmingham City Council issued a statement saying it would install sprinkler systems and other fire suppression measures in a number of high rises across the city area which would cost £31m.

City council leader, John Clancy, said the council had asked the government to meet these costs in full.

Southampton City Council also confirmed it had requested extra funding to retrofit sprinklers in its tower blocks.

A spokesman for the council said: “Cllr Simon Letts, leader of Southampton City Council, has written to the housing minister requesting support for funding sprinkler systems in all high-rise council blocks to enable us to accelerate the programme.”

A DCLG spokesman said yesterday: “At the time of the communities secretary’s statement to Parliament on 20 July 2017, he had not been made aware of letters from councils in relation to financial support.

“We’ve been clear with councils and housing associations that we expect them to do whatever local fire services and experts say is necessary to make residential buildings safe.

“A number of councils have contacted the department about support to carry out this work. We aim to respond to each letter we have received within the next 24 hours, and will consider on a case-by-case basis what assistance may be required.”

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