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Cuts To Public Safety Services And Defeat Of Law On Safe Housing Costs Lives

Despite the terrible death toll from the avoidable Grenfell Tower fire, the government continues forcing cuts on public services such as the Fire Brigade and the police as a result of their cuts to local authorities.

Pic: Grenfell Tower blazeFurthermore, their rejection of anything which legislates on health and safety such as local planning and house building, or responsibilities on private landlords; can be directly blamed for the squalor that many private tenants live in and for the fires in both Lakanal House in South London in 2009 and that of Grenfell Tower this month.

With local Fire Brigade cuts comes the subsequent drop in Fire Protection Audits being done and services to the elderly in providing smoke alarms and fire protection advice to the general community in which they operate.

Only today in Surrey, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have had to take action in face of a proposed £10 million cut from the authorities fire budget, and pass a no confidence motion against their local Surrey County Council Fire Authority saying that the cuts would put the public at risk.; because of plummeting fire audits and size of crews.

In it's press release issued today, the FBU says that the cut in wholetime fire fighter posts, reduced by 126 since 2010, has already resulted in a 66% fall in the number of Fire Protection Audits carried out. The audits ensure properties comply with fire safety regulations, and are of paramount importance in the role of fire prevention.

This situation has been mirrored across the country ever since the Tories got back in power in 2010,  and has culminated in the fact that 100% of the cladding on the outside of Tower blocks tested so far across the country has failed fire prevention tests. Indeed they have been found to be made of the same banned form of material (Aluminium Composite Material).

In 2010, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service employed 378 fire-fighters. This means that the government’s austerity programme will have resulted in a 69% drop in fire fighter posts over 12 years.

Elsewhere, the number of fire-fighters in a crew has also been reduced from five to four. This means that if fire-fighters have to perform rescues from a burning building, they would need to wait for a backup crew as a minimum of five fire-fighters is needed. It would inevitably lengthen the amount of time it takes for fire-fighters to rescue people.

The budget cut, which has been approved by Surrey County Council’s fire authority, could mean that by 2022 there will be just 117 wholetime fire-fighters responding to emergencies across the county.

Richard Jones, secretary of the FBU in the south east, said:

“These budget cuts are completely unacceptable and show, once again, how little regard the fire authority has for the safety of the public.

“If these cuts go ahead, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service will no longer be able to perform its duty effectively. It will take fire-fighters longer to arrive at emergencies and they will have to wait for backup crews if they need to enter a burning building.

This will lead to avoidable deaths."

But this Tory Government and it's 72  private landlord MPs are morally responsible for the deaths of  those residents from Grenfell Tower as well as those who die in private housing in the future.

This is confirmed as being the case via Parliament’s register of interests, which lists 72 of the MPs who voted against the amendment as being also landlords who derive an income from a property.

Pic: Newspaper headlineIn January 2016, they voted against a Labour proposed amendment to their Housing and Planning Bill aimed at reforming housing law by 312 votes to 219.

To make matters worse, Theresa May’s new Police and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd, was among those who are also residential landlords; that voted against a motion to make homes “fit for human habitation.”

The Tory government claimed that the amendments Labour wished to add to the new law would result in “unnecessary regulation”. This of course is their mantra whenever public safety, worker's rights and consumer protection legislation is suggested. along with it's mantra that legislation upon business is 'Red Tape' and needs to be abolished and stopped in the future via their "one rule in - one rule out" dictate.

Teresa Pearce, the shadow housing minister's amendment would have made private landlords responsible for the conditions of the properties they owned by requiring them to make their homes safe and “fit for human habitation” by law.

So in 2017, the Government is clearly happy for the housing conditions that Trade Unions and housing charities warned would be created by Thatcher enforcing the sale of council housing and putting housing stock into private hands; and bringing back the 'Rackman' style of house management - damp, filthy, unmaintained and with greater fire risks.

Although the current law doesn’t directly pertain to the 27-storey residential Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, the fundamental flaws in Britain’s private rental sector outlined by residents of the tower in the months and years leading up to the foreseen tragedy; have been brutally exemplified as the cost of Tory disdain for the safety and livi8ng standards of private tenants.

The residents had previously complained that only a catastrophic event would expose the ineptitude and incompetence of the landlord and “bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders”.

Teresa Pearce, the shadow housing minister who proposed the amendment in January 2016, said at the time that private tenants lacked basic consumer protection rights from unscrupulous landlords.

She said when moving her amendment:

“New clause 53 is about safety and would introduce a requirement for landlords to undertake electrical safety checks. Many organisations from across the sector support the measure, such as the Local Government Association, the London fire brigade, Shelter, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, British Gas, Crisis and the Fire Officers Association. They have all given their support in the past to measures that will see the introduction of mandatory electrical safety checks."

She added some basic facts:

Pic: Teresa Pearce MP“It is estimated that electricity causes more than 20,000 house fires each year, leading to about 350 serious injuries and 70 deaths across the UK. Carbon monoxide, gas leaks and other fires and explosions cause fewer deaths and injuries, with 300 injuries and 18 deaths—these risks remain serious and it is right that we should continue to monitor them, but that shows what is at stake as regards electrical fires in the home.”

However, same may disagree with this part of her statement:

 “The majority of landlords let property which is and remains in a decent standard. Many landlords go out of their way to ensure that even the slightest safety hazard is sorted quickly and efficiently."

Certainly the Tories disagreed with this:

"So it is even more distressing when we see reports of homes which are frankly unfit for human habitation being let, often at obscene prices."

Sickeningly, the Police and Fire Minister leads the investigation into the Grenfell Tower disaster, whilst personally benefiting from letting a 2 bedroom flat in Ruislip and a house in London, to the tune of a minimum of £20,000 a year rental income.

Anyone claiming there is no conflict of interest here, is probably naive at best; and a Tory Government minister at worst.

In the case of Grenfell Tower, the passing of such legislation would not have stopped the criminal act of using banned material that was known to be highly flammable to clad the whole of the external walls of a 27 storey residential tower inhabited by an estimated 500 people.

However, the imposition of existing Fire Prevention Audits on the newly upgraded building which left it without fire alarms, fire exits and smoke detectors, not to mention flammable debris in common public areas of the building, and a Fire policy of non-evacuation until the Fire brigade attend and advise; could have prevented the deaths of perhaps up to 500 people!

Add to this the fact that now in the UK, as a result of the passing in 2005 of the Regulatory Reform Oder; Fire Brigade officials are not responsible for the fire safety of the majority of high rise residential blocks in London and buildings owned by private landlords, but that the owners and building maintenance companies such as the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Organisation in the case of Grenfell Tower; have the responsibility of self-regulation to ensure they comply with the law, and manage the ultimate safety of the occupants, their tenants.

You can download the FULL list of Tories voting against the amendment and a list of the 73 Tory Landlord MPs included in the main list of Tories voting against - here

Source: The London Economic /  FBU / Indi 100 website / The Independent / Teresa Pearce MP website

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