Please do all you can on social media to increase the pressure on Salford council and the government to make these and other homes safe.
You can sign our letter to the Secretary of State online here, and see other signatories. (If you signed the old version but not the new one, please sign the new one now.)
ELIZABETH OKPO, who is featured in the Guardian article and has been doing radio and press interviews since, is one of the speakers at our 13 Sept AGM. Please try to let us know if you’re planning to come — hope you can!
Cold homes, fuel poverty, climate change, millions of homes in debt to energy suppliers, huge profits for the Big Six… the energy system isn’t working.
Another energy system is possible!
Get behind the Fuel Poverty Action Energy Bill of Rights
Earlier this summer, alarmed residents of a Salford tower block, Spruce Court, representing also the residents of other nearby high rise blocks, contacted Fuel Poverty Action asking to meet with Grenfell survivors. A meeting was subsequently arranged with members of Grenfell United.
The Grenfell community has long insisted on one legacy: no one else should suffer what they went through. They were instrumental in winning the promised £400 million to re-clad social housing, but are now forced to watch this work proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Residents of hundreds of buildings like Spruce Court continue to live with the same dangerous structures, materials and policies that destroyed so many lives and, like Grenfell residents over the years leading up to the fire, continue to be ignored.
Below is a link to an article published in The Guardian on 24th July reporting on the uncanny similarities between Grenfell and Spruce Court and the current plight of the many other affected Salford residents.
Below that is a link to a must-read document prepared by Fuel Poverty Action, detailing these similarities, which was instrumental in informing the Guardian report.
There are many high-rise buildings that “mirror” Grenfell Tower, as it was before the fire, and the echoes of the Grenfell disaster continue to reverberate throughout the length and breadth of the UK, even as the Grenfell Community continues its fight for justice for the many who perished on that terrible night and the many survivors who suffered a deeply traumatic and life changing experience. There is still much vital work to be done to render the UK’s high-rise blocks safe for the many thousands who have no option but to live in them. The authorities need to get a move on. There is no time for delay.
In September 2017 Celotex, the supplier of the deadly insulation implicated in the Grenfell Tower inferno, recalled and suspended sales of five of its PIR foam insulation products following the failure of Celotex RS5000, which was used on Grenfell Tower, to achieve the required Class 0 fire ratiing in independent tests conducted in April 2017. The reasons why Celotex decided to independently test RS5000 just two months before the Grenfell fire are as yet unknown but another Celotex product FR5000 had previously been certified as class 0 following tests in 2011. The certification of FR5000 was then applied by the company to cover also Celotex RS5000, Celotex CG5000, Celotex CF5000 and Celotex SL5000 all of which had an identical PIR core.
Sales of the RS5000 product had been suspended on 23 June, soon after the Grenfell fire, but in September, apparently following confirmation in August that RS5000 had failed the recent independent test, Celotex suspended four more 5000 range products, including the FR5000 that had been certified class 0 in 2011. Under UK building regulations only class 0 cladding or associated insulation can be certified for use on high rise residential buildings. However the RS5000 insulation, when tested in 2017, achieved only a lesser Class 1 rating.
According to Celotex they were surprised by the RS5000 test result and did not understand why it had failed to achieve the required Class 0 rating. In light of this result Celotex expressed a desire to act responsibly by suspending supply of the five named products from the 5000 range, all of which they had previously marketed as meeting the optimum class 0 standard;
The next development in this saga came in May 2018 when a BBC Panorama report claimed that the insulation on Grenfell Tower had never passed the required safety test and should never have been on the building. Panorama claimed the manufacturer, Celotex, had used extra fire retardant in the test product that qualified for the safety certificate and that a more flammable version was then sold for public use. Panorama also accused Celotex of mis-selling the insulation with misleading marketing;
In response Celotex said;
“During the programme a new allegation was made that Celotex had added fire retardant to the formula of a product sample which was used for a safety certificate and that a different product to this was actually sold. Prior to Panorama raising this, we were unaware of this allegation and had not identified anything which would support it. Celotex is investigating this allegation via all avenues as a matter of urgency.”
The Celotex statement went on to assert that the company was co-operating with the police investigation and inquiry and could not comment further, but it did not categorically deny the Panorama allegations;
The closing chapter of this blog is derived entirely from the expert witness statement submitted to Stage 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry by Dr Barbara Lane. It relies almost exclusivley on Apeendix E of that statement, the closing section of which is sub-titled “Withdrawal of the test report on Celotex RS5000”.
Dr Lane refers to correspondence she received from Linklaters, the legal representatives of Celotex Ltd, which completely vindicates the allegations made by the BBC Panorama team in May of this year;
“The current management team has recently determined that there were differences between the system as tested under BS 8414-2 and the description of that system in the report of the test. These differences were carried through into the company’s marketing of RS5000.” (Lane E8.1.4)
“Work to establish the nature extent and effect of the differences continues and the circumstances in which this happened are not yet clear” (Lane E8.1.5)
The correspondence goes on to confirm that;
“…a 6mm thick magnesium oxide board was used in at least two places on the test rig….” (Lane E8.1.6)
Readers should note that magnesium oxide is a fireproofing ingredient commonly used in construction materials and the inappropriate and inexplicable insertion of the magnesium oxide board described in the Celotex correspondence would have significantly distorted the test results on which the class 0 certification of Celotex FR5000 was based, and by implication the certification of the four other recalled Celotex products, including the RS5000 used on Grenfell Tower.
Dr Lane further comments that;
“BRE do not provide a comparison between RS5000 and FR5000 in the test report to explain why the test results from one product can be directly used to classify another product.” (Lane E7.1.5)
“Therefore, it appears that RS5000 and FR5000 are the same PM Foam.” (Lane E6.1.14)
“Regardless, their report has now been withdrawn entirely by Celotex.” (Lane E7.1.5)
At this point it would seem appropriate to display Dr Lane’s Table E10 which clearly shows her own dismissal as illegitimate of the 2011 certification of Celotex FR5000 on the grounds that the tests were “non-compliant” with Approved Document B of the Building Regulations “as none of the required methods of demonstrating limited combustibility had been used”:
(This table can also be found on page 37 of appendix E)
Given the illegitimacy of the certification of the RS5000 insulation used on Grenfell Tower and the withdrawal by Celotex Ltd of the certification of RS5000 and any claim that it had been legitimate, Dr Lane testifies in her statement;
“I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire,” she said. “I have found no evidence that building control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire. Further, I have found no evidence that the TMO risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system, nor have I found evidence that the LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding.” (Lane 2.19.2)
So here we are. The evidence as it stands is clear and indisputable. The entire process of certification of the insulation in which Grenfell Tower was shrouded has been exposed as deeply flawed and illegitimate – so much so that its legitimacy was rejected by Dr Lane and Celotex Ltd felt compelled to withdraw the certification it had earlier issued. Later in her statement Dr Lane stated her interim conclusions – I use the word ‘interim’ only because she repeatedly stressed that the evidence she has so far accumulated is incomplete and she intends to continue her investigation of all matters within her terms of reference with the object of uncovering as much additional evidence as possible so that she can fully explain the many flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence she has so far uncovered:
“Based on this test evidence submitted to the Public Inquiry, and as that test evidence is relevant to the materials installed on Grenfell Tower, these are my conclusions:
a) The specified and installed rainscreen cladding panels, insulation and cavity barriers did not comply with the provisions made in Section 12 of the Approved Document B 2013.
b) The specified and installed rainscreen cladding panels, insulation and
cavity barriers did not comply with the functional Requirement of B4(1) of the Building Regulations.” (Lane 11.21.7)
“The building envelope system, designed and installed during the 2012-2016 refurbishment, was therefore non-compliant with the functional requirement of B4 and B3 of the Building Regulations 2010.” (Lane 11.21.13)
The conclusions stated above, and quoted earlier from section 2 of her statement, go beyond the scope of this blog which, in the interests of constructing a clear and cohesive narrative, we have confined, as far as possible, to matters relating only to the Celotex insulation that encased Grenfell Tower. Nonetheless, it is our opinion that Dr Lane’s conclusions constitute a fully comprehensive and compelling indictment of all aspects of the refurbishment of the exterior of Grenfell Tower preceding the inferno in June 2017.
We must finish, however, on a note of caution. There is no doubt that the evidence we have presented here creates an appearance of deliberate malfeasance by Celotex Ltd in inappropriately adding additional fire proof magnesium oxide panelling during the testing of FR5000 insulation in 2011. This resulted in a flawed and illegitimate class 0 certification of Celotex FR5000 and, by extension, of four other 5000 series Celotex products, including the RS5000 insulation that encased the exterior of Grenfell Tower with such catastrophic consequences.
At this time, however, the appearance of malfeasance by Celotex Ltd remains just that – an appearance of malfeasance which remains, as yet, unsupported by irrefutable evidence. Whether or not the irregularities in the testing of the FR5000 in 2011 involved criminal negligence on the part of Celotex Ltd, or whether something more deliberate and sinister was involved, remains to be seen. The ongoing investigation of this and other matters by Dr Lane, the Public Inquiry and the Metropolitan Police may, or may not, uncover the decisive evidence required to prove criminality by individuals of a more serious nature. We must await further developments and, in the meantime, it would be inappropriate for us to spculate any further on this matter.
Why was the Grenfell Tower fire allowed to happen? This is the central question that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry must answer.
To get to the bottom of the issues, the public inquiry must address the whole fire safety regime and in particular the process of deregulation established over recent decades. Sadly, prime minister Theresa May and inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick decided that the terms of reference would not explicitly include deregulation, despite advice from the Fire Brigades Union, representatives of the bereaved, survivors and residents, and some other interested parties.
If they are serious about “leaving no stone unturned” then we need a wide-ranging public inquiry that takes in the systematic attacks on legislation, so-called ‘red tape’, privatisation, contracting out – in short, about deregulation
After the Second World War, there were increasing efforts to improve fire safety for homes and businesses in the UK. The 1947 Fire Services Act created a national framework for fire protection and the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC), which oversaw fire research, equipment, training, fire protection and prevention and all other aspects of fire safety policy. Successive improvements were made to legislation, culminating in the 1971 Fire Precautions Act and the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.
Thatcher’s election in 1979 heralded a lurch towards deregulation, privatisation and attacks on the fire and rescue service. The Home Office’s Review of Fire Policy (1980) signalled the change of direction towards cuts, even if this meant more deaths, injuries and property damage. This was politely dressed up in Whitehall doublespeak:
“There may be over provision which may enable judicious reductions to be made which would not result in an unacceptable increase in property loss or casualties.”
Tory ministers discussed tearing up the Fire Precautions Act and attacked national standards of fire cover. They part-privatised building control in local authorities, the system where building plans are assessed for compliance with building regulations, including those dealing with fire safety. This change allowed for private, uncertified ‘approved inspectors’ and it started a race to the bottom of cheap, superficial rubber-stamped sign off of building works. Even the recently published Hackitt review acknowledges some failings with this system.
Blair’s Labour governments after 1997 also continued with this deregulation trend. In 2003 they scrapped national standards of fire cover and the CFBAC. This is particularly relevant, since the CFBAC had overseen decades of improvement in fire safety measures, equipment and in operational planning.
The Fire Safety Order 2005 scrapped fire certificates and watered down enforcement under the rubric of “better regulation”. This change was seized upon by those who wanted to make cuts. Specialist fire safety departments within fire and rescue services have seen some of the worst levels of cuts in the entire service. It’s all very well, after the event, to raise concerns about the inspection and enforcement role of the fire service, but the skills and trained personnel simply do not exist in sufficient numbers for the scale of the challenge. This process has let landlords and business executives do as they please. It created the context for Grenfell.
The Grenfell Tower fire was not the first major fire in the UK where cladding was at fault. In 1973 the Summerland Leisure Centre fire on the Isle of Man killed fifty people and injured 80. Investigators pointed to the role of external cladding in fire spread. The lessons of the Summerland fire were discussed by the CFBAC at the time.
On 11 June 1999, a fire at the Garnock Court, a 14-storey block of flats in North Ayrshire led to one death and five injured. Cladding was a significant factor in the fire spread. Regulation was tightened in Scotland, but not in England.
The House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs conducted an investigation. The FBU submitted a memorandum to the committee and gave testimony. In light of Grenfell, the warning the FBU gave nineteen years ago was shockingly prescient:
“The primary risk therefore of a cladding system is that of providing a vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread up the outer face of the building, with the strong possibility of the fire re-entering the building at higher levels via windows or other unprotected areas in the face of the building. This, in turn, poses a threat to the life safety of the residents above the fire floor.”
Some MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell) listened, but most Westminster politicians ignored the warnings
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT CULPABILITY
Governments since 2010 have escalated the process of deregulation. Cameron’s “red tape challenge” ran down the importance of regulation and public safety. Fire ministers failed to improve building regulations and guidance, while promoting voluntarism and self-regulation. Chief fire officers accepted ‘safe enough’, instead of proper compliance with the law. Together they cut one-in-five firefighter jobs, including control staff and fire safety inspectors. No credible inquiry can ignore these long-term pressures that preceded the Grenfell Tower fire.
Firefighters, alongside the bereaved, survivors and residents, want those at the top who made the big decisions held to account and, where appropriate, prosecuted. That means the business owners and landlords who failed to keep their premises safe. It is shocking that a year down the line nobody has been arrested, despite the obvious fact that a death trap was created at Grenfell.
We want government ministers held to account for overseeing a deregulatory regime that failed to keep people safe in their homes, surely a basic expectation of public authorities in a civilised society. Only this process of holding to account, alongside a fundamental change in the approach to housing and to fire safety will bring justice for Grenfell.
Reposted by kind permission of Matt Wrack and The Fire Brigades Union from an article by Matt Wrack posted on June 20, 2018;
East Kent Housing fire safety has been slammed by its auditor the East Kent Audit Partnership. East Kent Housing is the largest Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) in the UK managing the entire social housing stock, for the four councils of Canterbury, Dover, Shepway & Thanet – a total of 17,000 homes.
The Director of Property Services at East Kent is Mark Anderson who has been in post for just two years. In 2012 he served as Interim Director of Assets and Regeneration at the Kensington and Chelsea TMO where he was responsible for planning and ‘consultation’ on the botched Grenfell Tower refurbishment. He was at the KCTMO for less than two years, after which he moved to Circle Housing as Interim Director of Property. Having remained there for just a year and a half he moved on again, ultimately arriving at EKH.
East Kent Housing has been called the UK’s first ‘Super ALMO’. Like all other ALMO’s it’s an outsourced housing management organisation, with limited public accountability and transparency. It’s responsible for the council housing services of Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Shepway District Council and Thanet District Council.
According to a report produced by the East Kent Audit Partnership, which provides internal audit services for Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils, EKH has failed to deliver an acceptable fire risk assessment management service to its 17,000 tenants (see pages 13 & 14 of the report).
The report based on audit inspections in the autumn of 2017 identifies several major management failures including;
- Fire risk assessments have not been kept up to date in respect of follow ups based on the suggested dates shown in the original assessments that were carried out in 2014 by an external company. This has meant that outside contractors are now being used with some internal resources to carry out new Type 3 fire risk assessments on all locations with an expected completion date of October 2017 to renew every fire risk assessment for each location whether or not it is in date or out of date.
- There has been no central pulling together of the works that have been carried out across locations to reflect the impact that they have had on the original fire risk assessments.
- There is no central monitoring of the outstanding actions for each location at the time of the audit.
- The new single system is not able to assist in record keeping of fire risk assessments which has meant that a separate software solution is being procured.
The auditors rightly point out that “Since the tragic event happened at Grenfell Tower in 2017, fire safety has become a high priority” and council tenants have a right to know that their homes are safe.
However, it would appear from the problems identified by the auditors that the management of fire risk assessments and associated record keeping by East Kent Homes has been operating at a level which is far below what residents are entitled to expect from a good and responsible landlord.
This shameful and downright dangerous failure of fire risk assessment management was of such concern to the auditors that they classified East Kent Homes’ Fire Risk management systems as providing only “limited assurance”. Limited assurance is defined by the auditors as;
“…significant errors or non-compliance, with many key controls not operating as intended, resulting in a risk to the achievement of the system objectives”.
Clearly the fire risk management systems at East Kent Homes don’t just need a little tweak here and there to put them right. They are, in fact, profoundly dysfunctional and unfit for purpose and could potentially put the health and safety of tenants at risk, just as the alleged failures of the outsourced KCTMO are widely believed to have contributed significantly to the heart-breaking tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
The question must be asked why the senior management team of East Kent Housing, who together are reportedly paid in the region of £350,000 a year, allowed the management of a function as critical as fire risk assessment, to collapse into such an appalling state of dysfunctionality
EKH made a loss of £1,357,000 million between April 2016 & March 2017. In 2015/16 losses amounted to £1,155,000 million according to the accounts registered at Companies House. These corporate losses, however, appear not to have made much of a dent in the remuneration enjoyed by the top-dogs on the EKH board:
Local activist group Shepway Vox has called on Shepway Tenant representative Nigel Lawes, who sits on the Board, and Cllr David Owen to demand an urgent investigation into this matter, especially bearing in mind that after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, fire safety and fire risk assessment was supposed to be the top priority of all social landlords throughout the country – except perhaps at East Kent Housing which clearly has serious problems in managing this critical issue.
But it’s not just the apparent failings of East Kent Housing which have allowed this unacceptable and dangerous situation to develop. According to the auditors there is a lack of monitoring of East Kent Housing by the “four partner authorities” (Dover, Canterbury, Thanet and Shepway councils) who set up this organisation in the first place and to which they pay about £15 million a year in management fees. Senior managers at these “four partner authorities” should have been monitoring “the outstanding actions and expected costs” of the fire risk assessment process, but, according to the auditors, it would appear that they didn’t.
The crux of this appalling, unacceptable and frankly dangerous situation at East Kent Housing is that when public services such as social housing are outsourced and passed on to other organisations to run they become progressively less and less accountable and transparent in the way that they are managed and the democratic control and scrutiny which used to exist when services were directly provided by the Council becomes almost non-existent.
Lack of democratic control and scrutiny and a reduction in accountability and transparency allow for poor management to thrive and mistakes to go unchecked, which in turn can, and sometimes does, lead to tragedy. That’s why we believe the outsourcing and privatisation of public services should be halted immediately and that organisations such as East Kent Housing should be closed down and liquidated, just as the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was closed down and liquidated.
This blog was reposted, with a few minor edits, by kind permission of local residents group Shepway Vox. We are indebted to Shepway Vox for allowing us to repost their material and wish to express our gratitude to them for sharing it with us:
Readers might also like to check out an article about East Kent Housing published in the Guardian in April 2011 entitled “Is East Kent Housing the Future of Almos?” This article strongly suggests that, as social tenants, we are all guinea pigs in a grand ALMO cost-cutting experiment. We might well ask whatever happened to ‘informed consent’?