THE LOCAL Government Association (LGA) and UK councils have expressed their concern that the latter will not be able to afford fire safety upgrades.
SHP Online reported that ‘cash strapped’ councils across the UK are struggling to afford ‘multimillion pound’ and ‘substantial’ fire safety upgrades to social housing, which were recommended after the Grenfell Tower fire. The site points out that some local authorities are ‘at risk of technical insolvency following swingeing budget cuts’, after the government confirmed they would not provide funding.
Previously, the LGA responded to the government’s position on funding by noting councils ‘simply do not have the funding to carry out this work on high-rise buildings’, with Simon Blackburn, the LGA’s chair of the safer and stronger communities board, adding ‘it is clear that councils cannot afford to carry out this work. As a result, we remain firmly of the view that the government needs to meet the exceptional cost to councils of removing and replacing cladding and insulation on high-rise blocks’.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid pointed out previously that the Department for Communities and Local Government ‘is working with the LGA to determine what the costs of carrying out these “duties” are’, after having stated in the House of Commons that no councils in England had asked for fire safety cash, despite a number having sent letters.
After this, it was reported that Housing Minister Alok Sharma, ‘who was sitting next to Javid’ as he made his speech, ‘had actually responded to one of the councils just 24 hours earlier’. Javid then confirmed his original statement, with Croydon Council later submitting another request for funding to install sprinklers in high-rise blocks. The government did however note it would support councils on private high rises.
Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, was said to have told The Economist in January this year that ‘even if he closed all 19 libraries and nine sports centres in the city, abandoned maintenance of its 140 parks, halted all road repairs and street cleaning and switched off 50,000 streetlights’, this would still leave the city £22 short of savings ‘imposed by budget cuts planned by 2020’.
The DCLG’s letter to local authorities in July commented that ‘our expectation is that, as a building owner responsible for your tenants, you will fund measures designed to make a building fire safe, and will draw on your existing resources to do so’. This means that bills could ‘run into tens of millions’, with certain councils estimating costs ‘to total an average of around £30m per council’.
SHP Online reflected that ‘with the government under fire for neglecting fire safety – including how housing ministers sat on a report urging action over high rise blocks’, Mr Javid tried to ‘place much of the blame squarely at the feet of local authorities’ in his aforementioned speech, noting that ‘speaking to survivors, people in the local community, and people in tower blocks around the country, one thing is abundantly clear — local government is facing a looming crisis of trust’.
In response to the story, DCLG also responded that ‘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. We will ensure that where local fire services have advised works are essential to ensure the fire safety of a building, current restrictions on the use of financial resources will not prevent them going ahead’