"Three years after Grenfell, Britain’s fire safety regime remains a national disgrace and politicians are responsible. This legislation is long overdue but insufficient. The bill in its current form is a gross underestimate of the realities of the crisis."
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has criticised the government’s proposed plan set out in its fire safety bill to fund only 12 new fire inspectors to inspect and enforce fire safety in more than two million homes in England after the Grenfell tragedy.
The government estimates that an additional £700,000 a year will cover the inspections but the FBU said this would pay for just 12 full-time fire safety inspectors and the maximum estimated spend of £2.1 million would pay for 35 inspectors – fewer than one per brigade in England.
The FBU has called for “an immediate doubling of inspector numbers and a statutory advisory body for the fire and rescue service” and for ministers to create a permanent statutory advisory body for the fire and rescue service that hears from frontline firefighters and inspectors to challenge the “dangerously short-termist thinking” before the bill, now in its committee stage, is voted on.
The bill sets out plans to extend the responsibility of the fire services in England to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of:
- Multi-occupancy buildings;
- Building structures;
- External walls;
- Stairs; and
- Doors between residences.
The FBU said the government is uncertain of the number of flats the legislation will cover but an assessment estimate from the Home Office, which “does not include any additional enforcement costs", puts it at between 1,189,200 and 2,198,600. Yet there are currently only 951 fire safety officers in England qualified to carry out fire safety audits.
The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, done away with in 2004, had previously provided oversight from fire chiefs, safety experts, and frontline personnel. The result for the past 16 years has been “significantly reduced oversight and deregulation of building safety” from consecutive governments, said the FBU.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, commented: “Three years after Grenfell, Britain’s fire safety regime remains a national disgrace and politicians are responsible. This legislation is long overdue but insufficient. The bill in its current form is a gross underestimate of the realities of the crisis. Without funding a significant increase in fire inspector numbers, this change in the law will not ramp up enforcement on rogue landlords – ministers need a serious reality check.
“At best, the government is planning to fund less than one extra fire inspector in each fire service for a massively expanded workload. We should be talking about immediately doubling inspector numbers to make a dent in this crisis.
“Oversights like this are symptomatic of a system that excludes those most affected from the policymaking process. With better engagement with tenants and firefighters, the chances of another disaster like Grenfell could be significantly reduced.
“The government must finally bring back a statutory fire sector body that represents the views of frontline firefighters, fire safety inspectors, and tenants. It’s the only way to end the dangerously short-termist thinking that prospers in Whitehall.”