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FBU criticises government for ‘gross underestimate’ of safety costs

25 June 2020

THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) reported on analysis that showed the fire safety bill’s ‘maximum projected cost’ would fund ‘fewer than one’ fire inspector per fire and rescue service (FRS).

In a press release, the FBU stated that the estimated funding for ‘just 12 new fire inspectors after Grenfell’ was a ‘gross underestimate’ of the building safety ‘crisis’, with its analysis showing that the ‘maximum projected cost’ for the fire safety bill ‘would fewer than one inspector’ per FRS. It called on the government to implement an ‘immediate doubling of inspector numbers and a statutory advisory body’ for the FRSs.

The government at this point, the FBU said, ‘expects to fund just a dozen extra staff’ that would ‘inspect and enforce fire safety in more than 2 million homes’, and it called for the ‘permanent statutory advisory body’ for the FRSs that would allow ‘the voices of frontline firefighters and inspectors to influence’ what it called the ‘dangerously short-termist thinking’ in government, and provide a ‘reality check’ before the fire safety bill’s final votes take place.

Currently at the committee stage, the bill ‘would extend responsibility’ for FRSs to ‘inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of all of England’s multi-occupancy buildings’, including structures, external walls, stairs and ‘doors between residences’, and the FBU claimed that the government ‘does not know how many flats will be covered by the legislation’, with the Home Office’s impact assessment estimating a figure between 1.18m and 2.19m.

Despite that estimate, there are only 951 fire safety officers across England ‘qualified to carry out fire safety audits’, and the government believes only £700,000 extra in funding per year ‘will be required for the inspections’, but the FBU pointed out that this ‘would pay for just twelve full-time fire safety inspectors’. The maximum estimated spend would be £2.1m, ‘which would pay for just 35 inspectors’, working out at ‘less than one’ per FRS in England.

The union believes that fire inspector numbers ‘should be doubled to seriously tackle the building safety crisis’, and said that the Home Office assessment ‘does not include any additional enforcement costs’ despite ‘clear testimony’ from tenant organisations and housing campaigners ‘that fire inspectors are likely to find breaches’ of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 when undertaking audits.

The government ‘did not consult the FBU when drafting the bill’, and ‘for most of the post-war era, there was a statutory fire sector body that would oversee policy and legislation’ with representation from chief fire officers, safety experts and frontline personnel ‘through the FBU’. However, the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council was scrapped in 2004, ‘allowing consecutive governments to pursue a period of significantly reduced oversight and deregulation of building safety’.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack was to give evidence to the fire safety bill committee today, and stated: ‘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.’

FBU criticises government for ‘gross underestimate’ of safety costs