The latest news about the safety of tower blocks may be depressing, even frightening, but it comes as no surprise. Soon after the Grenfell Tower disaster we discovered the true scale of the dangers facing residents. Now that tests on the relevant cladding and foam insulation materials together have been carried out for the first time, our suspicions and fears have been confirmed. Thus we know that many blocks have failed the latest tests.
In this context, the establishment of the independent inquiry into building materials and fire safety under Dame Judith Hackitt is very welcome, as is the determination to produce a considered and thorough interim report by the end of the year. However, the Government did not really have to wait until all its tests of materials had been carried out before launching such a review. It was very obviously needed from the moment the Grenfell Tower blaze went out of control.
The Government’s encouragement of local authorities to take remedial action is also welcome. In fact, Salford is leading the way in decladding its public housing, getting the work under way immediately and worrying about the finance later. Every local council should do so, and every local council is now being offered assurances from the Treasury and the Department for Local Government and Communities that the vast cost of this work will be underwritten by the Government. That is the right thing to do, and inevitable, given the scale of the sums involved. Even at a time when the public finances remains under severe and growing pressure, we cannot afford to put money before life. The consequences of doing so have been seen in too many disasters over the years. So the work that has begun in Salford needs to be followed urgently in every other locality.
A further immediate priority is to get the independent inquiry into the Grenfell disaster properly under way, as part of the process of revealing the truth and, as the Metropolitan Police Service has indicated, bringing any public body, private company or individual to account for what happened, possibly for corporate manslaughter. There seems to be little news about when the interim report of the inquiry will be ready, or when the police and prosecuting authorities will commence any actions. Again, for the sake of justice these have to be expedited as soon as possible; the community will quickly lose faith if nothing is being done. The police announcement did go some way to assuaging…