View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
12 March 2018updated 04 Oct 2023 12:13pm

The government has the money to stop another Grenfell. Why isn’t it using it?

There is money, £1.1bn to be precise, but it is not being spent.

By Luke Pollard

Last June, the nation was haunted by images of plumes of thick, black smoke billowing from a blazing Grenfell Tower, while terrified residents remained trapped inside – 71 tragically dying of smoke inhalation.

Grenfell should never have happened. At the time, the horror unfolding in the capital felt like a watershed moment. Things would change, they would have to. The expectation was that this was a national tragedy, and one that would be met with a national response to make sure such a fire could never happen again.

But eight months on, the survivors of the Grenfell fire are still without permanent homes, and ministers have done too little to prevent a similar tragedy unfolding in the hundreds of tower blocks across the UK.

The grime artist, Stormzy, spoke for many of us at last month’s Brits when, during his performance, he asked: “Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?”

This is not the only promise the government has pushed to the wayside. Today, residents in my constituency of Plymouth, and all around the UK, continue to live in buildings with Grenfell-style combustible cladding. Despite assurances that the government would support local authorities in removing this, only seven (4.4 per cent) out of more than one hundred buildings nationwide have had the cladding fully removed and replaced.

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Most outrageous of all, is that there was an additional, unused, £1.1bn in the housing budget over the past two years, which the Huffington Post reported as being handed back to the treasury by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government after it was apparently decided that the money wasn’t needed.

A memo from the last financial year alone states: “the department has surrendered £817m of budget that is no longer required in 2017/18”. I can’t help feeling the Grenfell survivors still living in hotels, and those who sleep in homes in tower blocks encased in combustible cladding across the country, would disagree.

Addressing the Commons just after the tragedy at Grenfell, the Prime Minister said “we cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.”

So when three tower blocks in the constituency I represent – Mount Wise, Devonport – failed safety tests, and were found to have combustible cladding, there was understandable fear among residents, but an expectation that it would be put right.

In a letter to the leader of Plymouth City Council, Sajid Javis pledged “we will ensure that lack of financial resources will not prevent its going ahead” in reference to fire safety work in social housing. So far, so good. It felt as though the government was stepping up to the plate. It seemed the necessary measures were being put in place.

But rather than a tragedy bringing out the best out of the government, we saw the same old story of broken promises and empty soundbites to conceal inaction. Ministers have refused to support Plymouth in recladding its three tower blocks, and refused help to other local councils and housing associations. Money was supposed to be no object, there was even apparently money left over, so why is it not being used?

Can we take a moment to imagine the panic one would feel, as a resident of one of these unsafe tower blocks, if the fire alarm were to suddenly sound as you laid in bed, or cooked for your kids, or took a shower? As David Lammy MP pointed to the House of Commons: “There is very likely no one in this Chamber who lives in a council tower block estate.” He’s probably right.

Instead of the government offering assistance as promised, Plymouth’s non-profit housing association, Plymouth Community Homes, is faced with footing the estimated £13m bill. Despite our current housing crisis, it will have to suspend building new homes or refurbishing current ones in order to afford this.

It is strange that when there is a need for tax cuts, to bail out the banks, a one-billion-pound bung for the DUP, or to pay for a royal wedding, the government can find the cash. But it can’t hand over funds to protect the poorest in our society.

For the Ministry of Housing to return £1.1bn to the Treasury is either senseless or heartless – whichever the answer, it is a disgrace. I want to see this money being allocated to pay for recladding immediately. There should no need for a debate about affordability.

If we cannot show we have learnt from the past, we will be doomed to repeat it. Inaction is a dirty stain on this government and stands as an insult to the 71 people who lost their lives last summer.

I have no doubt that the government does not want another tragedy like Grenfell, but fear such an even is a risk as long as it continues to refuse to help councils, housing associations, and those who purchased their home unaware of the risk.

A lack of funding means ministers are playing with fire, just as the Grenfell Action Group warned in 2016. We will have learnt nothing from Grenfell if we do not act now.

Luke Pollard is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU