Sajid Javid has been branded “clueless” after yet more evidence emerged of Government incompetence in response to the Grenfell tragedy.
Earlier this week it was revealed the Local Government Secretary told MPs no councils had asked for extra cash to increase fire safety measures in tower blocks - despite at least ten authorities having made such a request.
The Sun reported that Housing Minister Alok Sharma - who was sitting next to Javid in the Commons as he gave the incorrect information to MPs - had actually responded to one of the councils just 24 hours earlier.
Yet despite having personally signed a letter to Croydon Council - giving a mere “glimmer of hope” that extra cash would be handed over - he made no attempt to correct the misleading information given by his boss to Parliament.
Labour’s Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey was scathing in his assessment of Javid’s handling of the matter.
He told HuffPost UK: “This shows that the Communities Secretary is clueless about what is going on in his own department.
“We know at least ten councils had written to request funding when Sajid Javid told MPs that ‘not a single local authority’ had asked for help, and we now know that his own minister had already answered at least one of them.
“In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire the Prime Minister gave very clear promises to rehouse all the victims, test the fire safety in all other tower blocks around the country and make every change necessary to ensure that such a tragedy could never happen again, but her minister is simply failing to deliver.
“It is now clear that the Communities Secretary misled the House when he made the statement on 20 July, but I suspect that this was more cockup than conspiracy.
“Either way he has got to get a tighter grip on his department and take the action to deal with the aftermath of the Grenfell fire.”
The letter from Croydon Council, sent on June 21, asked the Department for Communities and Local Government for cash to fit sprinklers to 25 tower blocks at a cost of £10million.
Sharma’s response, dated July 19, made no specific mention of Croydon’s request.
Croydon’s Cabinet Member for Housing Alison Butler branded the response as “underwhelming” and said: “No direct financial help is mentioned.
“The only glimmer of hope is a vague reference that ‘where work is necessary to ensure the fire safety of social housing, we will ensure that financial resources will not prevent its going ahead’.”
She added: “We’re investing millions in improving fire safety for our council tower block residents, with or without the Government’s help and even though it will add to our budget pressures.
“Given the Housing Minister’s underwhelming response to our request for a contribution, I’m not holding out for a cheque in the post.”
Butler’s comments echo those of Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt, who did not even get a response to his letter which also asked for £10million for fire safety work.
He told HuffPost UK on Monday that the Government is in “turmoil” and Javid’s department needs to “get a grip.”
“All the London councils have stepped up to the mark after Grenfell, they’ve shown stable leadership. We are making sure that we ally and reassure our residents that we are taking charge. This Government is not taking it seriously enough,” he added.
Another council yet to contact DCLG is Southampton, which sent a letter on June 20.
Deputy Leader Warwick Payne told HuffPost UK: “The letter asked for clarity if funding for fire safety improvements would be available, and if so, what shape it would take.
“No reply has been received yet.”
Other councils to request funds are Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Greenwich, Wandsworth, Southwark and Lewisham.
On Wednesday, Javid attempted to defend giving false information to MPs, telling Sky News: “Councils will get in touch with my department on many different things, and when they do, eventually that will be brought to my notice.”
He added: “What I said was, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, is that I am not aware of any councils that have got in touch with me, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been in touch with other people in my department.”
His actual comments in the Commons were: “I have made it clear from the Dispatch Box a number of times that if any local authority or housing association has to take any action to make sure that its buildings are safe, we expect them to do that immediately. If they cannot afford it, they should approach us, and we will discuss how to make sure that they have the support that they need.
“To date, as far as I am aware, not a single local authority or housing association has approached me or my Department to ask for any assistance. If they did, of course we would take that very seriously.”
Labour’s Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad told HuffPost UK that in order for there to be “total confidence in those in power”, people have a “particular duty to be in control of their brief.”
She said: “You have to question the efficiency of the DCLG if the Minister and Secretary of State are so out of touch that they do not check their facts before making public statements.
“This gives me serious concerns about how this issue is being dealt with, and indeed what else may be misrepresented.”
Yvette Williams, a coordinator of the Justice4Grenfell campaign group, said Javid’s misleading of Parliament was symbolic of the way the Government had reacted to the tragedy.
She told HuffPost UK: “We find out one day, one week, two weeks down the line nothing’s been done and they haven’t set out what they’re going to do.
“How can a simple letter get lost in the civil service? If you haven’t seen copy of these letters then somebody needs to be on some form of disciplinary.
“It’s just not working, the trust and confidence has broken down.”
Williams had a simple message for Javid: “Just go.”