Councils and housing associations will have to stump up the cash to fund fire safety work on tower blocks, Sajid Javid confirmed today as he wrote to authorities across the UK.
In a letter sent to council and housing association chiefs across the country, the Local Government Secretary said the individual authorities must pay for safety work, and should do so out of their existing funds.
Javid goes on to say the Department for Communities and Local Government would “discuss” concerns over funding with any local councils facing difficulties, but authorities would have to initially pay for any necessary improvements themselves.
In a separate letter to Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey, seen by HuffPost UK, Javid reveals that 13 local councils have contacted his department asking for cash to fund safety improvements including fitting sprinklers to tower blocks since the Grenfell tragedy.
Yet while Javid claims his department has “responded” to those who have asked for cash, at least one council, Southampton, told HuffPost UK it has had no reply.
Another received a generic, non-specific letter sent to all councils - therefore not taking into account the individual request.
After explaining the Government would be revealing details of further fire safety tests “as soon as possible”, Javid tells council and housing association chief executives: “I am, of course, aware that there is concern about the financial implications for Local Authorities and Housing Associations.
“Our expectation is that, as a building owner responsible for your tenants, you will fund measures designed to make a building fire safe, and will draw on your existing resources to do so.
“Local fire services should provide advice on the essential safety measures necessary to make residential buildings safe, and alongside this landlords should take professional advice (e.g. from a qualified engineer with relevant experience in fire safety) on any essential work they may need to take on their cladding system to make it safe.
“Essential work would be any measures required to meet the requirements of current Building Regulations guidance.
“Where a local authority has concerns about funding essential fire safety measures, they should approach us as soon as possible to discuss their position.
“Where works are necessary to ensure the fire safety of a building, we will ensure that lack of financial resources will not prevent them going ahead. It would not include general improvements or enhancements to buildings which go beyond this.”
Of the 13 councils who have already asked for funding, Barnet and Brent told DCLG £10million was needed to improve fire safety measures in tower blocks in their respective boroughs.
Javid incorrectly told MPs on July 20 no councils had made such a request, despite his Housing Minister Alok Sharma - seated next to him as he made the statement - having replied to a plea for cash from Croydon Council just 24 hours earlier.
Sharma’s response made no specific mention of Croydon’s request for £10mill, leading the council’s Cabinet Member for Housing Alison Butler to brand it as “underwhelming”, adding: “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.”
Lord Porter, the Tory peer who is chair of the Local Government Association told HuffPost UK he is worried the ministerial team are not getting the correct information from their officials.
While Lord Porter said LGA staff seconded over to DCLG to help with the Grenfell response are “playing a blinder, I am not confident that the ministerial team are getting the same level of briefings.”
Lord Porter said with safety tests still going on, it was too early to start talking about financial settlements and deals for councils and other organisations to carry out repairs and improvements.
However, the peer warned ministers that there is “no wiggle room for anybody to back away from what’s been said, but I don’t get the sense that’s what’s going to happen.”