Sajid Javid has been savaged by a Labour MP after he suggested councils faced a post-Grenfell “looming crisis of trust”.
Andrew Gwynne said Javid, the Communities Secretary, had been “wrong” and it was the Government that “has a lot to answer for” as he slammed the eye-watering 40% budget cut some local authorities had faced.
Gwynne’s speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) conference won cheers from delegates of the UK’s cash-strapped councils and was even praised by the Tory Chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter.
Porter, who chairs the LGA, shook his hand and said: “It’s nice to know the next person coming in is going to look after you.”
It comes after Javid’s address at the same conference, which, according to Labour’s LGA lead, Nick Forbes “went down like a bucket of cold sick”.
Javid suggested councils, among others, had “failed all the victims of that terrible tragedy”, adding: “Speaking to survivors, people in the local community, and people in tower blocks around the country, one thing is abundantly clear – local government is facing a looming crisis of trust.”
Gwynne, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Communities, hit back at Javid and warned councils should not be forced to make “even more difficult decisions” to fund things like sprinklers.
He said: “I have not met a local councillor or officer who has underplayed the tragedy of Grenfell or not asked searching questions about how this could have been avoided.
“However, what I have seen is leadership, competence and empathy that has been sorely lacking in central government and from a secretary of state for communities and local government.
“He told you that local government faced a looming crisis in confidence. He’s wrong. It’s his government that is facing a looming crisis in confidence.”
He went on: “The only response we have had from the Secretary of State was during his speech to you at this conference when he passed the buck and refused to admit that government has actually got a lot to answer for.”
Kensington and Chelsea council has been widely criticised for its response to the fire, leading eventually to the resignation of leader Nicholas Paget-Brown.
A specialist taskforce has been drafted in to manage the council’s housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance services after a fierce public backlash.
Gwynne said Javid should not, however, attack all local government “because of one bad council” as many were buckling under the weight of cutbacks.
He said: “Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums and leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes, you would still not have saved enough money to plug the funding gap.
“The LGA has been warning of these cuts to council budgets for many years now but these warnings have fallen on deaf ears in Whitehall.”
He added: “I know that many local authorities have been undertaking safety checks on your housing and installing fire prevention systems and I know many of you have gone beyond that by looking at other public buildings like schools and hospitals.
“Councils could face a £600m bill or more because government is failing to commit to extra funding for fire safety measures.
“I will be urging the secretary of state to support local government to ensure all your housing is safe. That money needs to come forward now and it can’t be done solely on a case by case basis. That is simply not good enough.”