Guardian letters today on Grenfell Tower

Polly Toynbee is right to point to the failures of regulation as a factor behind the Grenfell Tower disaster (A leader too afraid to meet her people is finished, 17 June). Unlike the healthcare, social care and education sectors, social housing in England no longer has an inspection regime that assesses the performance of landlords delivering services to the 4 million households living in housing association or local authority housing. Between 2000 and 2010 the Audit Commission carried out 1,400 housing inspections of housing associations and local authorities, but when the commission was abolished by the coalition government these inspections stopped.

The current social housing regulator – the Homes and Communities Agency – focuses its resources on the “financial viability” and “governance” of housing associations; its interest in service delivery is almost non-existent. Some of the commission’s inspections focused on safety issues in social housing (particularly gas safety).

The HCA still has the powers to inspect social housing providers under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. These powers should be invoked to assess whether the systems are in place to protect tenants in future from the sort of catastrophe that befell Grenfell Tower.
Roger Jarman
Former head of housing, Audit Commission

• Inequality and indifference to the rights of poor people may well be the underlying ethos that threatens British society, but the translation of that indifference into legislative collective punishment is the cause. The core injustice can be traced to the Localism Act 2011, introduced by Eric Pickles, which swept away independent oversight of local government, to be replaced by “armchair auditors”.

Couple that with the media-led frenzy for deregulation, the wholesale commercialisation of public services, and the diminution of any sense of public service in government, and the end result is self-evident. Not just Grenfell Tower and the associated paralysis of any official response, but in the state of our schools, hospitals, transport infrastructure, and staffing levels of our emergency services. Pursuit of profit without a moral compass has failed; the country needs a change in direction.
Eric Goodyer
Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland

• The government website makes the following boast: “Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge; Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards; £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%; Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job”.

The problem with regulations is that their utility and importance only become apparent when what they are intended to control goes wrong as it did so tragically at Grenfell Tower. How many of the 2,400 regulations removed were standing in the way of other tragedies occurring? We will not know until the next tragic event. Reducing the time for fire safety inspections does not look as smart now as it did when the government started boasting about it.
Dr John Cookson

• Will families left homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire be exempted from the ever lower means tests for benefits? Anything more than the initial guaranteed £5,500 minimum payment to each household (Report, 19 June) will fall foul of the limits for working tax credits and income-rated benefits, which have been frozen at £8,000 and lowered to £6,000 for universal credit when payments are tapered away and stopped for those with more than £18,000 in savings.

Rather than announcing ad hoc exceptions, like those following the Manchester bombings, is it not time to exempt all compensation awards and reconsider what these petty-minded benefit rules do for anybody saving for a deposit who loses their job or becomes ill? They actively discourage saving and self-reliance.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• It was heartening to read that the government is give £5,500 to each household affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It would be even more heartening if this were accompanied by a rethink of the policy that in 2013 devolved responsibility for providing assistance in such circumstances to local authorities, which has resulted in a patchwork of provision. In Kensington and Chelsea, individuals and families left homeless by fire or other emergency would normally only have recourse to a local support payments scheme. These are only available to people on qualifying benefits, means-tested, and are in the form of secondhand furniture and white goods, or sometimes store vouchers – never cash.
Ian Barrett

One thought on “Guardian letters today on Grenfell Tower

  1. I am an “armchair auditor” but unlike the Audit Commission if I find anything I am completely and utterly powerless to do anything about it however hard I try.

    I can only assume that this was the result that Eric Pickles was aiming for – after all, his view is likely to be that government (whether local or central) runs much much better when they can pursue secret agendas without any pesky auditors or need for transparency or accountability.

    Happy to give example after example after example if anyone is interested, but perhaps not here and now.


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