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Chalcots: Labour needs to crack on and find the causes

13 July, 2017

Grenfell Tower

THE most significant public meeting on the Grenfell disaster took place yesterday evening (Wednesday) in Somers Town.

It drew a packed audience, stirred by the campaigning body Defend Council Housing, and the panel of speakers included two national trade union leaders, Kevin Courtney of the NUT and Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union – and a representative of Unison at the Town Hall.

But council representation on the panel was absent – neither officials nor any individual councillors was there. If they had been part of the political grapevine that filtered across London out of the disaster they would more than likely have heard of the meeting.

While we have called for a public inquiry, led by an independent body, into the causes of the grievous mistakes at the Chalcots estate in particular, the council appears to have a different strategy – first, make things right, then inquire in-depth into the causes. An attractive approach but why cannot both be done at the same time?

A council representative at the Somers Town meeting may have set off a productive chain of thought. But, despite the fact that the council is the only authority in Britain to evacuate hundreds of tenants from an unsafe housing estate, the Town Hall was markedly absent.

The litany of mistakes made during the privately financed refurbishment project on the Chalcots estate – among them the poor quality “fire doors” and the bare gas pipes – are enough to kick-start an investigation into the probable causes.

Then again, it was confirmed last night (Wednesday) that a “fire assessment” report allowing the council one year in which to carry out essential fire precautions has not been acted on until now – more than a year after its publication.

All of this requires the most thorough investigation – and at a certain level it should begin now.

Why is it not possible to set up a special sub-committee of four or five councillors with specialist knowledge, either of property and/or finance, to investigate something that has all the hallmarks of a scandal?

Without excluding the possibility of a cross-party committee, it can be argued that Labour has the greater responsibility – it was New Labour that broadly introduced the Private Finance Initiative scheme after all – and that its councillors and members should, together with tenants’ representatives, link up. Labour has a responsibility as the landlord of more than 20,000 tenants. Officially, the council wants to leave this to later in the year.

But time is running out.

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