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Attempts to blame councils over Grenfell cladding now look misplaced

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Much has been said and much has been written about Kensington & Chelsea RBC’s response, or lack of it, in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The perceived failure(s) cost former leader Nick Paget-Brown and former chief executive Nicholas Holgate their jobs.

This reinforced the notion that for those involved in major events there is a need to be seen to be doing something, anything, no matter what it is. On this, the government has excelled itself, including apparently playing a significant part in Mr Holgate’s departure.

After ordering councils to undertake a snap survey of their buildings, communities secretary Sajid Javid blamed local authorities for being slow to submit cladding samples for testing – only to be put back in his place by the Local Government Association.

Still, that did not stop prime minister Theresa May from implying councils had failed to follow building regulations and Mr Javid infamously serving up his “bucket of cold sick” as he lectured local government about how it was “facing a looming crisis of trust”.

While the government has been quick to cast aspersions, it has not been so fast to organise comprehensive testing of cladding systems despite LGA chair Lord Porter (Con) and others calling for that to happen four weeks ago when it became clear the isolated cladding tests were a waste of time, effort, and money.

After finally agreeing to test both cladding panels and insulation together, the first results are coming in. After initially promising to publish them this morning the Department for Communities & Local Government finally got around to sending them out at 4.35pm. They showed that 82 buildings are currently known to have the combination of materials used at Grenfell in place. Of these, DCLG said 47 are local authority or housing association owned or managed.

It is thought nine of the buildings are council-owned – and even then they all belong to Salford City Council. Cladding is being removed and Salford’s deputy mayor John Merry (Lab) said the council is now working to find a permanent replacement that “meets the necessary safety standards”.

While many councils have been quick to implement plans to remove Grenfell Tower style cladding from their own blocks and draw up proposals to retrofit sprinklers what, exactly, the necessary safety standards are remains unclear.

On the BBC’s Today programme this morning, Lord Porter has once again called for a review of the government’s building regulations – the one the last government failed to launch despite saying it would do so last October.

“There’s no point taking down cladding that fails a test only to find out we’re putting up other cladding that won’t pass the test,” he said.

This afternoon the government announced that there will be an independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

But it’s 45 days since at least 80 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower disaster, while it is eight years since six people died in a major fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London.

The government failed to act then, and it has failed to act quickly this time around. It is time it stopped trying to point the finger of blame elsewhere and instead concentrate on clarifying what combinations of cladding and insulation really are safe.  The regulations as they stand are not fit for purpose – a claim that could also be laid at this and the last government’s door for its failure to act swiftly on this important issue.

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