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DCLG accused of 'failing' its responsibility to fund fire safety works

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The Department for Communities & Local Government has been asked to provide financial assistance to more than 30 councils carrying out fire safety improvement works to tower blocks.

However, Brent LBC claimed it had been told it will not receive any financial help from DCLG to fit sprinklers and smoke detectors in its high-rise blocks, while Salford City Council has accused the department of “failing to live up to its responsibility”.

LGC reported in August how some councils are struggling to pay for fire safety improvements to tower blocks but who can cover the costs had warned the required work will divert cash away from much needed housing projects.

In July, communities secretary Sajid Javid said councils should request financial assistance “if they cannot afford” the fire safety works.

The DCLG said it had received requests for help from 31 local authorities either directly or through MPs.

Brent LBC wrote to Mr Javid in July asking for assistance in funding a £10m programme of fire safety works in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

Although all the council’s high-rise blocks meet fire safety standards, and are not affected by the cladding that was found to be unsafe on Grenfell Tower, sprinklers and fire alarms have not been routinely fitted.

The letter said the council would struggle to fund the programme on its own, as its Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap will be reached in 2018-19. It also said DCLG’s policy to cut social rents by 1% a year to 2020 had put the council’s finances “under considerable strain”.

It warned that without help, funding the improvement works could hit existing planned and reactive maintenance budgets.

A Brent LBC spokesman told LGC: “The DCLG have indicated that they are not prepared to fund Brent’s planned fire safety works. We are maintaining a dialogue with the department and we are continuing to press for funding.”

Salford borrowed £25m in August to fund fire safety improvements to its high-rise buildings, a move it warned would cost £1.25m a year in interest and “create significant pressure upon the council’s budgetary position”. At the time the DCLG was asked “to provide assistance” in meeting the cost of the works but that has not yet been forthcoming.

Salford’s deputy mayor John Merry (Lab) said: “We believe that the government is failing to live up to its responsibility to local government. Whilst we have had to take the measures we have done to protect local residents and to ensure their safety we believe that the government should be making a contribution towards the cost. 

“Like many other councils Salford is lobbying the government to recognise the huge financial cost of this national issue and provide funding to us and other local authorities to deal with it. We have now been asked by the government to provide financial information.”

Elsewhere, Plymouth City Council is looking to spend around £12m on fire safety improvements, which would breach its HRA borrowing cap.

A council spokesman said: “We’re in ongoing discussions with the DCLG currently, so no decision has been reached as yet.”

The DCLG spokesman said it was “in discussions with a number of councils” and added: “Building owners are responsible for funding measures designed to make a building safe. We’ve been clear that where a local authority has concerns about funding essential fire safety measures, they should contact DCLG as soon as possible to discuss their position.

“The department has not turned down any funding requests to date.”

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