Labour is calling on the Philip Hammond to set aside £1 billion in the Budget to fund the retrofitting of sprinklers in all council and housing association tower blocks, starting with blocks that are 30m (ten storeys) or higher. Jeremy Corbyn will launch the campaign in a speech later today.
Although independent research shows that sprinklers extinguish or contain fires in 99 per cent of cases, only 2 per cent of tower blocks have sprinkler systems.
The Government has so far refused to provide funding for councils to retrofit sprinklers following the Grenfell Tower Fire. Two coroners’ reports in 2013 into the high rise fires at Lakanal House and Shirley Towers recommended that sprinklers be fitted into social housing blocks.
Many councils and housing associations lack the funds to retrofit sprinklers, with the Conservatives’ having cut funding for local government by 40 per cent since 2010. A number of local authorities have said their requests for funding from the Government to retrofit sprinklers have been turned down or ignored, including Nottingham City Council, Salford Council and Conservative-controlled Westminster Council.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:
Five months on from the Grenfell Tower Fire, still only 2 per cent of tower blocks have sprinklers and councils claim they have been denied funding for these vital measures.
The Government is failing to learn the lessons from this tragedy. I urge the Chancellor to use the Budget to urgently provide the funds needed to retrofit sprinklers, ensuring people in thousands of tower blocks across our country are living in safety and with peace of mind.
The Grenfell Tower fire was an entirely avoidable human disaster that must not be repeated.
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary said:
Grenfell was a national disaster which demands a national Government response. Five months on, residents in high rise blocks need to know their homes are safe, yet Ministers won’t act.
The Conservatives have slashed local government funding by 40 per cent since 2010, depriving councils of the funds that they need to make life saving changes.
Sprinklers save lives, which is why the Government should set aside the money to fit them into tower blocks across the country.
In a speech tomorrow launching the campaign, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:
On the Grenfell Tower Fire:
The Grenfell Tower fire shocked the whole country. A 24 storey tower block subsumed in flame; whole families, adults and young children alike, trapped inside the tower with no chance of escape. The scenes inside that tower would have been unimaginable hell.
“Firefighters entered the burning building nonetheless, at huge risk to themselves, saving many lives, but far too many – at least 80 people – were beyond rescue.
“People simply did not believe that such a horrifying event could take place in 2017, in Britain’s richest borough, in the 5th richest nation on earth.
“But tragically it didn’t happen by chance, but because of shockingly avoidable political decisions, driven by a cruel and failed economic ideology.
On Conservative cuts to fire services:
I had the chance to talk to firefighters who battled that deadly inferno for hours. Utterly exhausted, these were the women and men who saved large numbers of people, adults and children.
I asked them why they did it? Why did they put themselves in such danger, saving the lives of people who they’ve never even met. They answered, without any hesitation, ”We do it because it’s our job.”
Firefighters across the country have faced the harsh reality of politically driven austerity. Along with the other emergency services across the country they have been forced to deal with repeated budget cuts since 2010.
In the last seven years, 10,000 frontline firefighter jobs have gone – equivalent to one in six positions. This is a staggering figure and is compounded by the loss of fire stations, equipment and the loss of almost a third of fire safety inspectors in the same period, with some areas such as West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, which covers the city of Leeds, having lost as many as 70% of its inspectors.
Indeed, because of the continual loss of firefighters’ jobs, if the fire at Grenfell had occurred outside of London, there would not have been enough firefighters in the vicinity to tackle a blaze of that size.
That is why Labour is committed to recruiting 3,000 new firefighter jobs with a full review of staffing levels.
Demanding funding for sprinklers:
We must make sure that nothing like the fire at Grenfell Tower can ever happen again. But to make sure it doesn’t we need action and we need action now.
The retrofitting of sprinklers in all high rise social housing is something that could make a vital difference to people’s safety. The evidence is clear: where sprinkler systems have already been fitted, injuries sustained from fires have been cut by approximately 80% and deaths from fires have almost been eliminated entirely.
The Coroner in its 2013 report after the fire at Lakanal House recommended the retrofitting of sprinklers in all high rise residential buildings. Two Conservative governments in succession have now failed to act on that Coroner’s report.
We said after that dreadful fire at Lakanal House in 2009, we would never allow anything similar to happen again and yet, here we are, eight years later, after an even worse avoidable fire.
This measure is just common sense and will protect thousands of lives. Funding retrofitting of sprinklers is an immediate step that Theresa May can and must take in the Autumn Budget.
On Tax avoidance:
While people are living in potential death-trap homes without essential safety protections such as sprinklers, it is an obscenity that we have super rich elites and major corporations who are allowed to avoid paying their taxes. There can be little disagreement: the government must get its act together, take on the tax avoiders and put the billions of pounds that is being taken from the pockets of the British people back into the public services we all so desperately need.
On social housing:
Social housing in this country has been badly and dangerously neglected for far too long. Deregulation imposed by successive governments has caused a shocking collapse in standards.
While luxury accommodation proliferates across our big cities, far out of reach of the vast majority of the population, the poorest in our country are forced to live not just in dilapidated run-down housing, but also in dangerous housing.
Time and time again this government has shown itself to be callous and indifferent to working class concerns.
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