Politicians are set to appear as witnesses at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry for the first time on Wednesday, 30 March, amidst calls for the inquiry to highlight the role of governments in creating the system that in turn caused the disaster.
Brandon Lewis MP, now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was minister with responsibility for fire from 2012 to 2014 and again in 2016–17. He will be the first politician to take to the stand, followed by Stephen Williams, Lord Wharton and Gavin Barwell, all of whom were ministers with responsibility for the building regulations in the run-up to the disaster. Last will be Eric Pickles, who had overall responsibility for both fire and building safety between 2010 and 2015.
Matt Wrack, general secretary, Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘Politicians over successive decades committed to deregulation as a fundamental political idea. They have scrapped standards, privatised public services and weakened the regime of inspecting buildings. They must bear the brunt of the blame for Grenfell. A clear line can be drawn from these political decisions to key failures at Grenfell, with highly flammable cladding and insulation facilitated by a lack of clear regulation.
‘In its questioning and its reports the inquiry must highlight the truth – it must expose the role of deregulation and those who pursued it in killing 72 people.’
The politicians being called to give evidence were ministers in David Cameron’s Tory-led government. Cameron pledged to ‘kill off health and safety culture for good’ and committed to delivering £10bn of deregulation (in terms of reducing cost to industry).
Successive governments since 2010 enforced the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to strip away life-saving laws put in place to protect the public. They introduced rules such as ‘one in, one out’ – then two out and finally in 2016 ‘one in, three out’, to make it very difficult to introduce new safety measures.
Wrack said: ‘For building safety, civil servants were told that new regulations were off the table and the review of Approved Document B guidance was not a priority. Ministers demanded more privatisation, while weakening local building control with swingeing cuts and edicts for light touch enforcement. They failed to implement the coroner’s recommendations after the Lakanal House fire. They oversaw a building safety regime even their appointed expert Judith Hackitt found was not fit for purpose.
‘These ministers used their time in office to promote the privatisation of the fire and rescue service. They forced the sale of the Fire Service College. They tried to force through the “mutualisation” of local fire and rescue services, turning our public service into a business. They told inspectors to go easy on corporations and owners, rather than punish those breaking fire safety law. They imposed the worst cuts in our history, cutting one-in-five operational firefighters while expected our members to do ever-more arduous work.
‘It is time to call ministers to account. The buck stops with ministers in charge in the years leading up to the fire.’
You can view details of the schedule of the inquiry here: www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/hearings