London Grenfell Tower survivors not rehoused properly

This 17 June 2017 video from London, England is called Grenfell fire: Protests and anger grow as death toll rises

Another video from London, England used to say about itself:

Grenfell Tower Survivor Sid Ali-Atami Talks About Losing his Faith in the Theresa May Government

5 July 2017

Sid Ali-Atami and his daughter sit down to talk about how they have lost their faith in the Theresa May government after its impersonal response to the Grenfell Tower Tragedy.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Grenfell survivors ‘still not offered adequate housing

Thursday 6th July 2017

SURVIVORS of the Grenfell Tower disaster are not being offered suitable accommodation by Kensington & Chelsea Council, they said yesterday, as Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced yet another taskforce would be sent in to cover the calamitous Tory local authority’s failings.

Three weeks after the blaze, residents from the west London tower and nearby Grenfell Walk are still living in hotels and only 14 households have accepted offers of permanent or temporary living arrangements, the new taskforce’s predecessor the Grenfell Response Team (GRT) admitted.

Campaigners and residents said properties are either out of the borough, too costly or only on a one-year contract. Astonishingly, bearing in mind the ordeal they have suffered, some had been offered places in high-rise buildings.

A campaigner working with the families said one survivor had been offered accommodation which, after a year of paying no rent, would be triple what they were paying before.

Jamal Williams, a resident from a nearby block, said: “The concern is what it will be afterwards. I think people are looking for a lifetime tenancy arrangement.”

Mr Javid’s decision to bring in a recovery taskforce to offer long-term support, including housing, followed heavy criticism of the council and the resignation of its two most senior members.

The move was branded “a clear admission of failure” by shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne, who said: “This is a half-measure that does not go far enough to address the woefully inadequate performance of Kensington & Chelsea Council throughout this crisis.

“It is clear that the community has lost trust in their council. Sajid Javid needs to finally show some leadership by bringing in external commissioners — in consultation with residents themselves.”

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “Support for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire is still not good enough.

“Ministers must now show that they mean what they say, do what they promise and act urgently to give those affected by this tragic fire the support they need.”

This 17 June 2017 video from London, England is called London fire: Kensington residents say government ignored them.

Another video from London, England used to say about itself:

5 July 2017

A Grenfell Action Group member and former tower resident confronts Tory party MP on Channel 4 over the council’s and government’s inadequate response to the fire.

By Martin Wicks in Britain:

Grenfell Tower: the deadly results of council housing being starved of funds

Thursday 6th July 2017

THERE is a chain of causes of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe of which the criminal use of flammable cladding is just one link.

The circumstances which created this entirely preventable loss of life can be traced back to deregulation and the ideological assault on health and safety, derided as “red tape”.

Austerity has also hollowed out much local council and fire service organisation, depleting resources for controlling building work and checking fire safety arrangements.

There is one link in the causative chain which hasn’t received the attention it deserves: the starving of council housing of funds.

Every stock-owning council has insufficient funds for the proper maintenance and renewal of its homes.

At a Kensington Council scrutiny committee meeting in March of this year, just weeks before the Grenfell Tower fire, the housing director gave a report on the finances of their Housing Revenue Account (HRA).

Such was the impact of government policies, including the 1 per cent rent cut for four years, that there was a shortfall of resources for capital spending (renewal of key components of the properties) of £87 million over the next five years.

The level of investment needed was estimated at £146.1m but the council only has £59m available in its HRA.

The “ring-fence” around the HRA bars councils from using money from their general fund on council housing.

The director said: “There will be an increasing challenge to meet the requirements in the medium and long term.”

In reality it will be unable to spend what it needs in order to maintain decent standards. In this context “value for money” can translate into cheap and shoddy work which may have life-threatening consequences for the tenants.

The causes of this shortage of funds are the new council housing financial system — “self-financing,” introduced in 2012 — and government policies since then which have led to a loss of rental income.

When “self-financing” was introduced 136 councils had additional debt of more than £13 billion imposed on them as part of a so-called debt settlement.

This debt was not the product of actual borrowing but of “creative accounting” by the Treasury.

Historically tenants have paid more in rent than the actual cost of borrowing for building council homes.

That was why Defend Council Housing, the parliamentary council housing group and the Local Government Association called on government to cancel this bogus debt.

Both New Labour (John Healey was the housing minister) and the coalition government rejected this demand.

As a consequence in 2015-16, according to the local government statistics for England, local authorities paid £2.143bn in debt and interest charges, 25 per cent of their total income.

More than 90 per cent of the income of council HRAs is rent and service charges paid by tenants (and leaseholders).

HRAs have no government subsidy so the amount of work they can do to maintain and renew their housing stock is entirely dependent on how much rent they take in.

The rent cut, increased discounts for right to buy sales and other policies mean that councils’ rental income is much lower than planned for in 2012. For example Swindon Council is expected to take in £365m less rent over the remainder of its 30-year “business plan.”

This is the context in which councils carry out investment decisions which can have such disastrous consequences.

The “proposed contractor” for the work on Grenfell Tower was Leadbitter. It gave a price of £11.278m. However, the job eventually went to Rydon for £8.77m. They called this “value for money.” In the context of cash-strapped councils, quality of work loses out to cost-cutting.

In this case the question is posed, did this “value for money” decision lead to the deaths of Grenfell Tower residents?

In November of last year Swindon Tenants Campaign Group produced a pamphlet, “The case for cancelling council housing debt,” which explained the roots and the consequences of this underfunding.

Our pamphlet called on the Labour Party to press the government to reopen the debt settlement and for Labour to commit to cancelling the council housing debt if elected.

When it introduced “self-financing” the government gave itself the power to “reopen the debt settlement” — in other words to cut the debt payments if there were material changes in the circumstances of councils.

In reference to this power, “implementing self-financing,” it said: “This provision is necessary to protect both the government and local authorities from being locked into a deal that, because of changes to policy affecting either a landlord’s income or costs, no longer reflects a fair valuation and could have a material impact on viability. It could be a major change in national rental policy…”

A “major change in national rental policy” is exactly what happened, twice. Councils are locked into a deal which has a material impact on the viability of their HRAs.

The catastrophic events at Grenfell Tower are linked to the underfunding of council housing.

While the impact in other localities may not be so deadly, the fact is that the current funding does not provide sufficient resources to maintain the standards and the living conditions of existing tenants, never mind building new council housing.

While the responsibility for Grenfell Tower rests with Kensington Council, the finances of its HRA underline that the starvation of council housing of adequate funding has consequences for the work that local authorities carry out. It will result in the deterioration of the condition of the stock and the living conditions of tenants.

Cancellation of the bogus debt is necessary to start to provide councils with sufficient funding to begin to tackle the housing crisis and, critically, to prevent cost-cutting which can have the catastrophic consequence that it did in Kensington.

It would also provide them with the resources for any work required to make tower blocks safe.

Martin Wicks is secretary of the Swindon Tenants Campaign Group.

12 thoughts on “London Grenfell Tower survivors not rehoused properly

  1. NEARLY one in five front-line firefighter jobs have been cut since 2010, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said yesterday.

    The union has written to all MPs in Britain warning that continued “savage” cuts seriously threaten public safety.

    It said figures a post-war record of 11,000 jobs had gone in the past seven years.

    The cuts include almost 8,000 full-time firefighters and nearly 3,000 “retained” (oncall) workers.

    FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “After a tragedy like Grenfell Tower, the public need to feel safe. It is very clear just how badly we need adequate numbers of professional, trained firefighters to tackle these sorts of — thankfully rare — disasters.

    “Our fire and rescue service is being cut to the bone. It needs investment, not more cuts.”

    Following a paltry 2 per cent pay offer, Nick Chard, spokesman for the National Joint Council Employers Group, which represents local authorities, said: “We share the view of firefighters, and the unions, that they deserve to be paid more.”


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