Helen responds to local concerns following Grenfell Tower tragedy

I have been deeply saddened by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. I would like to express my sincerest sympathies to those who lost loved ones in the fire, and my gratitude at the exemplary work of the emergency services who responded so bravely.

As you say, there has been a clear failing of fire safety regulations and the Government must now act. It is vital that we get to the bottom of how this fire happened, hold those responsible to account, and do what is necessary to make sure it never happens again.

A lot of the factors which led to this tragedy have already become clear. Here is a shocking timeline which shows events leading up to and around the Grenfell disaster:

  • 2013 - Boris Johnson overrules the ruling body of the London Fire Brigade and uses legal action to inflict £29m in cuts. Closing 10 fire stations, cutting firefighters by 552, losing 14 fire engines and cutting minimum staffing levels from 5 to 4. By the time he steps down as Mayor of London he inflicts a further £100m in cuts to £130m total and the loss of 7000 firefighters. Fire prevention measures carried out by the service drop by over 25%.

  • 2013 - All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue produces a report strongly recommending installation of fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4000 tower blocks throughout Britain.

  • The Grenfell residents’ action group publishes a report warning that their landlord is putting their safety at risk by restricting the access ways to their car park. They are ignored by their landlord.

  • 2013 - 2016 Conservative housing ministers sit on All Party report without action, promising they are "looking at it", including Tory Housing Minister Gavin Barwell.

  • 2016 - Conservatives vote against a Labour motion to make sure all landlords and housing associations ensure residences are fit for human occupation, including provisions for fire safety. The motion is defeated by 312 votes to 219. 72 of the MPs voting against are landlords.

  • The Grenfell residents’ action group publish a report warning people will die in a fire before the landlord takes notice of their poor fire safety provisions. They are ignored by their landlord.

  • 2017 - Ex-housing minister Gavin Barwell becomes Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff. He never actions the All Party Parliamentary report recommendations.

Whilst I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will be an independent public inquiry into the incident, I fear that, based on the Government’s record and their extremely slow and lacking initial response to the tragedy, sufficient action may not be taken. This is why I have written to Theresa May to press her to ensure robust fire safety standards are applied to all kinds of housing and buildings, and I will continue to scrutinise the developments of this case closely. I have also written to the Housing Associations in this constituency to find out what they are doing to ensure the safety of their tenants.

The Conservatives have cut 10,000 firefighter jobs and closed dozens of fire stations. As a result, response times have got slower and lives have been put at risk. Last month I visited Bishop Auckland Community Fire Station and was told by worried fire officers about the falling crew numbers on fire engines, which has dropped from 5 to 3 on some call-outs. This level simply cannot drop anymore because of further Conservative cuts, which put our firefighters at risk as well as the general public. In this election I stood on a platform of halting cuts to the Fire Service and a Labour promise to recruit 3,000 new firefighters.

This is an issue I take extremely seriously and I can assure local residents that I will continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions closely.

 

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