Socialist Worker

Grenfell fire showed how the system fails ordinary people

by Joe Delaney
Issue No. 2636

Protesters marked the anniversary of the Grenfell fire in June last year

Protesters marked the anniversary of the Grenfell fire in June last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The past year has seen all the people and organisations responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire disgracefully attempt to pass the buck.

Just before Christmas the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) announced there are still over 100 households awaiting ­permanent accommodation.

Forty of these were from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk—part of the group that were promised homes within three weeks of the fire.

This surprises no one in the area—we already knew that there was a chronic shortage of suitable housing.

Promises of “new homes in three weeks” were made in response to a PR disaster for the government, not the humanitarian disaster.

Managed

The only thing that has been ­managed to any degree since the morning of 14 June 2017 has been our expectations that we will see justice for what happened.

“I am well aware residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that,” said Sir Martin Moore-Bick. “Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I am more doubtful.”

He was being interviewed on the day his appointment as chair of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was made public.

What is shocking about this ­statement is that it was made before the terms of reference had even been agreed and “consultations” on the matter were active.

Phase one of the inquiry seems to be what Moore-Bick intended—a focus solely on the events of 14 June 2017.

The evidence heard over the course of phase one has sadly demonstrated that the motives of most of those responsible remain selfish rather than selfless.

Firms Arconic and Rydon refused to submit closing statements.

Studio E and Harley Facade refused to engage any more than they were compelled to by law.

The Tories are happy to make promises. Yet when it comes to matters of real substance, such as adopting recommendations of the Hackett inquiry into building safety, they drag their heels.

Joe Delaney

Lawyers for Carl J Stokes, the fire inspector employed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), argued he should not have been expected to consider walls as part of the fabric of a building.

All of this was brazenly done in front of survivors who could only stand there.

They had to listen to KCTMO chief executive Robert Black claim he didn’t know when he arrived at the tower.

He kept quiet unless it was to say he “didn’t recall” events.

He wasn’t so quiet when he sent an email on the night warning his team they needed to pull together evidence about the cladding.

I was most disappointed in the way the frontline firefighters were betrayed and undermined by their management.

On the night the London Fire Brigade leadership arrived too late. Cuts to personnel and ­equipment cost lives.

When commissioner Danny Cotton needed to show that they were valued and respected, ­firefighters got to hear that their employer would “not change a thing” about the circumstances they endured at Grenfell.

They deserve better, so do the victims, so do the survivors, so does London.

The Tories are happy to make promises. Yet when it comes to matters of real substance, such as adopting recommendations of the Hackett inquiry into building safety, they drag their heels.

It took 15 months from the fire to announce that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower would be banned.

The changes made to the ­building and fire safety regulations since October have only added to the confusion. An investigation into fire door safety is perhaps the ­starkest example of just how light touch our regulatory frameworks have become.

“Building owners should assure themselves that products being used in their buildings meet the required standards,” it reads.

Grenfell has exposed how little protection our systems offer because of how much we take for granted.

Political

What should be a public health matter and a political issue has been repackaged as a consumer issue—it’s the “consumer’s” responsibility.

A comprehensive regulatory framework is needed—enforced with penalties that cost far more than any potential benefit gained through non-compliance.

Without this, breaking the law will simply be seen as just another potential cost of doing business.

If there is no obligation, far too many in this world won’t care if the cost of their choice is someone else being a victim.

When accountability isn’t considered likely, fear of consequences isn’t immediate, or doing the right thing isn’t convenient, we risk becoming a sacrifice that ­someone else is willing to make to satisfy their own greed, ideology, or agenda.

Too often the cost of safety and quality is considered to be more important than its value.

Residents of Grenfell Tower were the latest victims to pay the price.

Joe Delaney was evacuated from the estate connected to Grenfell Tower and is a member of the Grenfell Action Group. For more details go to grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com

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