AS NEXT month’s anniversary of the worst disaster to hit London’s tube approaches, the government is busy trying to rip up safety regulations introduced to prevent it ever being repeated.
Thirty one people were killed in the King’s Cross fire 17 years ago. The subsequent Fennell inquiry recommended minimum standards of fire cover and staffing for 115 underground stations.
These were introduced in 1989 under section 12 of the 1971 Fire Precautions Act, and helped reverse a cut in staff numbers which had been underway since 1983.
But earlier this year the department headed by deputy prime minister John Prescott signalled its intention to scrap the act and the regulations arising from it.
It continues to press ahead, paving the way for job cuts on the underground, despite an official committee recommending the safety rules stay.
That is of a piece with a drive to deregulate business, including slashing safety, which Tony Blair reiterated two weeks ago.
Transport secretary Alistair Darling has announced that the independent rail inspectorate is to be rolled into the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), whose primary responsibility is ensuring the profitability of the privatised network.
Last week the ORR’s chief executive, Suzanne McCarthy, resigned. One factor, according to insiders, was worries about the ability of the ORR to absorb the rail inspectorate.
The office space of the ORR alone is insufficient to run the inspectorate.
It is, however, compatible with halving the number of inspectors and a reduction in what they do, something some inspectors already fear is going to happen.
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