The first anniversary of the horrible Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 is approaching soon and the public inquiry has recently started with tributes to the families who died. Residents and communities in North Kensington and indeed around the UK are still awaiting answers from the British government.
Answers to questions about the slow response of the emergency services, contractor profits over safety of people’s lives and the establishment’s approach to housing safety regulations. Following the fire last year, a large number of councils have had to inspect and in some cases remove non-fireproof cladding on the outside of some towers.
The Grenfell fire which started around midnight and quickly swept across the tower claimed 72 lives and destroyed all 151 homes in the building as well as homes nearby. The majority of residents in the building were trapped as the fire swept at an unbelievable pace floor by floor, burning all those in the higher floors alive.
The fire is believed to have spread so rapidly due to sprinklers not working properly in the tower and installation of cladding which was not fireproof on the outside of the building. Ironically the cladding was installed as part of an £8.6 million refurbishment to the exterior of the tower alone.
The Sussex based firm who carried out the work confirmed shortly after the fire that its work, “met all the required building control, fire regulation, and health and safety standards”, questioning the safety standards as set by the government.
Residents of the tower who were not in the building, as well as local residents and relatives are still furious about the slow responses of the emergency services and the inability of the government to quickly start an independent public inquiry which would show real accountability.
Is the Inquiry Independent?
The day after the fire Theresa May announced a full public inquiry, “We need to know what happened, we need to have an explanation of this.” Theresa May appointed Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired judge, to the lead the inquiry.
The two phases of the inquiry will look at how the fire developed and how the tower became exposed to the risk of such a huge fire. At the time of May’s announcement, Sir Martin said, “The inquiry process is not adversarial, it’s not to punish anyone or award compensation. It’s simply to get to the truth.”
This infuriated communities because it was obvious the purpose of the inquiry was not to hold those responsible for building and renovating the building and thus questioning the building standards as outlined by the government.
Residents also felt aggrieved by the fact that an ‘establishment’ figure rather than a grassroots community figure had been appointed to lead the inquiry.
To add further insult to injury Sir Martin hasn’t even appointed a person from the Grenfell Tower community to an advisory panel that will consider the evidence put forward to him. Only after over 150,000 people signed a petition requesting for a diverse range of individuals to sit on the panel with Sir Martin did Theresa May agree that two additional ‘experts’ would join Sir Martin in phase two of the inquiry.
Hence the obvious question remains, is this an independent inquiry or simply a PR exercise?
Profits Over Lives?
The Grenfell Tower inferno has proved once again that the establishment is concerned more about generating profits for big companies and themselves, rather than paying due diligence to the lives of its citizens.
In early 2016, 309 Tory MPs voting against a motion that proposed ‘making homes more habitable’: 72 of these MPs were residential landlords. No MPs from the other political parties voted against the motion.
One of the key proposals of making homes more habitable was to introduce a mandatory set of checks for electrical standards, stating that electric faults cause an estimated 20,000 house fires each year. Amongst the Tory MPs who voted against this motion was Theresa May’s Police and Fire Minister. The Tory party justified voting against the bill on the basis that councils have powers to regulate and inspect inadequate rental properties.
If such a motion were to be introduced as a law it would make electrical and sprinkler standards mandatory. This would have natural implications for all landlords, including the MPs who own large amounts of land and residential properties. The fact that the majority of Tory MPs voted against this motion is not surprising as they are either making profits from renting property or are related to family who profit from rental income.
Furthermore, Brandon Lewis, the former Conservative housing minister also said in 2014, that making the installation of sprinklers mandatory for landlords could discourage house building and that developers should not be forced to install sprinklers. Stating further that it was the role of the fire industry to regulate the use of sprinklers rather than the government.
Government and Big Business
Whilst the government has taken drastic austerity measures during the last decade, the money it pours out to private industry is phenomenal. In many cases the politicians are benefactors of the companies the government deals with either as directors or consultants. For example, the NHS has seen a huge decrease in funding from the government resulting in patients not being treated and very long waiting times. In August 2017 the Financial Times revealed that private companies with contracts to build and run NHS hospitals had made pre-tax profits of £831 million over the past six years. Including, a think-tank behind one of the schemes made pre-tax profits of £140 million over the same period.
The Guardian also revealed that in 2012-13, the top 20 companies in the UK earned a staggering £10.2 billion taken from the UK tax payers. Of this, 73% of the income for these companies came from the government with large proportions of this money going to the IT industry.
The Grenfell Tower fire has once again highlighted the government’s priorities and vested interests in supporting big business. This is natural in a capitalist system as the companies who fund the political parties and support them financially in their election campaigns must see a return in their investments.
The tragic loss of all the lives which took place during the Grenfell fire also highlights these capitalist politicians, in particular from the Tory party will put their personal interests and profits before safety of people.