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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on support for those affected by the Grenfell tragedy and on the second report from the independent recovery taskforce. This report will be published in full on gov.uk and placed in the Library of the House.
Nine months on, the shocking and terrible events of
I give my thanks to everyone who has gone that extra mile to be there for a community that has gone through so much. I also thank the taskforce for its work in helping us to ensure that, after the slow and confused initial response to the disaster, the people of North Kensington are receiving better support from RBKC to help them to recover and to rebuild their lives.
I was clear when I reflected on the taskforce’s first report in November that, while progress was being made, I expected to see swift, effective action to address all the issues that were highlighted, particularly the slow pace of delivery and the need for greater empathy and emotional intelligence—two things that are vital if RBKC is to regain the trust of the people that it serves.
My Department has been working closely with RBKC throughout to provide the support and challenge necessary to drive this work. I am pleased to see, from the taskforce’s second report, that some important progress has been made. RBKC, alongside the Government, has put in significant resources and increased its efforts to provide those affected with greater clarity about the support that is available to them. We have also seen a stronger focus on implementing new ways of working to drive much needed cultural change across the council in collaboration with external stakeholders, and a greater candour about the improvements that still need to be made. But there is much more to do to ensure that residents can see and feel that things are getting better on the ground. Nowhere is this more important than the vital task of rehousing those who lost their homes—a task that I have always been clear must be sensitive to individual needs, but not use these needs as an excuse to justify any type of delay.
Five months on from the fire, at the time of the taskforce’s first report, 122 households out of a total of 204 had accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation. Only 73 households had moved in, and only 26 of those had moved into permanent homes. Today I can report that 188 households have accepted an offer of accommodation. Just over two thirds of these—128 households—have already moved into new accommodation, including 62 into permanent homes. This is welcome news but, as the taskforce’s second report highlights, progress has been far too slow.
It was always going to be a challenge to respond to an unprecedented tragedy on this scale and to secure new accommodation in one of the country’s most expensive locations, but progress has not been made as quickly as it should have been. There are still 82 households in emergency accommodation, including 15 in serviced apartments, with 25 families and 39 children among them. This is totally unacceptable. The suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. Living for this long in hotels can only make the process of grieving and recovery even harder. As the taskforce has said, it is unlikely that all households will be permanently rehoused by the one-year anniversary of the fire. This is clearly not good enough. I hoped to have seen much more progress. It is very understandable that the people of North Kensington will feel disappointed and let down, even if there are encouraging signs that the pace of rehousing is speeding up.
The council now has over 300 properties that are available to those who lost their homes, so each household can now choose a good quality property that meets their needs, with the option of staying in the area if that is what they wish. To ensure that these homes are taken up, I expect all households, regardless of their level of engagement, to be given whatever support they require to be rehoused as quickly as possible. The Government will continue to play their part, providing help with rehousing and other support for survivors, including financial support currently worth more than £72 million. The weeks ahead will be critical for ensuring that efforts to rehouse survivors go up a gear. I will be closely monitoring progress and will of course keep the House updated.
As I said earlier, if the council is to regain trust it is paramount that the Grenfell community is not just being told that things are changing, but can see that its views and concerns are being heard and acted on. A good example of this, as highlighted by the report, is the transfer of responsibilities from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation to RBKC on an interim basis. This happened after residents made it clear that the tenant management organisation could no longer have a role, not only on the Lancaster West estate but more widely in housing management throughout the borough.
Residents have been engaged in the process of refurbishing the Lancaster West estate, with the Government matching the £15 million that the council is investing in this programme. Alongside this, the council will shortly be consulting residents on the long-term delivery of housing management needs across the borough. The voices and needs of the residents will also be at the heart of the process to determine the future of the Grenfell site and the public inquiry, which has just begun its second procedural hearing.
There must be an even stronger focus on needs as we step up efforts not just to rehouse survivors, but to help them to rebuild their lives and, vitally, to rebuild trust. It is a process that will clearly take time and unstinting commitment on all sides. As the taskforce has noted, some progress has been made, but there is no room for complacency. I expect the council to take on board the taskforce’s recommendations and do more to listen to the community, improve links with the voluntary sector and act on feedback that it gets from those on the frontline.
I thank the members of the taskforce once again for their valuable contribution, which will continue for as long as it is needed. As they have noted, despite the many challenges, there is
“a level of community spirit and attachment not often seen in local communities in London”.
It is a dynamic and diverse community spirit made stronger during the darkest of days—a spirit that is determined to secure a brighter future for the people of North Kensington. We share that determination and will continue to work with the bereaved, survivors and others. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement.
Anybody who has dealt with people who have gone through this kind of tragedy is bound to have compassion and real empathy, and the Secretary of State is absolutely right to demand that from all the agencies involved. However, what has been absolutely lacking is the fire and zeal that that compassion and empathy should have delivered, both in the Secretary of State’s office and in the local authority that has so abysmally failed the survivors of Grenfell Tower.
We are now nine months on from this tragedy. Two hundred and nine families needed rehousing. Had the Secretary of State come to the House at the very beginning of this process and told us that, nine months on, only 62 of those families would have been permanently rehoused, he would have been laughed out of this Chamber, and rightly so.
The hon. Lady mutters, “It’s their choice.” If we offer people a decent choice, they will move into the permanent homes they want. Nobody wants to be in emergency accommodation with their children. Eighty-two families are in emergency accommodation. This is a shameful record, nine months on.
In December, the Secretary of State told the House:
“I have been very clear with the council that I expect it to do whatever is necessary to help people into suitable homes as swiftly as possible. I am confident that the council is capable of that”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 633, c. 773.]
Frankly, none of us can have confidence in this council. It has continued the litany of failure that it began those nine months ago, and indeed before, in the lead-up to the tragedy. When the Secretary of State’s promise that everyone would be rehoused within the year prior to the anniversary of the tragedy gave some hope to the survivors of Grenfell Tower. He has abysmally failed in that promise. He now has to say what he intends to do to make sure that he can give a reasonable timescale that gives reasonable hope to the many people who are still waiting for some good news out of the tragedy those nine months ago. I have to ask him a serious question: does he really have confidence in the council to deliver? If so, that confidence has so far been sadly misplaced. At what point will he step up and take responsibility, given that ultimately he is the Secretary of State with responsibility for housing and for relations with that failing council? Both for the nation as a whole and for the survivors of Grenfell Tower, it is time to see legitimate progress. This is simply not an acceptable record.
I turn now to some of the wider issues where we are still waiting for answers. The Secretary of State has been asked about the timescale with regard to the other local authority tower blocks. Only seven of the 300-plus tower blocks that were identified as having combustible material and as not meeting modern-day building regulations have been re-clad. When can he give us some sense of progress where we can see some real change taking place? He has legitimately made the point that at each of those affected blocks there are, for example, fire marshals to ensure public safety. That is a sensible precaution, but obviously what is really sensible is making sure that re-cladding is delivered where appropriate. In that context, he still has not answered the question as to when he will respond to the 41 local authorities that have asked for financial assistance to complete that task. I hope he can give us some idea of when progress will take place.
I have to raise again with the Secretary of State the question of private tower blocks. It is quite clear that the Government simply do not know which private blocks are affected, potentially putting their residents and tenants at risk. Of course, if we do not know which blocks have combustible material, that means that we do not know whether they have the fire marshals and alternative precautions that will keep people safe, at least on a temporary basis.
Last week the Secretary of State came to the House to tell us about the failure of the fire doors at Grenfell. I understand that, of the fire door samples tested this week, at least one of the three that failed came from blocks other than Grenfell Tower, which means that there is still a risk out there. Can the Secretary of State satisfy us that he knows where those defective doors are? That information needs to be put in the public domain and we need to do something about it.
Finally, developers are still building and they need to know when and how they can do so in a way consistent with public safety. We are not there yet. Nine months on from the tragedy, there has been a failure to protect the interests of the survivors of Grenfell Tower; a failure to ensure that structures are in place to guarantee that other tower blocks can be declared safe; and a failure to ensure that we can face the future in the knowledge that developers are building in a way consistent with public safety. The Secretary of State has to give certainty to the people who deserve it. This is not about Members in this Chamber or even the people of this country in general. The survivors of Grenfell Tower deserve an awful lot better, and he has to stand up and take responsibility.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am happy to respond to the points he raised.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to question, as the taskforce has done in its second report, the speed of rehousing. However, it is appropriate to remind the House that, right from the start, the intention of the council and everyone involved is, rightly, to treat every individual as just that—an individual. If the objective from day one had been to get people out of hotels and into homes without listening to their needs, that clearly would have been wrong. It has been right at every step to work with each one of the households affected. For example, when numerous households said that they would like to take the opportunity to split, particularly if they had different generations in homes, we listened to them. There were 151 homes lost in the fire, but 208 households need to be rehoused because the council rightly listened to the needs of the families.
I will not go through all the numbers, but of the 208 households who need rehousing, 22 have not accepted any offer of temporary or permanent accommodation, despite the fact that more than 300 properties of all different sizes and in different locations are now available for those families. There are 22 who have yet to accept an offer. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands that many of those families are still very traumatised and that some are not in a position to even want to make a decision about leaving the hotel. I hope he agrees that in such situations no family should be forced into accommodation they are not comfortable with. However, I accept his wider point about treating the issue with the urgency it deserves, which is why I hope that when the council responds to the taskforce report, it will accept all its recommendations on rehousing and all the other issues.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I have confidence in the council. Yes, I do have confidence in the council. I would like to see more. I agree with the taskforce recommendations. I still feel that it was right to intervene when I did and to have the taskforce go in and provide scrutiny.
On the building safety programme, we believe that there are 301 tall residential towers over 18 meters high whose ACM cladding does not meet building regulations. Immediate interim measures have been taken in every single one of those buildings, to ensure that the residents feel safe. All those measures have been taken in consultation with the local fire service, to make sure that there is proper expert advice, and it is accepted that they are appropriate measures. Of those buildings, 130 are in the private sector. Local authorities are the primary bodies responsible for seeing whether there are any more such buildings in the private sector in their respective areas. We have provided them with a tremendous amount of support, including an additional £1 million, which we recently released at their request, and we continue to work with them. Of the 158 buildings in the social sector, remediation work has begun on 92 of them—58%—and the work has been completed on seven.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman respects the fact that, once a building has been identified, it takes time to take down the cladding and replace it appropriately, but we are supporting local authorities in doing that work, including where they need financial flexibility and support. We have been approached by 41 local authorities so far. Interestingly, only 13 of those 41 authorities have reported that they have residential towers with ACM cladding that they are trying to remedy. Understandably, however, other issues have come up, such as a demand for sprinklers and other forms of action. In each of those cases, we have said to the local authorities that it is right for them to determine, with professional advice, what essential work they need to do, and we will work with them on financial flexibilities if that is required.
The hon. Gentleman asked about fire doors, and that work continues. As he knows, we are working with the independent expert panel, the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Government’s scientific advisers. There has been testing, including visual inspections, and the testing in labs continues. The independent experts are still advising us that there is a low risk to public safety—at this point, they feel that there is no systemic risk—but their work continues, as does the assessment work.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman asked about building regulations. He rightly said that developments of course continue as we speak, and we need to make sure that there is full confidence in the building regulations system. That is exactly why a report is being prepared independently by Dame Judith Hackitt. All the recommendations in her interim report have been accepted, and each of them is being implemented. We await her final report, which I think will bring much more clarity to this area.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very important statement. Will he confirm that interim safety measures have been taken for all social housing blocks with unsuitable cladding, and that in the majority of cases the remediation work has already begun?
I first want to put on record my thanks to firefighters. A fire is currently raging through commercial premises on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, and it is right to pay tribute to firefighters who run towards burning buildings and put themselves very much at risk every day. That is of course what happened yesterday at the Metro Hotel in Dublin, so we should put our thanks on the record.
I appreciate what the Secretary of State says about the ongoing work on fire-door risk. I wish to put on record that Scottish Minister Kevin Stewart has said that, with our post-2005 building regulations, none of the type in question has been installed in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State tell us a wee bit more about the ongoing work to establish the extent of the use of problematic fire doors in the rest of the UK? I have concerns about the fact that we started off with cladding and have now moved on to fire doors. What are we doing to identify comprehensively the risks for people in all kinds of buildings who want to be able to go home at night feeling safe about where they live?
What is being done to identify support for people in private sector buildings who are now having to find the cost of replacing cladding on their buildings, even though they had no idea it would be a problem when they moved in? That affects some Glasgow residents—not in my constituency, but in the Glasgow Harbour development. They need a bit of reassurance about what can be done to help them to pay for work on their building that they did not anticipate and could not have anticipated when they moved in. It will not be the only building across the UK to be affected in that way.
Lastly, I want to hear a wee bit more from the Secretary of State about future action. The Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, announced on
It is clear to me that there must be a comprehensive approach so that regardless of the type of house people live in or the type of ownership—whether people own their own house, or live in a social rented or private rented house—we all have an equal standard of protection and we can all expect to remain safe in our own homes.
I join the hon. Lady in commending the work of firefighters throughout the UK and everything they do to keep us safe. The work on fire doors continues, led by the expert panel and the National Fire Chiefs Council, and further tests are being carried out. I hope that the hon. Lady appreciates that such work requires finding doors that are currently installed and belong to private families, and then working with them to take those doors away and replace them. That will happen at the same time as testing them, but the testing continues apace. We are sharing the information gathered with officials in devolved authorities, and rightly so.
The hon. Lady asks about the private sector, particularly about leaseholders who live in towers with ACM cladding. There are many such cases, and more have come to light in recent days, including in Scotland. The Scottish Government are free to take action if they want to help those leaseholders in any way, and we continue to work with many builders and freeholders. I believe that leaseholders have no responsibility for what has happened; where possible, I want builders and freeholders to take more responsibility. I plan to convene a roundtable with freeholders and builders to consider what more we can do, and to keep the situation under review.
Finally, the hon. Lady spoke about the action that is being taken in Scotland on smoke alarms and other fire safety measures, and of course that is for the Scottish Government. I agree that all such things must be reviewed in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and that is exactly why Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review is taking place.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his work on this. His expression of financial flexibility may be available to councils, but it is not available to private leaseholders.
Will my right hon. Friend break with the habits of his predecessors and, when he holds his roundtable, not just invite freeholders and managing agents, but include the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership? It has probably done as much as, if not more than, the Leasehold Advisory Service, and it is capable of providing rather better advice than just saying, “Go to a legal pro bono unit.” The Secretary of State has the opportunity to bring everyone together.
I will be reading the taskforce report in great detail. I am confused by the figures cited by the Secretary of State, because we have completely different ones. In November we were told that there were 209 displaced households, but I had the true figure from the council’s housing department, which was 376. Those figures then go through the mediacom department, where they are put on hot wash and spin. We have 200 displaced people—75 households—on our books in my constituency office, and a lot of people do not necessarily come to us. There is a total mismatch with the figures. We were originally told that the number of displaced people who had been made homeless by the fire was 863, so the figures have been washed—let us put it like that. There were more than 200 children in bed and breakfasts. That figure has clearly gone down, but I estimate that there must be still around 100, and their human rights are being breached.
As to the 300 fabulous properties, I have been told that they are not suitable. I deal with people every week—I am sure that the Secretary of State does, too—who say that these are not suitable properties. A lot of people have been shown nothing that suits their needs whatever. I have heard three cases of people being asked to put the elder members of their family into care so that they can be rehoused. That is an absolute disgrace when people want to look after their families themselves. I have been told by estate agents that some of those 300 properties are being sold back on to the market at a loss, because nobody wants them, so there are not 300 suitable properties.
Just this week, I was contacted by two single parents who were made homeless by Grenfell. One is self-harming, but not receiving any help. The other was placed in temporary accommodation that was riddled with black mould and demanded that the council move the family. That was completely ignored until a volunteer put it up on Twitter—it was picked up by the council via Twitter. I am absolutely disgusted, as the Secretary of State may gather. Social housing is—
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Lady has some very important points to make and I appreciate her deep involvement in this subject, but she is not making a speech. She is asking a question of the Secretary of State; we do not need commentary. I am not going to stop her, because I appreciate that she has important questions to ask, and the Secretary of State will be able to answer them, but, please, just the questions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I believe that the truth is being censored and people are demanding to know why. Trust in the council is being eroded. Will the Secretary of State explain why there is a mismatch in the figures? A lot of residents are asking for commissioners to be sent in to deal with rehousing specifically. Will the Secretary of State stand by, because finger-wagging is not enough? I would be grateful to hear his response.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and questions, but may I first say to her that, with respect, I think she is a bit confused about the numbers? For example, when she refers to households that need rehousing, I think that she is confusing individuals with households. She is confusing residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk with residents of the wider estate. She is also confused on the number of properties available. She made comments about the quality of properties. Rather than just talking about the quality of properties, I invite her to actually investigate by going to see some of those properties.
The hon. Lady talks about the truth and suggests that the truth is not out there. That is a very unhelpful comment, if I may say so, for the people who have been affected by this tragedy. She should be seeking to provide them with information and facts. She should respect that this is a report from an independent taskforce: it is not from the Government; it is not from the council. The taskforce meets members of the community regularly to do its work and it is completely independent. I hope that she can come to respect the work of the taskforce and see what it is doing. I would be very happy to write her in more detail, especially on the numbers issue.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, for his admission that things were not right at the start, and for his commitment to putting them right. He mentioned the interim review into building regulations and fire safety. In correspondence with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Dame Judith Hackitt accepted that the lowest-risk option, which is not in her review, is a simple requirement for insulation and cladding to be of limited or no combustibility. Does the Secretary of State not agree that we must now adopt the lowest-risk option if we do not want this kind of tragedy ever to happen again?
I thank my hon. Friend for the interest he has taken in this issue ever since the tragedy, as well as for his work on the Select Committee. He makes a good point about some of the types of changes that could be made. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the outcome of Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry, but I have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend has said.
Today we learned that there has been a 64% rise in the number of families in temporary accommodation since 2010. We know that emergency and temporary accommodation is expensive, insecure and often of bad quality. Local authorities simply cannot cope alone. If this is bad for families generally, it is of course catastrophic for families who have been through the trauma of Grenfell, so why did the Secretary of State allow his Department to hand back £800 million to the Treasury?
I say gently to the hon. Lady that today we learned there has actually been a sharp fall in statutory homelessness, when we compare the last quarter with the same quarter in the previous year. I would have thought that she would welcome that. She talks about handing money back. Perhaps she would like to ask the Mayor of London why the Greater London Authority, under his control, handed back more than £60 million.
It is reassuring that the council is making improvements and responding to the problems that have been exposed. It is important, too, that the Government continue to listen to the survivors and victims’ families. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are speaking to victims groups and say how they are engaging?
Yes, I can absolutely confirm that to my hon. Friend, Such work is being done not just by the council, but by the voluntary groups it has commissioned to provide support and build an extra level of trust. I can also confirm that members of the taskforce, whom I met yesterday, have engaged extensively with the community and will continue to do so.
The stand-out figure in the Secretary of State’s statement was the 82 households in emergency accommodation. Some of those people are in my constituency, and I know the hotels they are in. They are budget hotels that might be great for one or two nights for two people staying in London, but it is absolutely intolerable for a family to be in those conditions for nine months, particularly if they are traumatised. The Secretary of State should go back to his office and immediately put in place steps to ensure that those families are moved into accommodation. It is not acceptable for him to say, “We are going at the pace the residents want.” Kensington and Chelsea is not up to this job. He has to intervene. The Government must be able to ensure that those 82 families are properly housed within days, not another nine months.
The vast majority of the 82 families have already accepted offers of permanent and temporary accommodation. The main reason why many have not moved from their hotels, having accepted an offer, is that, rightly, they have been asked what furniture and decoration they would like. It is right that that process is carried out. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that people should be forcibly moved out of hotels, he is clearly wrong. He should treat these individuals as people, not statistics.
Nine months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, we still do not know how many private blocks have the Grenfell-style cladding. To date, Wandsworth Council has still not provided or published this information. Why is this happening? Will the Secretary of State commit today to pressing councils such as Wandsworth to hurry up and get on with the job of publishing the information?
I am happy to share the latest figures with the hon. Lady: 130 private sector residential blocks over 18 metres high have ACM cladding, and that obviously covers several councils—more than 10 local authority areas, I think. She asked about Wandsworth Council. If she can tell me exactly what information she would like, I will be happy to approach Wandsworth Council on her behalf.
We have all experienced tragedies in our constituencies involving fatal fires caused by such things as chip pans and too many plugs in sockets. Education plays an important role, so to what extent is the Secretary of State liaising with the Department for Education to make sure that people are trained up on what they can do in their homes to reduce the risk of fire?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. In the light of this terrible tragedy, it is important that we look across Government at the role that every Department has to play. Of course the work has rightly started with building regulations and fire safety rules in buildings, but it is important that we also take forward the issue of education, and I would be happy to speak to my colleagues in the Department for Education.
The Secretary of State said that of the 188 households that had accepted offers of accommodation, only 62 were in permanent homes. Does he agree that local authorities need to be given more powers and financial support to enable the building of new council properties so that more permanent homes can be made available for those in need?
The hon. Gentleman asks a wider question about council houses and support for council house building, and I agree with his point. Ambitious local authorities want to build more council houses to help their local communities to get support. That is why I am pleased that, at the last Budget, the Chancellor announced additional support.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s important statement. According to the Metropolitan police, the Grenfell fire was, as we all know, caused by a faulty electrical appliance. Rates for electrical product recalls currently sit at around only 20%, leaving millions of potentially dangerous appliances in homes nationwide. What are the Government doing to implement product recall as a matter of urgency?
Ever since this terrible tragedy, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has been looking at this issue. The hon. Gentleman will know that certain criteria have to be in place before a product recall can happen, and I know that, in the light of this tragedy, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at this again.
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about the need for more empathy and emotional intelligence, but he has shown precious little of that towards the tens of thousands of people across the country who are still living in residential blocks that are covered in flammable, Grenfell-style cladding. There is no point in him pointing the finger at developers and builders, because nobody has yet shown any legal basis under which they can be made to pay, so if the Government do not act, the cladding stays up and we risk a second Grenfell Tower. When will he stop talking, start acting and make these people’s homes safe by taking that cladding down?
The first point to emphasise for everyone in that situation, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, is that their buildings are not unsafe. That is a result of the interim measures that have been implemented, including with regard to fire wardens. It would be wrong unnecessarily to make people worry that they are living in unsafe buildings, because measures have been taken. He is right to point to the longer-term action that is needed. He talks about legal responsibilities, but there is also a moral responsibility, and that has worked in some cases. I think that there will be more cases in which builders and freeholders step up but, as I have told him before, we are reviewing the situation and looking at what more can be done.