I would like to thank my fellow Select Committee member, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, for opening the debate and for leading the Committee in its efforts to hold the Government to account on the national cladding scandal. There are many issues in the building safety crisis that the Government have failed on, and that failure is turning the lives of leaseholders in my constituency into a living nightmare, but today I want to focus my comments on one of the root causes of the problem: the requirement for an external wall survey, or EWS1. Buildings are deemed to be unsafe only when a leaseholder tries to sell their flat and they are asked by their mortgage lender to provide an EWS1 form to show that the building has passed its fire safety assessment. This assessment is not overseen by the Government; nor is it a legal requirement for building owners. This means that most unsafe blocks are discovered only by chance. Four years on from the Grenfell tragedy, the Government still do not know exactly how many unsafe buildings there are in this country.
The first step in solving any problem is to correctly diagnose it, but this Government have outsourced that task to individual leaseholders. As a consequence, the Government have consistently underestimated both the scale of the problem and the personal and financial cost to individual leaseholders. Costs are spiralling because the people who are deciding that the works are needed are not the ones paying for them. Private fire assessors have no interest in keeping costs down and managing agents have no incentive to complete the works quickly so long as they are still liable for any cost. Without anyone with professional experience taking charge, leaseholders are left to navigate the system alone.
Labour is calling on the Government to establish a building safety works agency: a team of Government-appointed engineers with an expert in direct charge of resolving the crisis, going block by block, assessing the problems, commissioning remediation works, paying for them and signing buildings off as safe and sellable so that homeowners can get on with their lives.
Without effective Government action to address this, I fear that an ever-growing number of leaseholders will have their lives plagued in crisis for years to come. That is why the Government must act now to end the cladding scandal.