Examination of witnesses

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 14th September 2021.

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Sarah Albon, Peter Baker and Graham Russell MBE gave evidence.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 9:27 am, 14th September 2021

Before we begin, I have a couple of preliminary announcements. I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission, and to give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to hansardnotes@ parliament.uk. Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings.

We will now hear oral evidence from Sarah Albon, chief executive officer of the Health and Safety Executive; Peter Baker, chief inspector of buildings at the Health and Safety Executive; and Graham Russell, chief executive officer at the Office for Product Safety and Standards. Before I call the first Member to ask a question, I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick to the timings in the programme motion that the Committee has agreed. For this session, we have until 10.15 am. May I start by asking the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record?

Peter Baker:

Good morning, everyone. I am Peter Baker, chief inspector of buildings at the Health and Safety Executive.

Sarah Albon:

Good morning, everyone. I am Sarah Albon, chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive.

Graham Russell:

Good morning, everyone. I am Graham Russell, chief executive of the Office for Product Safety and Standards within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I am responsible for building the construction products regulator.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Good morning, Sarah, Peter and Graham. Does the scope of the Bill give you sufficient resources—the toolbox—to change the landscape of building safety in this country?Q80

Sarah Albon:

That is a very broad question. I will bring Peter in on some of the technical aspects of scope. It gives us a real opportunity to take a holistic approach to the management of safety in buildings, from the very beginning of the design phase, through building and into occupation. It is important to recognise that although there is rightly a lot of focus on the taller buildings that are in scope for the special gateway process and the safety case process that will go on once buildings are in occupation, there are many other aspects in the Bill around improving the competence of those who work in the various aspects of the industry and in oversight of that, and around the wider built environment, that will apply to all buildings and all professionals working across the industry. It gives the foundation for a real sea change in the improvement of safety in the built environment in this country.

Peter Baker:

To add to that, if you take a step back and look at the findings from Dame Judith Hackitt’s review about poor culture, attitude and behaviour of the industry, the lack of accountability of individuals, the lack of resident engagement, and all the things that were found to be wrong with the system as it stands, the Bill covers off all those points and, in fact, goes further in a number of areas. I am fairly confident that the Bill, as currently structured, addresses all the key points that Dame Judith raised in her report.

Graham Russell:

If I may add to that, the products that go into those buildings are the foundation, if you will, of the safety approach, culture and regulation that we have just heard described. It is our responsibility to make sure that those products are what they say they are and that they are properly labelled and traceable, and the Bill makes provision for that through the schedule and then through statutory instruments.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Good morning to each of you. The Government have chosen not to legislate for a register of competent building safety managers, and said that any register should be industry-led. Are the Government right to leave it to industry?Q

Sarah Albon:

I think there is always a balance between what industry needs to do and what the overarching regulatory regime seeks to do. From my perspective, it is important, in addressing the cultural issues, that we recognise that, ultimately, it is not the regulator or Government who will lead to a sea change in behaviour, but industry. It is therefore important that the responsibility for driving improvements, and for ensuring that people have the right kind of competence and do the right thing, rests squarely with industry, as well as the ownership of safety within individual buildings resting squarely with the owners of the buildings who are responsible for safety within them. They are the only people on the ground who can, day in, day out, ensure that things are being managed properly and that people are competent and are appropriately fulfilling their duties and obligations under the law.

Peter Baker:

I would add that it will be set out in the legislation that a building safety manager is required. As Sarah said, the key thing for me—we have seen this with other workplace health and safety requirements—is that, although the building safety manager will have an important role on a day-to-day basis in effecting the safety, engaging with residents and so on, the accountability for the accountable person who is ultimately responsible for that building is not inadvertently delegated to the building safety manager, so that the BSM effectively takes on the ownership of the risk. That should be firmly with the accountable person, because they are the individual or the company that has the resources and the capability to really manage the risk.

Graham Russell:

This is not an area for me.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q The Government have not yet published the competency framework for the BSM. How important is the framework for recruiting and training people for the role?

Peter Baker:

Having a competency framework is really quite important for a lot of the safety-critical roles in the regime, for a number of reasons. One is to make sure that there is a consistent level of competence, performance and behaviour among the individuals who undertake a lot of those important roles. That is not just the building safety manager but the client representative, the contractors and everyone involved in the lifecycle of a building.

A framework is key to ensure that the important things are part of a person’s training and induction. You would never be able to set a series of requirements to cover every aspect of a job, so a framework is an important first step, but it also provides flexibility for duty holders to have a whole range of other roles associated with that building safety function.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q The success of the regime will depend largely on there being enough competent individuals to fill the role of the BSM, which in essence is an entirely a new profession, as we know. From the Healthy and Safety Executive perspective, do you foresee any problems with the necessary upskilling and training?

Sarah Albon:

There are a number of new roles, as well as a requirement for increased competency and a range of other existing roles, that thread right the way through the Bill. It is inevitable that there will be a significant focus on the need to get new people to join various professions and to have training and experience available to people. It would be unrealistic to suggest that it will be without problem in terms of training and getting new people. Having said that, there has been a lot of notice that the new functions are coming, and there has been a lot of focus already in the industry on the need to improve the overall safety of buildings and the regime.

There is no reason why owners of buildings and senior people working in the industry need to wait for the Bill to be finished before they start driving up the skills and competence of the people working for them. Fundamentally, this piece of legislation will put in a new framework that requires people to meet certain standards, but they can be working on that already. Certainly, in the engagement that Peter and other colleagues from the HSE and the Department have had with the industry, we have encouraged and pushed them to get on with it and start ensuring that they have the right degree of skills available to them, and they are thinking now about who they need to train and how they need to support their staff with a view to the Bill coming in.

Peter Baker:

One thing I would add is that a lot of organisations in the social and the private sectors already have individuals and companies that help them support the management of their buildings. I do not necessarily see the BSM role as something very new and necessarily too daunting. It can be part of a transition from what currently happens. If organisations are managing the risks in their buildings well through their existing arrangements, it could be quite an easy transition to the building safety manager role. I would stress, as I said, that it is key for the BSM not to be seen as the duty holder and to own the risk—that should firmly be with the accountable person to ensure the buildings are safe.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q You do not think there would be any problem tackling the cultures that have existed up to now. Cultural problems on building sites have been one of the main problems.

Peter Baker:

Absolutely. Dame Judith recognised the need for cultural shift, particularly in the design, build and refurbishment of new builds. There are a number of provisions in the Bill around the gateways and the design and build, and there is a strong emphasis on improving competence right across the built environment. It is important to remember that the Building Safety Regulator will not just regulate high-rise buildings but will have other functions of stimulating and encouraging competence right across the built environment, which is one element of improving the culture of the construction industry and the landlord and housing provider industry.

Graham Russell:

I think your point about culture goes right across the sector. What we have seen in evidence given to the public inquiry on Grenfell Tower and in other contexts reveals that a cultural shift is required. The points that colleagues have made about responsibility having to sit with the industry applies as much to the industry of creating the construction products as it does to the building industry—it is one system and one sector. It is clear to me that we must address those cultural issues. Regulation is important as it provides a framework and a set of expectations, but it is behaviours that have to change. In that sense, what we are embarking on through the Bill, and the work that we are doing with our colleagues, is addressing that culture.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Good morning, everybody. Are the Government right to establish the new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive? We know that the HSE has faced huge cuts since 2010 in resources and experienced officers. Does the HSE now have the right expertise and resource to carry out this huge task?Q

Sarah Albon:

I will try to answer on those different aspects. The first question was whether HSE is the right home for the new regulator. Whenever the Government consider setting a new regulatory framework, they need to consider whether it would be appropriate to set up an entirely new body or if an existing body has the requisite skills and competence to deliver. When thinking about that, a number of different aspects will be in officials’ and Ministers’ heads: they will need to think about the landscape of the existing bodies, the work that the existing bodies have on and any impact of taking on new responsibilities. There is often an advantage to be had in terms of speed of set-up if an existing body is used, as well as efficiencies in some of basic support services, such as not needing a second HR function or finance team.

In the HSE, we have a lot of experience in dealing with hazards and helping duty holders to really think through and manage the risks that are present in their environment, always with the onus being on the owners of the risk to manage it. That will fit well with the ethos of this new legislation—the real ownership of risk needs to sit with the owners of the buildings and they need to be held to account to ensure that they keep their buildings safe at all stages, from design all the way through to occupancy.

In the HSE, we have a lot of competence in dealing with that and with holding duty holders to account, as well as many years of working closely with the building industry through our role as a workplace regulator and thinking about the risky environment for people who work in the construction trades. We already have a lot of relationships, and the organisation has had success in significantly improving the safety of workers in the construction industry. For all of those reasons, it is entirely understandable that the Government look to HSE to set up this new regulatory function, and it is a decision that has the strong support of my board and senior executive team.

On resourcing, it is a new function and we will look for new resources. All public sector organisations are about to go through a spending round. We are aware that there may be real constraints, but my experience so far in working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been that it has been able to prioritise this both in terms of the number of officials working on the Bill and directly. That is relevant to HSE in giving us the money that we need to establish the function and start working on it. It has been clear to me through the conversations that we have had with MHCLG officials about funding that this is a significant priority for Ministers and officials.

Do we have all of the competence that we need right now? We definitely need to build up more competence in fire risk assessment. We have started to do that: we have already recruited some people to assist us as gateway 1 went live, and we will continue to build on that level of expertise and recruit and train as the Bill goes through and we move into implementation.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Q Thanks, Sarah. Peter, do you want to add anything?

Peter Baker:

No, I do not have anything to add to that.

Graham Russell:

It is not for me to comment on your question, apart from to say that I have worked with the HSE in various guises for 30 years and have the highest regard for its competency and abilities. Beyond that, I think the key question for me is the distinction between regulating products and regulating building safety. That was a decision that Dame Judith Hackitt gave advice on. She suggested separating that in the way that the Bill does, and that then leaves us with a responsibility. We are a product regulator—we regulate consumer products, machinery products and so on—so in that sense it brings our expertise to bear. We have the same challenges in building new competency in new areas, and we are working hard on that.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

Good morning, everybody. This question is more for Sarah and Peter. Do you feel that the enforcement tools being provided are sufficient, and how do you intend to use them?Q

Sarah Albon:

I will probably bring Peter in to talk in a bit more detail. I think the broad answer is yes. I suppose that we intend to use the enforcement tools in the same way that we would want to use, and do use, the enforcement tools that we currently have. The best form of regulation is changing the behaviour of the duty holder so that they are doing the right thing in the first place. Clearly, it is important that you can and do take action when there has been a failure, but enforcement is necessarily always cleaning up after somebody has done something wrong. Our absolute focus and emphasis on workplace health and safety—it will be the same in this new regime—is to try to get duty holders to do the right thing in the first place so that residents and, currently, workers, are not put at risk awaiting enforcement requirements. Peter, do you want to say a bit more about the tools that will be available to you?

Peter Baker:

We will have a mixture of both civil and criminal tools. We have been working very closely with MHCLG on the preparation of the Bill and the legislative package from our perspective, to make sure that a lot of the tools that we will have under the Bill reflect the sorts of enforcement tools that we have under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which are well tried and tested.

It is also important to remember that one of the step changes or real differences about the Bill in terms of regulation is the gateways. Unlike now, a duty holder will need to demonstrate at the pre-construction phase that they have all the wherewithal to build a safe building, and to demonstrate how they are going to comply with building regulations. The Building Safety Regulator will be able to say yes or no at that point and, potentially, prevent a development from going ahead unless all the necessary steps, safety management systems, and checks and balances are in place. It is not just a case of being able to serve enforcement notices, although they will be available to us; this is very much a permissioning regime similar to high hazard industries where the regulator can say yes or no at critical stages in the build and occupation of a building.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

Q You recently published some guidance on the safety case system. How do you see that system operating in practice?

Peter Baker:

We clearly will not know for certain until the Bill emerges from the parliamentary process but, as I say, we see this as a key step change in the regulatory regime, particularly in the occupation phase. It applies very clear responsibilities to the accountable person to manage the risk, and it leans very heavily on other major hazard industries and safety case regimes. In principle, the responsibility will be on the accountable person—the landlord, the building owner—to demonstrate to the regulator and other stakeholders, as part of a licensing and certification process, that they have identified the critical fire spread and structural risks in a building, that they have all the management systems that they need to manage those risks, and that, where they have identified gaps, they have a plan to fill them.

I also stress that this process is not just to satisfy the regulator and then to be put on a shelf. The safety case is going to be quite a fundamental part of a duty holder’s management system and of managing the risks associated with their building.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

This question is for Sarah Albon. Going back to Ian Byrne’s question about the Building Safety Regulator, what is Q the metric of success when it comes to embedding the BSR within the HSE? Given the aims of the Bill, how will the HSE ensure that, operationally, the transition is as smooth and effective as possible?

Sarah Albon:

If I can come to the second of those questions first, I guess that ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible is about planning, but it is also about recognising that there are various aspects to the Building Safety Regulator, and we can bring on board those different aspects at different stages. We are already ramping up the engagement that we have with industry, for example. We are starting to do some key work reaching out to residents and resident groups, so that we have greater engagement with them and really understand the range of issues and concerns that they have, and so that those relationships are well built before the Bill goes live. Of course, the planning gateway 1 process has already gone live, so we are able to create the team around that and learn from it.

We have done various structural things within HSE, leaning heavily on our existing construction team, which has years of experience of working with the construction industry, influencing the importance of change not just day to day on different building sites but at a senior key level across the industry, and engaging with key players to ensure that that happens.

I confess that I have completely forgotten the first part of your question, so could remind me what it was?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Q What would be the measures of success for you?

Sarah Albon:

As with anything else, there will obviously be some key measures of success on service delivery to those people who are trying to build and occupy buildings. You will be familiar with some of those from any other public service. That will be about the quality of the work we do and the speed at which we can turn things around, ensuring that we are not slowing things down, that people are still able to build high-quality buildings and to occupy them, and that we are giving the right kind of service.

Beyond those important day-to-day metrics, it will also be about looking back in a few years’ time and seeing that culture of safety in buildings as being as integral and as important to HSE as the culture of workplace safety that we have built over the years. Together with the board, we have already started to think about how we can ensure that there is as much emphasis on that aspect of the work as there is and has been for the past many decades on workplace health and safety.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Does anyone else have anything to add to that comprehensive response?

Peter Baker:

On the softer side of things, a measure of success for me, having had experience of introducing and improving our workplace health and safety regimes, is that engagement with the duty holders is absolutely key. They need to feel as though this is not being done to them but that they are engaged in and part of how this system is going to operate from day one. That is important. It is also crucial that residents feel that they are part of how this system is being developed and that we have engagement strategies associated with residents. We really need to build the confidence of residents in this system, and we have to see signs of that from a very early stage.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Good morning. If I have understood correctly, you seem quite comfortable with the new framework. You have talked about a smooth transition from one scheme to another, but some of the evidence we have received points to what could be described as a spaghetti bowl of governance. One organisation has questioned specific clauses in the impact assessment whereby the lay board of a right to manage company or commonhold residence could be expected to be simultaneously both the building safety manager and the accountable person who appoints the building safety manager. Other groups have suggested that there could be confusion between the accountable person and the principal accountable person. How should we as a Committee square that circle?Q

Sarah Albon:

I think that some of our comfortable nature is probably from the way we have worked so closely with the Department as the thinking on the Bill has developed. We in HSE have certainly had considerable input and worked very closely with officials in the Department to help to frame the legislation and meet some of the challenges. I guess that part of our comfort is therefore from having worked on it now for a considerable time.

Inevitably, there are various other stakeholders who will have read the legislation for the first time relatively recently and will still be working through how it works. One key thing that we want to do as the legislation goes through and as we ramp up towards taking this role on is working with the stakeholder groups out there and helping them to understand how the legislation is intended to work and will work, how we will work as a regulator and what they need to do to make sure that the various roles within their organisation are appropriately filled and appropriately managed.

As Peter said, we are very clear that the overall responsibility has to sit with the accountable person. There are some other key appointments within the system, and they will need to make sure that they have the right people working for them, working directly in buildings and within their organisation. For us, the key success factor is that the accountable person needs to be the person who genuinely feels accountability for ensuring that the people who live in the buildings for which they are responsible are safe. They need to be able to take action to do that.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Q May I clarify one point, just to confirm something? Where any organisation believes that there is a vacuum of accountability, or confusion around accountability, in this new framework, do you believe that that is because they have not had enough time to look at the system, rather than because of a justified observation that there is confusion?

Peter Baker:

As a regulator, having absolute clarity over who the duty holders are is key; clearly that is something that you have identified and need to explore through the parliamentary process. In terms of an outcome, it is right that the Bill needs to assign roles and responsibilities absolutely clearly. That is an outcome that I would expect, because at the end of the day I am going to be responsible for enforcing the legislative package.

Having said that, as this is starting to stray into all sorts of areas of building ownership and leasehold law, which is incredibly complex, I can understand—having been involved with MHCLG in developing the package—how difficult the challenge must be for the Bill writers to get this absolutely right. All I can say from my interactions with MHCLG is that it really has wrestled with all the issues and tried to make the duties and responsibilities as clear as it possibly can, but clearly that is something that your Committee will need to explore.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Q Our Committee is trying to explore it, but I am wondering what your view is. I am hearing mixed signals as to whether you think that the roles are clear and that other organisations are coming to it later than you because you have been working so closely with the Government, or whether you see that some clarity is still needed from the Government and officials on what the roles and responsibilities are. I was hoping that you might be able to give us your view to inform our consideration of that point.

Peter Baker:

My view is that MHCLG has done what it can to make the roles absolutely clear, as the Bill stands. The challenge is making sure, through guidance, support and engagement with all the stakeholders who will be touched by the Bill, that they understand the intention behind it all and the outcomes that we are trying to achieve.

Graham Russell:

I was going to return to the very first part of Ms Cooper’s question, which was about the level of comfort we feel about the arrangements and the situation more generally. I do not think that “comfort” is a word that we have been using very much in either of our organisations about a situation in which, clearly, people have suffered enormously and the regulatory system has not protected people. That is why we are part of the mechanism that will deliver the Bill.

I think that it is incumbent on all of us to make significant change. We need a more robust regulatory system, better checks and a better testing environment, and we need to build the confidence that Peter has spoken about—confidence for residents, but also confidence for the industry that it is doing the right thing. We face a major challenge and the Bill is really important, but it is a framework.

In terms of the complexity of governance, obviously you have probed one particular part of that, but because this is a system that delivers safer outcomes, every part of that system must work. It is incumbent on us to make sure that it works, so we need to fit the different aspects together. From my point of view, that particularly includes local authorities and their ability to work closely on the ground with local suppliers, and the proof of that will be whether we can create and deliver a system and then give people confidence that that system is providing what has not been there in the past.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Good morning. I have two slightly different questions. One goes back to the issue we have touched on already, which is the competency of the two roles—the accountable person and the building safety manager. Is the current framework for skills and competency accreditation in the sector adequate to deal with what will be quite significant competency challenges in these two roles? Should it be left to just the private sector, presumably Q with HSE involved, or do the Government have some role in this as well through their skills and training policies, direction and possible kickstart funding, to ensure there is a standard level of competency in these two quite different—but very responsible—roles?

Peter Baker:

The Building Safety Regulator will have an important role of encouraging competence right across the built environment, not just to do with high-rise residential buildings, although clearly the focus of the regulatory activity of the BSR will be on that area. We have already started work setting up an interim competence committee, ready for the statutory competence committee when the Bill receives Royal Assent and is implemented. We as the BSR will have an important role in holding the ring on all of the competence development work that the industry has been leading since Grenfell, and making sure that that is all absolutely proportionate—that it is targeted at the right activity and at the right people. We will have quite a key role in making sure that that whole system of competency across the built environment is appropriate.

When it comes to support, I can only talk from my own experience of competencies in other high hazard regimes. In the past, organisations such as the Construction Industry Training Board and sector skills councils have also played a really crucial role, both through supporting the regulator and supporting their industry sectors in developing the detail and the systems for ensuring those levels of competencies, as well as providing some suitable checks and balances so that the competence frameworks are absolutely targeted at the right thing and people do not waste time, effort and money improving competence in areas that are not necessary. It is a dual role for everybody associated with the built environment to really lean into improving the competence right across the sector, and that is not just for high-rise residential buildings: the same applies in the workplace, in terms of workplace safety and making sure that people are competent in that area.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q My other question goes back to this issue of complexity. Not all buildings are straightforward, and most of us in urban areas are very glad that many of these buildings are mixed use. In buildings with complex uses and complex ownership structures, it may be that the accountable person and the responsible person under fire safety legislation are different people, and the Government have addressed that issue through the duty to co-operate. Do you think that will suffice, or do you see problems arising over this?

Sarah Albon:

At the end of the day, as you say, we just have to accept the complexity in this country—and, I suppose, most developed countries. You could wish that everything was simple; for us as a regulator, and no doubt everybody else trying to regulate in that space, it would be so much easier to do that if the world were different, but the reality is that mixed use of buildings is probably more common than not, particularly in urban areas, and particularly in these larger buildings. It is not uncommon at all to see a mixture of commercial premises—some of which may be relatively hazardous in themselves, such as petrol stations—with residential and office premises. We must just accept that complexity, accept the facts and ensure that those who are responsible in those buildings know that that changes the hazard present and the risk profile in the building. It becomes even more important that people who have responsibilities in that space take them seriously and ensure that what they are doing is bespoke to their circumstances.

One of the reasons HSE is so keen on the safety case regime, which, as Peter said, we have operated successfully in various other high-hazard environments, is that it drives people’s responsibility for taking an approach that is not about saying, “Have I complied with a whole list of things I should comply with?”, but rather saying, “Have I thought seriously about safety in my environment and the things I am responsible for? For sure, if there is a list of things I need to comply with, that might be part of it, but have I really thought about what could go wrong? What are the factors that could create some kind of additional hazard? How am I managing those things, and how do I ensure that, every day, I am properly and proactively thinking about and taking care of the people for whose lives and wellbeing I am responsible?”.

Safety and safety management is not something you do once and then stick it in a file until you are reviewed; it is something you should be thinking about every day, all the time, because the hazards present and the behaviour of people in an environment are constantly changing. You need to manage safety in that environment of constant change, where different behaviours or threats could constantly come in.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q Finally, do you think the Bill is too tightly defined, both as regards use—it does not address other residential uses, such as student accommodation, accommodation used for health and social care and so on—and as regards height being a key definer of risk? Do you think risk should have been defined in a different way? We are actually talking about building safety.

Sarah Albon:

Judith Hackitt’s report showed that height is a reasonable proxy for there being additional risks that people need to think about. At the end of the day, a regime such as this needs to start somewhere, and we as the regulator need a manageable and understandable pool of the riskiest buildings, where our work can start. Also, we have been talking about the importance of duty holders understanding what they are obliged to do, whether they are inside or outside a regime. For all those reasons, height is a well understood and clean starting point, but the Bill envisages that over time it may be appropriate for Parliament to return to the question of what is within scope of the higher risk regime, and to think about changing the boundaries if new evidence comes to light.

Peter Baker:

Other legislative provisions will still apply to a number of those buildings, particularly workplaces such as hospitals and hotels. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which is about to be amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021, will still apply, so the fire risk issues will already be dealt with through that provision. The Government have also extended the new regulatory regime to hospitals and care homes during the design and construction phase, to ensure that the buildings that emerge from new build and large-scale refurbishment processes are built to standard and are safe.

Graham Russell:

The provisions for the construction products apply across all buildings. For example, on cladding, in terms of safety, it would not matter which building it was going on to.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

We have six minutes to go, and I have two people I still want to get in. That is just to alert you.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

My question is to Mr Russell, because we have not heard so much from you. First, how does this Bill help to upgrade the UK product safety system, and what could be improved? Secondly, we heard evidence in a sitting last week about the need to get the definitions of construction products right in the regulatory guidance, and there was a suggestion that we should look to the medical devices sector for good practice. I am interested in your views on that. We understand there is an awful lot of work to be done in that area.Q

Graham Russell:

Hitherto, the broad product safety regime has not applied to construction products unless those construction products are also sold to consumers. The Bill seeks to address that, and to apply to construction projects the same principles and approach that apply to product safety, which, although they are not without problems, are building a good rate of success. I think that is right.

On the second part of your question, there is good practice in areas such as medicines and healthcare products. The great thing we see there is a risk-based approach in which we recognise that different products create different levels of risk, and we therefore regulate them differently and put in place additional requirements. In the construction products area, there has not been an effective underpinning of that system. Although the designated standards approach has sought to deal with the highest-risk products, we have not had an essential safety requirement that means that every product must be safe. The Bill provides for that, which is really important.

When we try to diagnose what has gone wrong in the past, we can sometimes see a latticework through which things are thought to have fallen. Whether that is right or wrong, if you have an essential safety requirement approach, you give people that opportunity. By having that requirement, you ensure that people cannot run to that place—every product must be sound. There are additional provisions for high-hazard and high-risk products, but you have that underpinning, and that is what the Bill provides.

Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

Are the functions and the objectives of the new regulator appropriate? To learn the lessons from Grenfell, how will you hardwire the residents’ voice into the regulatorQ ?

Sarah Albon:

As Peter and I have both briefly said, we absolutely recognise the importance of residents’ voices. We have already started working with a small panel that can help us engage appropriately with residents. We will be reaching out much more formally in the coming weeks and months to a much wider group of residents, to fully understand what they need from us as the new regulator, and to understand how they want to work with us, how they need us to behave and how we can design the new regulatory regime in a way that has residents and their voices and needs at its heart. We absolutely recognise that that has been one of the failings in the past.

For us, that starts with listening, and making sure that, in as many different formats and locations as possible, we go to residents and hear what they think. We recognise that means we need to think about the different languages that are spoken and the accessibility issues.

It is very easy these days to assume that everybody is online and wants to email you, but we know that is not true. We are planning events in community locations, and are going to the residents. We recognise that one size does not fit all, because the resident community is as diverse as the population of the United Kingdom. We need to respect that and not impose our preferred ways of working and engaging on that group, but should rather let them come to us and shape how we work and engage, so that we hear from as many different voices as possible.

We have tried to do that over the years with workers, with a degree of success. That would be the analogy. When HSE goes to any business premises, it of course wants to speak to the managers and those who have responsibility for ensuring safety, but we also always try to engage directly with the workforce, so that we hear from them at first hand what it is like to be part of that work environment and can triangulate—can see if what we are being told by the duty holder matches up with the experience of the workers. That will be really important.

There is not just the business-to-business relationship of us talking to duty holders. We need to listen to the needs of residents and be responsive to them. Crucially, we need to take on board their feedback on their day-to-day experience of their duty holders, the way that their buildings are managed, and how they are kept safe in their homes.

Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

Thank you. That is really helpful.

Peter Baker:

The residents will be hardwired into our governance. We will have a residents panel under the Bill.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee.