Clause 17 - Strategic plan

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 16th September 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 18 to 20 stand part.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is my intention to speak to all four clauses in this grouping. I will speak first to clause 17. The new Building Safety Regulator will deliver critical functions concerning the safety of people in and around buildings. With the regulator set to play such a central role in making buildings safer, the Government understand that residents, the public and Parliament—Members of this House and the other place—will expect a high degree of transparency in how the regulator delivers its functions, what its priorities are and how to judge whether it is performing well. To that end, we believe it is appropriate that, to ensure transparency and public confidence, the clause requires the Building Safety Regulator to put in place a published strategic plan setting out how it will deliver its critical building functions.

The requirement for arm’s length bodies to publish a strategic plan is well established and, as the Committee will know, represents good practice. Indeed, there is a requirement on the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to submit the particulars of what it proposes to do to perform its functions. The clause requires a plan specifically relating to the Building Safety Regulator’s functions to reflect the importance and distinctiveness of these new functions, which deserve consideration separately from the Health and Safety Executive’s other functions.

The only specific requirement for the content of the strategic plan is that it must set out how the Building Safety Regulator proposes to carry out its building functions in the relevant period. It will be for the regulator and Secretary of State to determine the plan’s details. The plan will likely include information such as the regulator’s priorities for the period, its key performance and success criteria, and the key risks to delivery. Including specific provisions in the Bill for a Building Safety Regulator’s strategic plan also enables specific consultation requirements to be included.

The Government are committed to ensuring that residents are at the heart of the new regulatory regime. Subsection (3) therefore requires that the Building Safety Regulator must consult on the plan with its residents’ panel as well other stakeholders that it considers appropriate. Once the regulator has consulted the residents’ panel and those other stakeholders it identifies as appropriate, the plan must be submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. The Secretary of State’s approval is an important step as it enables him or her to ensure that the plan is sufficiently ambitious and factors in cross-Government priorities such as the effect on building standards of achieving net zero. Once approved, the regulator must publish the plan and adhere to it. I will set out the process for revising the strategic plan when we discuss clause 18.

In ensuring that there is a strategic plan setting out transparently how the regulator will deliver its functions, the clause will not just help set direction for the Building Safety Regulator but give interested parties such as residents transparency in their understanding of its strategy. That residents help shape the plan, and that the Secretary of State has the power to ensure that the plan is sufficiently ambitious, are important elements in cementing both the transparency and the collaborative nature of the plan’s development and its overall objectives.

Clause 18 provides flexibility for the strategic plan to be adapted if circumstances change. The plan can be revised on the Building Safety Regulator’s own initiative or at the request of the Secretary of State. The revised plan will be subject to the same requirements as the original plan around consultation with the residents’ panel, approval by the Secretary of State and publication. The revised plan will cover the remainder of the period to which the current plan relates unless a specific different period is agreed by the Secretary of State and the regulator. The clause therefore creates important flexibility, allowing for the Building Safety Regulator’s plans to be adapted when there are major changes in circumstances. We want the regulator to be as flexible as it needs to be.

Clause 19 requires annual reporting by the Building Safety Regulator about information provided to it through mandatory occurrence reporting. The Government, in accordance with the recommendations of the independent review, will be implementing the requirement for systems of mandatory occurrence reporting in the new building safety regime.

Under mandatory occurrence reporting, duty holders will be required to report certain safety occurrences within higher-risk buildings to the Building Safety Regulator. Mandatory occurrence reporting will ensure that the Building Safety Regulator receives the crucial intelligence needed to take effective enforcement actions. In order for the system to be as useful as possible, an information feedback loop is required between the Building Safety Regulator and industry. The clause therefore requires the Building Safety Regulator, on an annual basis, to prepare and publish a report about the information it receives through mandatory occurrence reporting.

Crucially, the clause will ensure that the outputs of mandatory reports, and the statistical analysis of this data, should be publicly available. We therefore expect that such an annual report will provide industry with valuable information on lessons learned and emerging safety trends across the built environment. For example, lessons learned from a series of reported safety occurrences relating to fires may allow others in industry to amend their fire safety protocols and raise safety standards accordingly. Alternatively, a reported rise in a type of safety occurrence, such as a widespread fire door discovered to be defective—possibly the Pincher-Weaver fire door—may prompt industry to identify otherwise unknown risks.

We also expect that these annual reports will further underline to industry the value and importance of reporting safety incidents, helping engender a more positive and proactive culture towards safety reporting. The Building Safety Regulator’s annual report on mandatory occurrence reporting will thus aid in strengthening the building safety regime and bringing about a positive safety culture change, in alliance with volunteer accounts reporting and with whistleblowing, to create that much more transparent, safety-first, problem-identification and reporting culture.

The independent review also made it clear that residents of high-rise residential buildings should have a strong voice in the new regime. The Government are committed to delivering this principle. That means giving residents a strong voice in the running of their individual building, a matter to which we will come in greater depth in part 4 of the Bill. We believe that the voice of residents also needs to be heard by the Building Safety Regulator as it develops policies and systems that impact the lives and safety of residents of high-rise residential buildings.

To secure the confidence of the public and residents, the new Building Safety Regulator needs to do more than have a single advisory committee of residents. The Building Safety Regulator needs to deliver an ambitious programme of resident engagement, engaging a wide range of residents, supported and advised by its residents’ panel. The Building Safety Regulator needs to communicate publicly how it is taking on board residents’ views, to demonstrate transparency and build confidence in its work.

I am grateful to the Health and Safety Executive for the work it is already undertaking to scope out the Building Safety Regulator’s residents’ panel and residents’ engagement strategy, working with residents and groups that support them. It is important that the legislation encourages the Building Safety Regulator to continue to take an ambitious and transparent approach to resident engagement for the long term.

Clause 20 will require the Building Safety Regulator to publish an annual statement on how it engages residents. The statement will cover engagement with the residents’ panel, residents of high-rise residential buildings, owners of the leasehold on flats in high-rise residential buildings and organisations that represent, support or promote the interests of residents or owners—a plethora of individuals and groups. Having to report publicly on its resident engagement will encourage the Building Safety Regulator to keep an ongoing focus on widespread engagement.

A clear public statement about resident engagement is also a key opportunity for the Building Safety Regulator to demonstrate that residents are at the heart of the new regulatory system. In practice, that might work if, for example, the Building Safety Regulator were to consult the residents’ panel and, on its advice, set up focus groups with a range of stakeholders from across England to ensure that its advice to residents of high-rise, higher-risk buildings is helpful to those residents with different needs and vulnerabilities. It can go into some granular, focus-group detail.

The Building Safety Regulator may then include that engagement in the statement to illustrate what steps it has taken on a particular issue, again being transparent and fulsome in its feedback. The effect of such a process would be to help build public confidence that the new regulatory regime has prioritised the safety of residents. It will also support effective scrutiny of the Building Safety Regulator’s work by a large variety of bodies, not least Parliament.

Taken together, the clauses make an important contribution to the work and the definition of the Building Safety Regulator and the support it receives from a variety of sources to ensure that it reports transparently on its work and feeds back on that work to residents, among others. I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:45 pm, 16th September 2021

We support clause 17 on establishing the strategic plans, clause 18 on potential revisions and review, clause 19 on the annual report, and clause 20. My only question is about the journey of the plan. How do we ensure that, beyond the once-a-year publication, there is a check—almost a health MOT—particularly for residents and the residents’ voice that the Minister referred to?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. We will work closely with the regulator to make sure that it has in its strategic plan a sensible plan to engage with a wide variety of residents. The fact that it has to report publicly on that plan ought to focus its mind on making sure that the engagement, the checkpoints along the way and the journey of the plan, as he puts it, is undertaken. Parliament will be able to effectively scrutinise the process.

I am sure that if there are problems with the strategic plan—if the Building Safety Regulator appears not to be properly engaged, or if constituents of individual Members of Parliament believe that their voices are not being heard—we will have an opportunity to debate it in this House. I am confident that the approach we have taken is sensible and proportionate in developing a strategic plan for the Building Safety Regulator that engages a whole variety of stakeholders and residents, ensuring that their voices can be heard and that the plan commands their support, as well as ours.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 21 September at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

BSB27 Justin Bates, Barrister at Landmark Chambers and Editor of the Encyclopaedia of Housing Law (supplementary submission)