Clause 83 - Assessment of building safety risks

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 19th October 2021.

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

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 84 stand part.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 83 relates to the undertaking of comprehensive and regular assessments of building safety risks in occupied higher-risk building.

The independent review identified that, too often, building safety has not been proactively maintained over a building’s life cycle, and that fire risk assessments were frequently inadequate and in some cases not carried out at all. We are taking steps to ensure that this lax culture changes and are making it a clear duty on accountable persons to ensure that assessments of building safety risks are carried out. Risk assessments must consider hazards that may originate from outside of the part of the building under the direct control of accountable persons, including in mixed-use buildings where commercial activities may be carried out.

Where there is more than one accountable person for a building, each is duty bound to co-ordinate and co-operate with others. At a minimum, risk assessments should be shared to ensure a whole-building approach is delivered. We are also clear that risk assessments must enable accountable persons to comply with the ongoing duty to take all reasonable steps to manage building safety risks and risk assessments must remain up to date.

The clause requires further risk assessments to be carried out not at specified intervals but based on the accountable person’s knowledge and experience of the building. We recognise that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and the challenge for the industry is to take greater ownership and responsibility for ensuring safety, rather than relying on being told what to do and when. The regulator will, however, have the power to require that a risk assessment be undertaken where it considers it necessary.

Established best practice risk assessment principles, including the use of management systems that deliver evaluation and monitoring, will continue to play an important role. Those building owners who have been acting responsibly will not find they are presented with a significant additional burden, but we must ensure that the right legal framework is in place to make sure that residents of higher-risk buildings are and can feel safe in their homes.

The Government are committing to providing the right framework to deliver on the challenges and recommendations set out by the independent review. The clause places a clear duty on accountable persons to take all reasonable steps to deliver ongoing management of fire and structural safety while a building is occupied, ensuring that residents are safe and feel safe in their homes.

There are two clear purposes for the management of building safety risks: to prevent an incident from happening and to limit the consequences should one arise. The new safety case approach is based on delivering those tangible outcomes, not on blindly following guidance, which was a criticism of the previous system levelled by the independent review. The steps required by the clause must be taken as a direct response to the results of risk assessments carried out under the previous clause. Accountable persons must make an informed judgment on the steps they take and safety arrangements that they need to have in place to deliver safety for residents.

The new regime promotes a proportionate approach and requires people to think for themselves. It is not about requiring all buildings to be brought up to existing standards, which would be disproportionate and, in many cases, impractical. Accountable persons must deliver and maintain a combination of preventive, control and mitigation measures to guarantee that effective and efficient layers of protection are in place. Regulations will be made to set the principles accountable persons must follow when managing building safety risks. These will establish a best practice approach, helping accountable persons make informed decisions.

The expectation on duty holders in an outcome-focused regime is that they adopt a systemic and proactive approach to risk management. The clause requires that approach to be delivered. The review’s recommendation set a clear expectation that duty holders adopt and can describe the building safety management systems they have in place to deliver that approach. Accountable persons must have systems and policies in place that ensure that their safety arrangements are maintained and remain effective. Such arrangements help ensure that potential safety risks are proactively identified and managed on a continuous basis, improving performance and delivering better safety outcomes. The Health and Safety Executive has vast experience of delivering effective regulatory oversight of industry that requires similar approaches to the management of risks and delivery of safety.

We, and the shadow regulator, recognise the need to work with industry as we move towards the new framework, and have been working closely with industry, including the early adopters group and the joint regulators group, to support that. The shadow regulator recently published a paper setting out the key principles and requirements of a safety case regime. That will help preparations for the new regime and support the development of future guidance. Many responsible building owners already operate in that manner, and the new framework will further support them to deliver safety for residents.

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

Of course, the new regime is resource intensive. We have principal accountable persons, accountable persons, building safety managers and 12,500 to 13,000 buildings. There will be new builds each year; I am not sure what the projections are. It is about having that reassurance that the new regime can be effectively implemented, and that people will have the competency and qualifications. Who will pay for this landscape? It seems potentially very costly. What salary level would a building safety manager, a principal accountable person or an accountable person have?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We return to the question of capacity. I touched on the idea that organisations such as housing associations or councils already have their buildings under a management structure and a safety structure, and already have appropriate people appointed to those roles. They will have a benchmark with regard to the legislation that sets out the requirements of a building safety manager against which to measure that they have the appropriate skills and competences in place. The fact that within those organisations they will need to identify a named person who has those competences will focus minds, albeit that the person with those responsibilities might not need to discharge all the duties; they can delegate them to others.

The hon. Gentleman is right that this is a big endeavour, but it already exists in many organisations. On the appropriate salary levels, I think it is beyond the scope of the Bill to identify the remuneration for people employed in this, but as I say there are already people doing this role and I am sure that those who are already managing their buildings effectively and safely will not find this a much more onerous obligation.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and to see a fellow Black Country MP on the Treasury Bench. I agree wholeheartedly with what the Minister said, but we need to ensure that we do not allow anyone to test the boundaries, particularly when it comes to such things as regular intervals on assessment. He encapsulated a lot of what I was going to say in his contribution. I know that he agrees that we have to have a culture that ensures that those who are regulated by the legislation and by regulations do not see the leeway that we have rightly given them as an opportunity to test the boundaries.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It is an important point. We need to strike a balance between being prescriptive, and setting very specific regulatory periods within which tasks have to be performed, and allowing some latitude for people to continue to manage their buildings in an appropriate way. If we give prescription for one thing it certainly will not apply across all 12,500 buildings, or however many more might be created in future. I return to the point about the Building Safety Regulator being live to developments within the sector and ensuring that it can respond accordingly.

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

We have both been involved in the social housing sector. The Minister rightly referred to the exemptions. The current landscape and resourcing are there for some in the sector—for some who will be within the scope of the Bill—but it will be different for others in the private sector and, indeed, for some in the third sector. He referred to the regulator and associated committees and to the industry looking at competences and qualifications. Surely, they will look at salary levels. That will not be a role for Ministers or members of the Opposition, but it is important that it is resourced and attracts the right calibre of people.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 11:15 am, 19th October 2021

I am grateful for the opportunity of further deliberation on this point. The Bill will stipulate the level of competence, and remuneration will vary across the country. I understand the hon. Gentleman saying that this process could be expensive, but fortunately it already exists. We need to focus on the competence rather than on the money, and that will lead to improved safety.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.