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The timing of the review of the BS 8414 test methodology remains a matter for the British Standards Institution. More than 200 pages of comments were received by the BSI following the public comment stage, and the relevant committee is working through those comments. Recent advice that we have had from BSI suggests that the revised standards will be published in late spring 2020.
The test has come under mounting criticism, some of which we heard at the Local Government and Communities Committee last week. It has been banned in England, as have desktop studies for cladding.
The use of combustible cladding has also been banned on certain buildings, and not just in England, but in Germany and France. Why is the Scottish Government refusing to follow suit—or, at least, as the Association of British Insurers called for last week, to bring in a moratorium?
I do not know whether I will be able to cover everything in my answer, but I am more than happy, with my building standards team, to speak to Mr Simpson or any other member on the issue.
I looked at the reports by the independent panel of international and national experts whom we had look at the issue: I took a very careful look at everything that went on. I also listened to the evidence that was given to the
Local Government and Communities Committee last week: it would be fair to say that differing views were given at that meeting. It is an area of some complexity. I think that it was Professor Torero who said to the Local Government and Communities Committee that a ban would be too “simplistic” a solution to complex fire-safety problems, and might be “unrealistic”. He indicated that the fundamental problem is not the test or the regulations, but the lack of individuals who are competent to use data that is gathered from tests, and competent in design and construction.
The term “desktop study” has commonly been used to describe an assessment in lieu of a fire test. The Scottish Government does not endorse assessments that are not based on test advice and sound engineering principles. Direct application rules for cladding systems that have been subjected to a single BS 8414 fire test, or multiple tests, have recently been published by the
British Standards Institution, and are based on the work of a committee that is both expert and independent of Government.
I am aware of various remarks that have been made around the matter: the Scottish Government will not be complacent in any of this. We have—without doubt—done a huge amount of work, and we will continue to review. However, the best thing to do is to wait to see the review from the
British Standards Institution and to work from there.
Nonetheless, I am, as I said, more than happy to talk in greater depth on the issue with Mr Simpson or any other member.
When the report is produced in late spring, I will be particularly interested to find out who—based on the report, if the report requests them—will be tasked with providing fire performance certificates. People are concerned that they cannot, at the moment, get mortgages because there is no-one to test the cladding on their buildings and to say that it is safe. Does the minister have any idea who will be tasked with providing that reassurance and certificate?
I know that Mr Rumbles has lodged a question on that matter. I point out that changes to building standards are not retrospective; they deal only with new buildings.
The current situation regarding mortgages, which I am all too well aware of, has to be dealt with separately from the issues that I covered in my answer to Mr Simpson.
I have written twice to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the mortgage situation, and we have chased up those letters but had no reply. My officials have been in discussion with UK Finance and others to try to find a way through the situation, which I hope we can do sooner rather than later, for the sake of the people who are affected.
I say again what I said last week: if any MSPs who have any influence over Mr Jenrick in the UK Government could add pressure to get a response, that would be useful—not only for the Scottish Government, but for the folk who are currently in limbo.
I want to find a solution. We have told the UK Government and others that we will do all that we can, but unfortunately the powers are outwith the competence of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. I hope that Mr Jenrick and his colleagues in the UK Government can move forward in partnership with us to find a solution.