Tories ‘running scared’ after wider social housing concerns excluded from inquiry
by Felicity Collier
LABOUR accused the government of “running scared” yesterday after it announced that the inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster would not scrutinise survivors’ wider concerns about social housing.
Justice4Grenfell, one of the campaign groups working with survivors, insisted that — after the blaze killed at least 80 people and left many more homeless and without possessions — the probe must restore public confidence in the safety of tower blocks across Britain.
In the formal consultation that preceded yesterday’s announcement, the group called for the inquiry to look at how councils respond to large-scale emergencies and ensure that communities are listened to.
But Prime Minister Theresa May accepted the recommendations of its chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to ignore these concerns.
In a letter to the PM, the retired Court of Appeal judge said such issues would “raise questions of a social, economic and political nature” that are “not suitable” for a judge-led inquiry.
Instead, the focus should be on the causes of the fire, the design, construction and refurbishment of the building and the “adequacy” of regulations, he said.
Ms May also announced a separate review of social housing, to be carried out by Housing Minister Alok Sharma, whose wife is a private landlord.
Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, whose Kensington constituency covers the site of the fire, branded the government’s stance a “complete betrayal,” and “precisely what we feared.
“We were told: ‘No stone would be left unturned,’ but instead are being presented with a technical assessment which will not get to the heart of the problem: what effects, if any, the lack of investment into social housing had on the refurbishment project.
“We have no confidence whatever in the ability of Alok Sharma and a few politically compromised individuals to take on the task of answering this most important question.”
Ms May insisted that broader questions would not be “left unanswered,” adding that Mr Sharma would meet social housing tenants to “work out a national approach.”
The scope of the probe was announced less than two weeks after the public consultation closed, having receiving 550 submissions, leading Ms Dent Coad to ask: “How can the community possibly have faith in an inquiry with terms of reference so hastily determined by the Prime Minister and her government?
“Clearly, the government is running scared.”
The probe will, however, examine the actions of authorities before the inferno, including Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council, and how the aftermath was handled by both the local council and central government in the aftermath.
Justice4Grenfell spokeswoman Yvette Williams said that Mr Moore-Bick “is not looking at the broader social issues for one, which we think is majorly central to this situation.”
And she warned: “If he goes on with no community advisory rep, we would have a lot to say about that.”
A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network campaign group said: “Prime Minister May pays lip service to ‘broad questions on social housing policy’ and yet these very questions are excluded from the inquiry terms.
“Investigators should be looking at the social policies which allowed such a tragedy in 21st-century Britain and the way these have created a housing system in which some people matter more than others.”
Shadow housing secretary John Healey reacted to the news on Twitter, saying: “Deeply unsatisfactory for the Prime Minister to set Grenfell inquiry terms of reference to exclude housing policy failings — closing off criticism of government policy.”
The first hearing is scheduled to take place on September 14, with an initial report due next Easter.