Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

 

Image result for Online propaganda

A study from the University of Oxford, published this month, has concluded what many of us already know: bots, shills and trolls are working together to spread propaganda and disinformation, disrupt discussions, discredit individuals and are attempting to manipulate social media users’ political views.

The report warns: “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” 

The Oxford Internet Institute says that computational propaganda is the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks. Social media are actively used as a tool for public opinion manipulation in diverse ways and on various topics.

Bots and trolls work to stifle authentic and reasoned debate between people in favour of a social network populated by (usually aggressive) argument and soundbites and they can simply make online measures of social support, such as the number of  “likes” (which can, of course, be bought), look larger  – crucial in creating the illusion of consensus and encouraging a bandwaggon effect.

In democracies, social media are actively used for computational propaganda, through broad efforts at opinion manipulation and by targeted experiments on particular segments of the public (which is antidemocratic in itself). This strategy isn’t so far removed from the “big data” approach, where individuals are targeted in election campaigns to receive personal messages that are highly tailored, designed to appeal to certain categories of “personality types” as discerned by the use of extensive data mining and psychological profiling techniques. 

The report also says that “In every country we found civil society groups trying, but struggling, to protect themselves and respond to active disinformation campaigns.” 

The research team involved 12 researchers across nine countries who, altogether, interviewed 65 experts, analyzed tens of millions posts on seven different social media platforms during scores of elections, political crises, and national security incidents.

They say that in democracies, individual users design and operate fake and highly automated social media accounts. Political candidates, campaigns and lobbyists rent larger networks of accounts for purpose-built campaigns while governments assign public resources to the creation, experimentation and use of such accounts.

Ultimately the presence of bots, shils and trolls on social media is a right-wing bid to stage manage our democracy, in much the same way that the biggest proportion of the rabidly right-wing corporate media has, until recently.

The report describes online propaganda as a “phenomenon that encompasses recent digital misinformation and manipulation efforts”, which “involves learning from and mimicking real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks”.

According to the report, bots “played a small but strategic role” in shaping Twitter conversations during the EU referendum last year. Bots work most effectively and powerfully when working together with trolls.

Political bots, social media bots used for political manipulation, are also effective tools for strengthening online propaganda and hate campaigns. One person, or a small group of people, can use an army of political bots on Twitter to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. Bots are increasingly being used for malicious activities associated with spamming and harassment.

According to the report authors: “The family of hashtags associated with the argument for leaving the EU dominated, while less than one percent of sampled accounts generated almost a third of all the messages.”

Political bots, built to look and act like real citizens, are being deployed in determined anti-democratic efforts to silence oppostion and to push official state messaging. Political campaigners, and their supporters, deploy political bots – and computational propaganda more broadly – during elections in attempts to sway the vote and defame critics. 

Anonymous political actors harness key elements of computational propaganda such as false news reports, coordinated disinformation campaigns, and troll mobs to attack human rights defenders civil society groups, and independent commentators and journalists.

The report warns “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” Facebook in particular has attracted a great deal of criticism in recent months, due to the rise and promotion of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg initially denied that false stories spread through the social network had an effect on the US Presidential election, but changed his stance soon after.

The University of Oxford report says social media sites need to redesign themselves in order to regain trust.

The role of Intelligence Services in the deployment of psy-ops

 

In 2015, Glenn Greenwauld published a series of documents from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). He says that though its existence was secret until 2014, JTRIG quickly developed a distinctive profile in the public understanding, after documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the unit had engaged in “dirty tricks” like deploying sexual “honey traps” designed to discredit targets, launching denial-of-service attacks to shut down internet chat rooms, pushing veiled propaganda onto social networks and generally warping discourse online. 

JTRIG’s tactics include seeding propaganda on social media, impersonating people online, and creating false blog posts to discredit targets.

A fascinating and must-read 42-page document from 2011 is particularly revealing, detailing JTRIG’s activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit’s extreme methods. Entitled “Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG’s Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations,” it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations.

The document is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami, a professor of  “Decision Psychology”. Dhami has provided advice on how JTRIG can improve its approach and attain “desired outcomes”, for example, by applying behavioural theories and research around persuasive communication, compliance, obedience, conformity, and the creation of trust and distrust.

Among other things, the document lays out tactics that the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behaviour can be profiled and influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

Since the general election in the UK, there has been a noticably massive increase in right-wing trolling presence and activity on Twitter. Most of the activity is directed towards discrediting Jeremy Corbyn. It’s very easy to spot a troll. They make outrageous claims that often read like tabloid headlines, resort quickly to personal attacks and attempts to discredit and smear when you disagree, and they never debate reasonably or evidence their comments.

In my experience, some, however, may initially engage reasonably, make a few concessions to evidenced debate, then suddenly show their true colours, by moving the goalposts of the debate constantly to include more disinformation, and by becoming aggressive, very personal and exceedingly irrational. My own management strategy is to address the claims made with a little evidence and fact, and block unhesitantly when it invariably turns ugly. 

The Oxford University research report concludes: “For democracies, we should assume that encouraging people to vote is a good thing. Promoting political news and information from reputable outlets is crucial. Ultimately, designing for democracy, in systematic ways, will help restore trust in social media systems. 

Computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy. Social media firms may not be creating this nasty content, but they are the platform for it. 

“They need to significantly redesign themselves if democracy is going to survive social media.”


Further reading

From the Intercept:

THE “CUBAN TWITTER” SCAM IS A DROP IN THE INTERNET PROPAGANDA BUCKET 

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government 

The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

 

Image result for online intelligence propaganda operations


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

DonatenowButton

Judicial review rules benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents

JS109990034

The  Conservatives have been dealt a blow by a high court judgement today, which ruled that the government’s highly controversial benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents with young children. The imposing of a benefit cap on tens of thousands of lone parents with children under the age of two is not only unlawful, it has has resulted in “real damage” to the families affected, the high court has ruled.

The judicial review challenge brought by four lone parent families, concerned the reduced benefit cap introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. The revised benefit cap drastically reduced housing benefits, leaving lone parent families across the country unable to afford basic life necessities to care for their children.

Mr Justice Collins has ruled that the application of the revised benefit cap to lone parents with children under two amounts to unlawful discrimination and that “real damage” is being caused to the claimants and families like theirs across the country.

The flagship welfare policy meant that there is a cap on total benefits, at either £23,000 a year in London, or £20,000 for the rest of the UK. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had said that people were exempt from the cap if they work at least 16 hours per week – which the claimants said discriminated against lone parents with children under the age of two.

The benefit cap, which limits the total amount households can receive in benefits to £20,000 a year, or £23,000 in Greater London, was claimed to be  an “incentive” to “support” unemployed people to move into work. In reality, it has hindered people who want to prepare for work, demotivating them because they are struggling financially to meet their basic needs. Implying that taking support away from people – making cuts – is somehow “support” is a particularly ludicrous Conservative claim.

Mr Justice Collins said in his judgment that the policy visited “real misery to no good purpose” on lone parents with very young children who were subject to the cap despite there being no “official” requirement for them to find work. However, even for those citizens who are required by the state to seek work, it is still very difficult to justify cutting those people’s support, too, since welfare was designed to meet only basic needs.

Lone parents with children under two do not qualify for free childcare and so would find it difficult and often impossible to juggle working the minimum 16 hours a week required to evade the cap while finding means to care for the child. 

He said: “The evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Most lone parents with children aged under two were not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and it was “obvious” that it would exacerbate poverty. “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.

He continued by stating that: “Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP (Discretionary Housing Payments), they will remain benefit households.”

Cutting people’s lifeline support causes extreme hardship and harm

Campaigners have argued that the benefit cap is a powerful driver of poverty and destitutionOfficial estimates published earlier this year show 50,000 low-income families caring for an estimated 126,000 children were at risk of serious financial hardship after being trapped by the lower benefit cap.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting on behalf of the families, said: “The benefit cap has had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families and children across the country. Single mothers like my clients have been forced into homelessness and reliance on food banks as a result of the benefit cap.

“Thousands of children have been forced into poverty, which has severe long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.” 

She added: “We are pleased that today’s decision will relieve my clients – and other lone parent families around the country – from the unfair impacts of austerity measures which have prevented them from being able to provide basic necessities for their children.” 

The Conservatives have said they intend to appeal the decision. The DWP has been given leave to appeal against the ruling. A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the decision and intend to appeal. Work is the best way to raise living standards, and many parents with young children are employed.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity, said: “In exposing the absurdity and cruelty of the benefit cap, we hope this case is the beginning of the end for this nasty policy. It is a policy that punishes the vulnerable for being vulnerable and even fails on its own terms.”

In 2015, although the Supreme Court found that the original cap was lawful, a majority found that it breached the rights of children. Despite evidence of the impact upon child poverty and amidst calls to review the way the benefit cap works, the benefit cap was lowered again in November 2016. The new annual limit was reduced significantly, with lower rates for households outside of London. Previously, London seem to bear the brunt of the policy but the revised cap is now affecting thousands of households across the country.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of civil servants’ union the PCS, said the benefit cap should be scrapped.

He said: “As the union that represents DWP staff, we opposed the benefit cap from the outset because we knew it was cruel and unnecessary, and would drive families into poverty and homelessness.

“We welcome the judge’s ruling and comments about the misery being caused ‘to no good purpose’, and we now call on the Government not just to tweak the cap but to scrap it entirely.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the ruling as a “further demonstration of the failure of this government’s austerity agenda”.

“It is failing in its own terms, it’s failing our communities, and it’s failing the most vulnerable in our country – including the victims of domestic violence and those facing homelessness,” he said.

“Labour has stood against the benefit cap, its discrimination against parents with children and the government’s cruel austerity programme. 

He called on the Government not to appeal the decision, and to “end this discrimination against parents and children”. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about comparative research at an international level, which has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”.

The study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data from a larger number of European countries than previous studies. 

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups. 

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not. 

The research findings challenge the Conservative’s neoliberal ideology, antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives”, their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric and the brutal welfare cuts, implemented in stages since 2012. 

Welfare was originally intended to cover only basic needs: it allows families to pay rent, buy food, keep warm and simply keep going. When families get less money because of the Benefit Cap, the government’s own research shows that large numbers of people go into debt, end up with rent arrears, and can’t afford adequate food. Through no fault of their own. When people are struggling and can’t meet their basic needs, surviving becomes their overwhelming priority. This demotivates people, and means that it is almost impossible for them to meet their higher level psychosocial needs. Such as the need to look for work.

The government’s draconian welfare policies are founded on a “small state” neoliberal ideology, traditional Conservative class-based prejudices and a mean spirited, punitive approach to public needs.

Lies, damn lies and sadistics. The Tories have introduced sanctions which affect people in work who are low paid or work part-time. People have to prove that they are trying to “progress in work”. Once upon a time, we had a strong trade union movement for collective bargaining. Nowadays, when employers exploit workers, paying them a pittance, the employee is punished by the government.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work and I have no funding. I am disabled because of illness. You can support Politics and Insights and by making a voluntary donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support for others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

DonatenowButton

 

 

Dangerous electrical faults were historically ignored at Glenfell Tower

 

Image result for Pictures of Grenfell UK

The Grenfell Tower fire is thought to have been started by a fridge catching fire. You may well wonder how on earth that could happen.

Fridges are notoriously extremely flammable and give off toxic fumes when they burn. Many house fires start with appliance faults, especially fridge freezers. It’s possible the fridge was faulty, of course.

London Fire Service have highlighted the dangers of fridge freezers previously, and have called on manufacturers to make them safer. There is, on average, one fridge freezer fire a week in the capital and the service has been lobbying the industry to make their fridges and freezers more fire resistant for the some years.  

However, there is a record of longstanding electrical faults which had resulted in surges to electrical appliances and light fittings in the Kensington Tower block, creating a huge fire risk, which had been repeatedly reported and repeatedly ignored by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

The fire service had reportedly been called out to the initial fridge fire that is thought to have started the inferno, and it was successfuly dealt with. However, fire service workers soon realised with horror that the outside of the building was on fire. Whether the fridge was faulty, or whether it exploded because of an electrical fault, it is in no way the fault of the resident that the fridge caused a fire, and that the outside of the building caught fire. He had also alerted his neighbours about the fire inside his flat after calling the fire brigade.

This account gives more credence to the theory that the flammable cladding, used to make the building look better, somehow was ignited by the fridge fire, which then caused the fire to rage with such ferocity throughout the entire tower block. This should not have happened, since each flat is a self-contained concete unit, designed to contain fire. But the fire raged inside of the tower as well as on the outside.

It is also thought that fitted sprinklers would have helped to contain the fire. None had been fitted when the refurbishment was completed. There was also only one escape route, down a single staircase. 

Arnold Tarling, fire safety expert, told Panorama: “This building has been taken from a safe building where fire could not possibly spread across the surface of the building from flat to flat to one which was a death trap.”

He has previously said: “Had it been left alone it would never have burned like this.”

Philip Hammond has said the type of material used in the cladding is illegal in the UK.

Tarling, a surveyor and fire protection specialist, gave a TV interview in which he broke down as he spoke of warning three years ago of the threat posed by the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, after he had learned of the tragedy. 

In a recent interview, Tarling said of Hammond’s comments:

“It’s b*llocks, frankly. I don’t blame him [Hammond] for being wrong as he’ll be going on information given to him by aides, but it’s simply not true.

The regulations are incredibly convoluted and unclear, but essentially the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower was perfectly legal, under current legislation, because the exterior of the cladding panels was non-flammable. Under Appendix A of the Building Regulations 2010 fire safety documentonly the outward-facing surface needs to be fire-resistant.

Those advising Hammond will be relying on calling the cladding panels ‘insulation’, which has different rules – but even in that section, it says ‘See Appendix A’ and takes you back to the same rule.

The law is complicated and badly constructed, but under it those panels were legal to use even though they’re known to be dangerous.

The material in those ‘sandwich’ panels was polyethylene, which is classified under the regulations as a ‘thermoplastic’, because it softens at below 200°C – in fact, it’s liquid at 120°C, barely above the temperature of boiling water. You couldn’t make a kettle out of it because it would collapse, but you can legally use it as a building material under current legislation.”

Tarling warned the government of the dangers posed in using the type of cladding that is likely to be responsible for the Grenfell conflagration. Tests are now to be carried out on around 600 high rises across England to see if cladding fitted to the outside is safe, the government said, following concerns raised about the safety of other buildings. So far, samples from three tower blocks – one in London and two thought to be elsewhere – were found to be combustible. More test results are expected to be made public within days.

Today, on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, Tarling spoke of a “firewall” between government and experts, who have raised concern about the discrepancy between fire safety regulation and building regulation for years. He mentioned that the polyurethane insulating material used both inside the cladding, and inside the wallspaces of some tower blocks releases highly toxic hydrogen cyanide gas when it burns. Some furnishings also release this gas when burned, too. It was confirmed by medical staff that survivors who were being treated for smoke inhalation also needed treatment for hydrogen cyanide poisioning. Carbon monoxide is often produced in quantity during residential fires, too, and both gases present a significant threat to life, in addition to the fire itself.

He also mentioned the exposed gas pipes, which had been relocated outside of the flats in the refurbishment, placed in the stairwell – the only escape route. 

Like all high-rises, the Grenfell tower was originally designed to keep a fire contained in the flat where it started and keep the escape route – the stairway – protected.

Witnesses say that the corridors and staircases became smoke-logged. If there is a single fire in a single flat, if the building “works properly”, there should be virtually no smoke in the corridor and no smoke in the stairwell. If there is smoke, it suggests there is something wrong with the compartmentation of the building. It may be that the refurbishment changed the internal design of the tower, so that the fire wasn’t contained inside the building, which burned as ferociously as the outside.

Image result for Inside grenfell

The electical faults

So far, there has been no comment about the cause of the fridge explosion.

The residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group, has long criticised the fire safety standards of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation which manages around 9,400 properties.

This included the lack of notices to tenants about what to do in the event of a fire, piles of rubbish being dumped, and concerns over where boilers and gas pipes were placed. In its blog it warned that “catastrophe” was inevitable and “only a matter of time”. A local councillor, Judith Blakeman, who sits on the tenant management organisation, raised concerns in March about the National Grid installation of gas risers or pipes in the stairwell as part of the refurbishment. She was assured by the landlord that they would be boxed in with “fire-rated” protection, but this does not appear to have been done. It is known that work was still being done to box in the gas pipes running along floors. The London fire brigade said last Thursday morning they had not been able to put out the flames until they had isolated a ruptured gas main in the block. Residents also voiced fears about the relocating of boilers into hallways during the refurbishment.

KCTMO has two current enforcement notices from the London Fire Brigade, for Hazelwood Tower and for Adair Tower, where a fire required the evacuation of 50 residents. The notices highlight a string of safety failures by the company. 

I found the following very troubling historical record of electrical faults, power surges and serious damage, as a result, to tenants’ electrical appliances and light fittings, on the Grenfell Action Group’s blog site:

“In May 2013 a serious electrical fault causing multiple power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to residents many of whom witnessed smoke coming from light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which actually exploded. Despite the fact that these highly alarming incidents were reported to the TMO on 11th May no effective action was taken until the problems escalated out of control on 29th May 2013.

The power surges had been ongoing for 18 days with multiple reports by residents of electrical appliances catching fire and sometimes exploding, but multiple reports to the TMO by Grenfell Tower residents were treated with a dismissive and sceptical attitude. When electrical engineers were sent to investigate they insisted that the apparent smoking of electrical appliances was probably caused by steam from water dripping onto the appliances. Residents found these dismissive theories deeply insulting and we believe they demonstrated a shockingly blasé and complacent attitude by the TMO and its agents.

Consequently no effective action was taken until a near catastrophic incident occurred on the weekend of Sunday 29th May which affected multiple households and damaged many electrical appliances beyond repair. On that Sunday there were severe power surges throughout the night that continued through the following morning. A flood of calls from Grenfell Tower residents to the TMO out-of-hours emergency repairs service finally prompted the TMO to order a more thorough investigation of the power surge issue. They installed specialised metering equipment that soon revealed that there were indeed serious power surges which were subsequently traced to arcing in a damaged mains power cable supplying Grenfell Tower. The cause of the damage, they claimed, was unknown. The mains cable was subsequently repaired and surge protection was later added.

The resident groups, having been vindicated at last, were furious at the complacency and negligence of the TMO responses throughout the 18 days of the power surge ordeal. They appealed to the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee and it was agreed that representatives from Grenfell Tower would attend the meeting of the Committee on 16th July 2013 to report and discuss their concerns. The TMO also attended the meeting and presented their own report which contradicted the residents accounts of what had occurred and downplayed the seriousness of the matter and the fire risk involved.

Robert Black, the CEO of the TMO, also alleged that the Grenfell Action Group and other local stakeholders, such as the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, had made misleading statements on our blog and in round robin emails. When we later challenged him to substantiate these allegations by specifying which of the statements he believed to be misleading he declined to do so and failed to provide any evidence for this and other derogatory statements he had made to the Scrutiny Committee.

When the residents groups were eventually able to study the minutes of the meeting and the report that was submitted by the TMO we were horrified to discover that the Scrutiny Committee had chosen to accept the TMO version of events and had given little creedence to the explicit health and safety concerns highlighted earlier by the resident groups in an email to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee on 9th July.

Incidentally the Committee Report, submitted several weeks after the incident, included the following remarks:

“It is too early to say whether the problem has been fully resolved and where responsibility lies for the cause. It is possible that the fault that has been rectified is not the primary cause.”

Grenfell Tower residents were never informed whether the primary cause of the electrical problem was ever identified.

Source: Grenfell Action Group.

Also related: GRENFELL TOWER – FROM BAD TO WORSE

“[…] They had woken to find smoke issuing from various electrical appliances in their homes, including the light fixtures, and descended in panic to the estate office to demand help and assistance.  Emergency electricians who attended later in the day were finally, it seems, able to identify the source of the problem. An emergency temporary electrical by-pass supply has been provided and the necessary follow–up works will be carried out in the near future.

It is very clear at this stage that the electrical supply to Grenfell Tower has been in a very dangerous condition for several weeks. It is equally clear that the authorities had been repeatedly warned of this  but had failed to react with sufficient urgency and had failed to take adequate remedial measures.

As evidence of this we present the extract below from an email sent on 13th May by Shah Ahmed,  Chair of the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, to Robert Black at TMO and various RBKC councillors and TMO officers:

Continuous Power Surges in Grenfell Tower

There have been two weeks of power surges in the building, most notably in the early hours of the morning and throughout the evening and night time. Electronic apparatus are seriously affected by these surges. Computers are turned on and off, lights continually flicker becoming very dim and extremely bright in the space of a few seconds.

On 11th May 2013 at 9:05pm we had numerous power surges in the space of a minute, and in that process my computer and monitor literally exploded with smoke seeping out from the back and the smell of burnt electronics filled our entire computer. My monitor also fused at the same time. When I called the TMO out of hours service the standard textbook response was given to us that I was the first one to report such a problem and I was made to feel like a fool reporting such an issue, which resulted in years of data being lost forever.

Please note if the power surges continue at Grenfell Tower, it would be very dangerous and costly because it is interfering with electric and electronic items in the household, including the telephone line, television, fridge, washing machine, computer etc”.

A NUMBER OF THINGS NEED TO HAPPEN NOW:

  • Grenfell Tower residents are demanding an emergency meeting with RBKC and TMO officers to fully explain what went wrong with the electrical supply, and why the TMO failed to respond with appropriate urgency. This meeting should be arranged as a matter of urgency.
  • Officers attending the meeting should be prepared to explain why electrical engineers who ordered the planned power cut in Grenfell Tower between 08:30-17:30 on Saturday 18th May failed to identify and rectify a serious and dangerous fault in the electrical supply at that time.
  • A single staircase with no natural light is the only emergency exit route from Grenfell Tower. The emergency lighting system in that stairwell should be thoroughly checked to ensure that neither the system itself, nor any of the individual battery packs, has been damaged by the power surges of recent weeks. If there is damage it should be immediately repaired as a matter of urgency.
  • A number of electrical appliances belonging to Grenfell Tower residents were damaged or destroyed by power surges in recent weeks, although the amount off such damage and the number of victims is not yet known. On the face of it either the TMO or its electrical contractors would appear to be liable, but so far the TMO has denied any liability. Liability for this damage must be ascertained as soon as possible and all residents whose property was damaged should be fully compensated, including those whose refrigerated food was spoilt during the planned power cut on 18th May.

RBKC councillors please take careful note of the above. We feel very strongly that there needs to be much closer scrutiny by TMO Technical Services Officers of the performance of contractors, particularly those supplying essential and emergency services, and much closer scrutiny by RBKC scrutiny committees of the TMO and its service delivery arrangements and monitoring.”

 


 

Theresa May faces legal challenge regarding DUP ‘arrangement’

Image result for DUP Tory arrangement

Talks between the DUP and the Government “haven’t proceeded in a way that DUP would have expected”, sources have told Sky News.

Apparently, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is urging the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations and that the “party can’t be taken for granted”. It has been widely expected that the DUP will want more money for Northern Ireland as part of the deal.

A day before setting out her legislative measures in the Queen’s Speech, Theresa May has yet to secure a deal with the DUP to allow her Government programme to survive a Commons vote.

The talks have been ongoing since the Conservatives failed to win an outright parliamentary majority in a disastrous General Election on 8 June.

May says she is confident that the DUP will eventually back her, but a deal remains elusive.

The wider context of politics in Northern Ireland is adding to problems, and the government’s involvement in attempts to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont is under criticism. Many of us have said that this is problematic because May cannot claim impartiality in negotiations, since she is relying on the DUP to prop up her government. There are also worrying implications for the Good Friday Agreement, and many of us have been concerned that a Conservative and DUP arrangement may be in breach of the agreement, and may compromise the important peace deal.

Almost on cue, the Guardian reports that Theresa May is facing a landmark legal challenge over her proposed deal with the Democratic Unionist party on the grounds that it breaches the Good Friday agreement. 

An experienced legal team, which has been involved in constitutional challenges, is planning to apply for a judicial review of the deal once it is announced. 

High court judges would be asked to examine whether the pact breaches the British government’s commitment to exercise “rigorous impartiality” in the Good Friday agreement. 

The case, which could be heard in the supreme court because of its constitutional significance, follows warnings by politicians from all sides that the deal risks undermining the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said on Tuesday that the deal to support the Conservative’s minority government may not be sealed until after the Queen’s speech.

It is understood that the legal challenge has been in preparation for some time but that any action would be announced after the prime minister outlines the deal in the coming days. 

Lawyers are believed to have found a lead claimant to fight the case, similar to the role that the investment banker Gina Miller had when she won a supreme court ruling ordering ministers to introduce emergency legislation to authorise Britain’s departure from the EU in January.

It is understood that potential lead claimants have been warned to expect significant press attention – Miller has said the Brexit case made her the most hated woman in Britain – and that the claim will need to be crowdfunded. 

Lawyers are understood to be keen for the judicial review to be heard before the end of this year at the latest.

An announcement of a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP to form a minority government was expected last Wednesday but was delayed due to the Grenfell Tower fire, in which it was announced that at least 79 people died or are presumed dead. Many expect that number to rise.

Politicians from all sides have warned the prime minister that striking a deal with Arlene Foster’s party could put the fragile peace in Northern Ireland at risk.

Sir John Major said last week that a deal risked alienating armed republicans and loyalists, and cause resentment in other parts of the UK if the government made promises to spend large amounts of public money.

The Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, also accused May of not honouring the Good Friday agreement after meeting the prime minister last week.

The Guardian is also aware that a Northern Ireland law firm has considered a similar challenge. 

The legal challenge is likely to focus on subsection five of article 1 of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which states that the UK and Irish governments “affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.”

The phrase “rigorous impartiality” and what it implies is likely to be the crucial legal issue to be tested. 

In a commentary last week, Colin Harvey, professor of human rights law at Queen’s University, Belfast, wrote: “‘Rigorous impartiality’… is central to the Good Friday agreement and to the British-Irish agreement (an international treaty between the UK and Ireland). The concept flows from the complex right of self-determination on which the current British-Irish constitutional compromise is based.

“Any deal between the Conservative party and the DUP that infringed the above principles or strayed directly onto Good Friday agreement territory (such as, for example, ruling out a unity referendum) runs a real risk of being in breach of article 1 of the British-Irish agreement.”

 

Today in History2
Related

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

DonatenowButton

Grenfell, inequality and the Conservatives’ bonfire of red tape

Residents were trapped "screaming for their lives" as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill in the early hours today

The Grenfell Tower fire reflects a colossal betrayal of working class people’s trust by the state. The Conservatives have emphasised “economic growth” at the expense of citizen’s welfare in their policies since taking office in 2010. This is a government that has rewarded the propertied class and punished the renting class (by inflicting policies such as the bedroom tax, and the welfare cap, for example). It’s a government that values and supports profiteering landlords, who have lobbied against essential safeguarding regulation, and one that has also imposed massive local authority budget cuts. 

It’s estimated that there are more than 700 tower blocks in London. These range from the brand new luxury apartments to the post-war council-owned buildings which were seen as a convenient cure to problems caused by the crumbling and unsanitary 19th Century slums.

Around 8% of Londoners now live in tower blocks. Some of the flats are bought for millions; others are relatively low-cost social housing, rented from a local council at a fraction of the private rate. Grenfell Tower itself was designed in 1967, building started in 1972 and finished in 1974.

Originally built as municipal housing as part of the slum clearances of the 1960s, it had 120 one and two-bedroom flats over 20 of its 24 storeys, and was renovated in 2016.

Grenfell House is in a neighbourhood ranked among the most deprived 10% in England.

The BBC’s Bethan Bell says

“Just two miles away – or four stops along the Circle/Hammersmith and City line – is 3 Merchant Square, a 21-storey tower that is part of a new development around Paddington Basin. The contemporary block was finished in 2016 and holds 60 apartments over 15 storeys.

It’s a different world. The penthouse apartment was sold for £7.5m. One-bedroom flats are at least £1m.

Surrounded by restaurants and bars, workers and residents can lounge on deckchairs on a newly-built floating park. Lunchtime yoga sessions are held and there’s a luxury fitness club.

There’s an enormous fountain and a bridge created by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, a nursery and winter garden.

But nice though these peripheries undoubtedly are, they don’t keep people safe from fire. For that, we must have a look at the specifications of the apartments in the tower. 

Once you get past the sales brochure description of 3 Merchant Square’s walnut cutlery drawer inserts and integral wine coolers, the adjustable mood lighting and heated bathroom walls, you come to the fire safety details: Every flat has not only ceiling mounted smoke detectors but sprinklers.

The International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) says that automatic fire sprinkler systems are the single most effective fire protection measure available, and are able to make up for a wide range of other fire protection deficiencies.

There has never been a multiple loss of life from a fire developing in a building protected by a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system. While fire sprinkler systems have been required in new high-rise residential buildings in England since 2007, it is not compulsory to retrofit them into existing buildings. So Grenfell Tower had none.”

It’s a tale of two cities.

The former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue – which had recommended fitting sprinklers to buildings to save lives – has said the regulations “badly need updating” and “three successive ministers have not done it”.

“My own thinking is there was the red tape challenge and they don’t really want to put regulation on to businesses, adding a burden.

“It’s one of those that if you bring in a new regulation, you have got to give three up to get it.” 

This echoes my own comments yesterday

In 2012, David Cameron vowed to “cut back on the health and safety legislation “monster”, and to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.” The Conservatives’ Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.” The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”: 

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job. 

Among others.  

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.” I don’t see any balanced democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak. 

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks companies to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building. 

This “builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament.” It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public. Conservative ideology prioritises private profit over human needs. New Right neoliberalism is all about privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and a “small state” commitment entailing reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

The problem is that the government regards regulations as an inconvenience – as raising unnecessary obstacles to free market economics – business, growth, competition and “innovation”, while disregarding the fact that regulations actually serve important social objectives. 

The Conservatives have long argued that “red tape” impedes freedom and “damages productivity”. They have glibly assured us that the UK would be a better place with a lot of deregulation and fewer bureacratic “barriers” to business. The 2010-15 Tory Health and Safety “reforms” (that word is always a Conservative euphemism for cuts) have been motivated, for example, by a belief that: “good health and safety is important, but the burden of excessive health and safety rules and regulations on business had become too great and a damaging compensation culture was stifling innovation and growth. We want to protect people in the workplace while reducing the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules and regulations on businesses.”

The “red tape” that the Conservatives regard with such disdain consists of laws that provide essential public protections and rights that prioritise citizen’s lives. The freedoms being protected by this government are those of the rich to exploit the poor, of corporations to exploit employees and the public, of landlords to exploit their tenants and, to nick a sentence from George Monbiot, of industry to use the planet as its dustbin.

2012 report by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1,150 a flat. Since the 24-storey Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, it would have worked out at £138,000. That’s significantly less than the £2.6m spent on the cosmetic cladding and replacement windows

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb said: “We are still wrapping post-war high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.

I really don’t think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government’s mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren’t good enough.”

Some of these issues were raised in a report following a fatal fire at a tower block in 2009 in Camberwell, in which six people were killed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said his predecessor in the role had accepted the report’s recommendations and put them into action.

He said: “The coroner did not recommend new planning regulations. The coroner recommended a change in the guidance. There is a lot of information out there and it is right that it is independently looked at by a judge-led inquiry.” 

When asked whether the government would retrofit sprinkler systems to tower blocks, he said: “I don’t think we can immediately jump to the conclusion that sprinklers is the issue here. We will do whatever it takes.”

An associate pastor of Notting Hill Community Church, Danny Vance, says “the poor are constantly neglected” in the city.

He said: “The disparity between rich and poor in this city is disgusting. This would not have happened to the £5m flats around the corner” [from the Grenfell tower].

Theresa May has announced a £5 million emergency fund for the survivors of the Grenfell inferno, amid angry protests over the government’s lack of appropriate reaction to the tragedy, and what survivors see as the slow emergence of information with regard to loved ones and friends who are still missing.

It’s worth considering that the Conservatives consistently spend close to the £19m general election spending limit on their campaigns. In comparison with the funding offered to people and their families who have lost loved ones and friends, their homes, and all of their belongings, it highlights a problem with our democracy. It is one of political priority. Much more money is spent by the Conservatives on staying in power than it is on pressing social need, reflecting the somewhat corrupt priorities of this government. 

The Labour party have said that the £5 million isn’t enough. It really isn’t. 

Grenfell Tower stands as a dreadful symbol of the failings of austerity for which the Conservatives are culpable. It’s an emblem of the intentional Conservative attacks on our poorer citizens. Tory MPs have sneeringly  rejected housing regulation; they implemented cuts to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; they disregarded the coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council have regularly blocked its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxieties

For many, the blackened husk of Grenfell Tower is a terrible and tragic monument to inequality. It stands as an awful accusation. It should not be the case that society’s most disadvantaged citizens suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful. The state should protect and value citizens’ lives – each life has equal worth, it is equally precious – and not remain indifferent to people who complain that their home is potentially a death trap, neglecting their fundamental concerns and needs. We live in a society where our government values property rights over more fundamental human rights. It’s a democracy for property-owners, but not for tenants.

Danny Dorling has highlighted that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that most black children in London and Birmingham are housed above the sixth floor. This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacitly or blatantly – when allocated housing. Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are absolutely right to call for the use of empty homes in Kensington to rehouse locally those made homeless, and experiencing such devastating losses, by the fire. 

We live in a society where it’s become normal and somehow acceptable that the privileged class can buy their safety, their security, rights and their legal representation, while many working class people and those citizens who are vulnerable have none of these. 

Grenfell Tower is a charred and bitter testament to how our poorest citizens are placed at risk because we live in a society that values unfettered private profiteering, no matter what the cost to ordinary people, and the superficial and appearance over what really matters – people’s lives. The deadly cladding was added as cheaply as possible to improve the view for others, while the sprinklers, working alarm and fire extinguishers that would have saved lives were omitted. 

Emergency services personnel on top of Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire 
Related

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state

The Conservatives are forced to end austerity because they face a turning tide and electoral extinction

London protests as they happened: Demonstrators demand justice for Grenfell victims after day of fury and sorrow

 


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton

Tories smear grieving Grenfell relatives as a “mob”, “thugs”, “jihadis” and “twats” – Tom Pride

Tory ideology – leading to austerity, which has disproportionately affected the poorest citizens, and “business friendly” deregulation, which has seriously undermined citizens’ wellbeing, health and safety – has killed many people. The Tories’ despicable response is not about stepping up to accountability and responsibility, it is simply always to blame their victims. We have seen seven years of this abusive gaslighting strategy.

It’s time to put this government out of our misery.

Pride's Purge

A Tory councillor has branded grieving relatives, friend and neighbours of Grenfell tragedy victims “mob rule”:

Hawkins is a Tory councillor:

Other Tories have taken to calling the relatives thugs, militants , jihadis and twats:

grenfell smearsIt’s time for this out-of-touch, heartless government of barbarians to go … 

View original post

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’


Hayley Dixon write in the Telegraph today: “A litany of failings in building regulation and safety rules have left residents in tower blocks vulnerable for decades. Despite constant warnings from fire experts, nothing was done to improve fire-proofing standards, or even review the current situation.” They present eight times that the victims of Grenfell Tower were let down.” 

These were:

Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.

But under Margaret Thatcher’s government, those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.

Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire. But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible. For the past three decades fire safety experts have warned that the ‘Class O’ designation was based on small-scale tests conducted in laboratory conditions and did not properly evaluate cladding in a live fire. A recent London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at a tower block fire at Shepherd Court in West London in August 2016 found that external cladding had helped the fire to spread.

They found that when exposed to high flames the metal sheet of the cladding had melted away, setting the inner polystyrene foam on fire and allowing ‘flaming droplets’ to fall onto lower floors while helping flames to spread higher up. Fire chiefs wrote to every council in London to warn them of the dangers but no action was taken.

Dangerous cladding

A leading fire safety expert warned Government advisors three years ago that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower inferno would happen unless they changed rules to ban cheap, flammable insulation used on the outside of buildings.

Arnold Turling said the Grenfell blaze was “entirely avoidable” and that a gap between the panels acted as a ‘wind tunnel’, fanning the flames, and allowing the fire to spread to upper levels.

Turling, a member of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, said: “Any burning material falls down the gaps and the fire spreads up very rapidly – it acts as its own chimney.”

White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower
White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower CREDIT: EPA

Three years ago Tarling, a chartered surveyor, addressed the British Standards Institute’s seventh annual fire conference in London, at which government fire safety advisor Brian Martin was present.

“I said we will have this type of cladding fire in this country and it will lead to large numbers of deaths,” he said.

It emerged last night that the United States had banned the type of cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower. 

The material used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond which comes in three different varieties: one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant cores and the cheaper, more combustible, version was banned in the United States in buildings taller than 40 feet. 

It is thought that Grenfell’s exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core but conforms to UK standards.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre; £2 more expensive than the standard version.

Following the Shepherd Court fire, insurer RSA wrote a report warning that flammable material in insulation panels “melts and ignites relatively easily”, and can cause “extremely rapid fire spread and the release of large volumes of toxic smoke”.

They concluded: “This allows extensive and violent fire to spread, and makes fire fighting almost impossible.”

Architect and fire safety expert Sam Webb said there was a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient.

However Harley Curtain Wall Ltd said that it had installed cladding, with polyisocyanurate inside, a material which is “better than most at resisting fire in tests.”

No government review  

After six people died in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group called for a major government review of building regulations. Sucessive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

They argued that 4,000 tower blocks across London were at risk because of a lack of fire risk assessments, and panels on the outside walls not providing the necessary fire resistance.

The coroner on the Lakanal House inquest also recommended the government simplify regulations relating to fire safety so they were easier for landlords to understand.

Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London
Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London. CREDIT: GETTY

In 2013, then communities secretary Eric Pickles responded to the coroner’s recommendations and promised a review with an updated version of building regulations published in 2016/17.

However, four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the work is “ongoing” and would not give a date for when the updated regulations will be published.

A single staircase

Residents in Grenfell Tower made repeated warnings that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building.

Despite safety concerns of experts, tower blocks in Britain still only have to have one staircase, leaving Britain out of step with other countries in the world.

Russ Timpson, of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, said his “foreign colleagues are staggered” that there is no requirement for a second staircase as he called on the Government to look again at fire safety regulations.

Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower
Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: EPA

Residents fleeing in Tuesday night’s blaze complained that stairways were blocked, full of smoke and had no sprinkler systems fitted. Firefighters also struggled to get to the upper levels.

Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said: “The staircase should have been protected route for firefighters and people escaping but it was clear that it wasn’t.”

The flats had recently been refitted and fire experts warned that gaps in the walls where new pipes were installed could have allowed flames and smoke to spread quickly through the communal areas.

Missing sprinklers

There was no central sprinkler system at Glenfell which members of the Fire Protection Association said would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.

MPs from All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group also said that MPs had been calling for sprinklers to be fitted on the outside of tall buildings for years, but said their calls have been ignored.

Currently, sprinklers only need to be fitted up to 30 metres, but in tall buildings like Grenfell it is impossible for fire hoses to reach the upper heights, leaving the top floors without any protection.

An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower
An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: AFP

The Fire Protection Association said more sprinklers would “undoubtedly” have saved lives.

 

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill of the FPA said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

However in 2014 housing minister Brandon Lewis stopped short of forcing building developers to fit sprinklers, over fears it could discourage house building.

He said at Westminster Hall Debate: “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage.”

Missing fire doors

London Fire Brigade said claims that doors were not fire-proofed would form part of its ongoing inquiry.

Two separate sources have told The Telegraph that not all the front doors in the tower block were fire-proofed. Official fire brigade advice to stay put in the event of a fire is based on fire doors offering protection to residents told not to leave the building.

Fire doors are designed to stop the fire spreading rapidly through the building rather than being “compartmentalised”.

A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower
A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: GETTY

Regulations state that all tower blocks being built must have fire doors on the flat, the stairwell and the riser doors, which give access to the pipes.

 

Building regulations are not retrospective, so cannot force the installation of modern equipment on old buildings.

However, Richard Brownlee, Managing Director of Surrey Fire and Safety Ltd, said that it would be expected that fire doors were installed as part of any refurbishment and installation would be recommended as part of any refurbishment.

Inspections

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the last time that Grenfell Tower was subject to a full Fire Risk Assessment was December 2015.

There is a requirement for every building to have regular fire risk assessments, but the amended regulations do not specify how frequently this should take place. Industry experts say that best practice is every 12 months.

It is also a requirement to have a fire risk assessment carried out if there is a “material change” to the building. The regulations do not specify how soon that inspection must take place.

The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted 'material change' 
The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted ‘material change’.  CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS

The refurbishment to Grenfell Tower was completed in May 2016 and yet it does not appear that any safety checks were carried out, even though the new cladding work consisted of ‘material change.’  

Firebreaks

Fires on outside of cladded buildings should have been controlled by firebreaks – gaps in the external envelope to prevent the continual burning of material. Under Building Regulations 1991, developers are warned that they must install systems to prevent flames from leaping from floor to floor. 

However the Fire Brigades Union and the Loss Prevention Council and the Buildings Research Establishment have frequently warned more recently that guidance is not adequate in the event of a fire. 

And fire safety experts said it was unlikely that firebreaks would have stopped the conflagration at Grenfell. 

Dr Stuart Smith, a building surveying and fire safety lecturer at Sheffield Hallam university, said: “The rate at which the building was burning suggests that even if the fire breaks were there, they didn’t work. 

“Once the fire had got into the cladding, the rate at which that burns, I’m not sure fire breaks would work anyway.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the community yesterday, to meet and speak with survivors and angry residents, said: “If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.” He was noting the failure to install a sprinkler system and to overhaul fire safety regulations. 

Residents say they sought to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so by cuts to legal aid. Other tower block residents, many of them among London’s poorest, have been anxiously contacting MPs for fear of a similar fate. 

Though fire crews were quick to arrive at the Kensington tower block (engines were there six minutes after being alerted), the effects of cuts were visible. “Put it this way, you’re meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we’ve been here for 12,” said one firefighter.

The Conservatives’ red tape bonfire

The Conservative’s Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.”  The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”:

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.
  • Childcare providers now have to read 33 pages of need to know guidance instead of wading through over 1,100 pages.

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.”  I don’t see any benefit at all for citizens, or a democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak.

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks firms to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building.

This builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament. It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public.

The government is very “business friendly”, but when it comes to the public sector, the relationship is founded on a longstanding animosity.

Boris Johnson told a Labour opponent to “get stuffed”in 2013 when confronted over devastating fire service cuts.

Theresa May accused the Police Federation of “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”, when she was confronted over more cuts to the police. But the recognition and fear that emergency services can bear no further reductions is now becoming widespread.

And it’s also at last becoming very evident that those who have born the brunt of ideologically driven austerity cuts for the past 7 years, so that very wealthy people can pay less tax, are too often paying an unforgivable price for the savage cuts to our public emergency services, in one of the richest nations in the world.

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton