Grenfell Tower — My take on Birmingham City Council’s response.
Over the past few days, I have been on both BBC Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” and ITV Central News talking about the response (or lack of it) by Birmingham City Council to questions I raised following the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower. I felt it necessary to speak out about the way Councillors have been kept in the dark about the actions of Birmingham City Council especially regarding any testing of cladding and insulation from our Tower Blocks.
In the days after the disaster, Residents, MPs and Councillors were sent a letter/briefing as to the actions Birmingham City Council would be undertaking to ensure their Tower Blocks were safe. Following this briefing I raised questions with both the Cabinet Member for Housing on Birmingham City Council and a Senior Officer specifically regarding the Tower Blocks on the Cock Hill estate in Longbridge. I was informed by officers they were assured the cladding and insulation used on the blocks was safe, but that written clarification would be sought and communicated back to me. By last Sunday I had still to receive a substantive response from either officers or the Cabinet Member for Housing, this despite the announcement by DCLG on Saturday that all samples sent for testing had indeed failed the fire safety test. Indeed the only information Councillors were receiving from the media was when the Leader of the Council announced the welcomed news of the fitting of sprinklers to all Birmingham City Council Tower Blocks. He also stated; “Birmingham City Council’s Tower Blocks are safe as they had not been fitted with the same cladding as Grenfell Tower”. Whilst this may have satisfied many, it did not satisfy me. As I stated on Saturday; “just because Council Tower Blocks did not have the same cladding as Grenfell, doesn’t mean they’re fire retardant and we should send samples for testing”.
Something to take into account and to note for later. Last Saturday the Leader of Council did not mention that Birmingham City Council had cladding samples to a “world class testing facility, right here in Birmingham”.
Following my interview on BBC Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” on Sunday, I sent an email to both the Housing Cabinet Member and the Leader of the Council to ascertain just what Birmingham City Council were doing regarding testing of cladding and whether or not they had submitted samples to the independent testers carrying out work for DCLG. The response I received from the Housing Cabinet Member was alarming to say the least. He said, and I quote; “The Council has not sent any samples for testing as we have not used that method of insulation on our tower blocks”. So again, no mention of any samples being sent to Birmingham’s world class testing facility. However a late Cabinet report would be tabled at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
On Monday of this week, following the Radio 4 skit and probing emails, the Leader of the Council was again in the media stating Birmingham City Council had gone above and beyond DCLG guidelines and that; “Birmingham City Council had since the previous Thursday been carrying out their own testing at a world class facility, right here in Birmingham”. Firstly, the Leader was briefing the media of this a full three hours before an official release to Councillors/MPs from his Chief of Staff and just as I was filming an interview for ITV Central News. Secondly and most importantly to note, the Leader, having previously made no mention of Birmingham City Council testing cladding and insulation in interviews on Saturday, suddenly knew about these tests being carried out.
The spiel was again disseminated at Cabinet on Tuesday with the Leader claiming there had been “a misunderstanding” about the email exchange on Sunday re sending cladding samples for testing. The only misunderstanding was by the Leader and Cabinet Member who over the weekend stated the Council hadn’t sent any samples for testing, then miraculously remembered the Council were undertaking their own testing, beginning the previous Thursday. I’ve heard of politicians not knowing what day of the week it is but this was bordering on ridiculous.
Today I received an email from the Housing Cabinet Member finally answering questions I’d raised Sunday afternoon, also stating the same information contained in the rushed out briefing on Monday. I have and will continue to ask questions, pressing the Leader of the Council and Housing Cabinet Member for regular updates on tests carried out on cladding and whether Tower Block residents will be notified as soon as the results of cladding samples from their blocks are known.
This piece is not directed toward Council Officers but at the politicians who are paid a substantial amount of money to show leadership and give direction, which yet again has been found wanting.